Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Golden Age

I like better the first Elizabeth movie because the plot is much stronger: how her own sister tries to get rid of her, her love to Robert Dudley, and the people in court and Rome who try to assassinate her. Born as a true heiress to the English throne, Elizabeth's position changed to the worst after Henry VIII condemned her mother to death as a traitor. After the death of Mary Tudor, Mary Stuart had more right to sit on the throne of England instead of Elizabeth. In this Elizabeth: The Golden Age, we see the end of Mary Stuart and the relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh. I wished they could add more plots into the story, like presenting Robert Dudley again. In the end of Elizabeth, he isn't executed, so why not? In Elizabeth miniseries with Helen Mirren, Dudley is on the beach, waiting for the Spanish Armada to land. He is her closest friend, closer than Walsingham.

The movie is set in 1585, where Christians and Catholics are enemies. Philip II of Spain wants to get rid of Elizabeth and he communicates with Mary Stuart, who is in her exile in England, to plot together. I have an impression that Mary Stuart was a gentle lady, and although perhaps she was very religious and thought that all non Catholics were heretics, she didn't hate her cousin. Samantha Morton's Mary Stuart here has a temper. In Scotland, although she was The Queen, she was a minority and I think a minority knows better how to tolerate. However it seems that in a movie where Elizabeth is the heroine, Mary is a bad person; and vice versa. Mary's execution gives Philip the excuse to attack England. Although England's army is outnumbered, with the fire-ships tactic (amazingly depicted in the movie), the Spanish Armada can be beaten. The second story is about her relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh, an explorer who has discovered a New World. He even brings some American natives as a proof. Sir Walter ends up marrying one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting and becomes a hero in the war versus Spain.

It's nice to see Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush playing the same roles again. Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) has better scene of Mary Stuart's execution, in my opinion. In The Golden Age, the removal of the black cloak is too slow, so when we see the red dress, it isn't very breathtaking. However, the costumes, cinematography, production design, and set decoration look better than the first Elizabeth.

I also wonder why this movie is called The Golden Age, for Elizabeth still has to face betrayal from Mary Stuart and the attack from Philip II of Spain. I think 'golden age' is when there is peace in the land and the people are wealthy, and that is only mentioned at the very end of the movie as an epilogue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chanel Solitaire (1981)

Directed by George Kaczender, Chanel Solitaire is a nice movie about love and success. It's the story of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971).

I guess many details from Coco's life have been gone from the movie due to the shortage of time, or have they been simplified to make it more enjoyable? Coco was a illegitimate child, but it isn't mentioned clearly in the movie. There is a hint to that, though, in the scene when Arthur Capel tells her that he was born on the wrong side of the blanket, and Coco replies that he only said it to make her feel better. In real life, Coco had 5 siblings.

In the movie, after the death of her mother, Coco and her younger sister Julia are taken by his father to a monastery, while he goes to America for a better future. He never comes back for them. Julia dies there and Coco goes to live with her aunts in Moulins. She makes her living by working as a seamstress. At this point, she meets √Čtienne Balsan, a cavalry officer, who asks her to move to his place and helps him with his horses. His mistress, Emilienne, likes the hats designed by Coco and wears one in Paris. She tells Coco that women love it and that she should produce many more. Balsan let Coco use his flat in Paris for the matter. Balsan's friend, Arthur 'Boy' Capel, a wealthy coal merchant, has more faith in Coco than Balsan. Capel helps her financially and morally and rents a bigger place for her to work. When Balsan comes back from Argentina, he has already lost Coco to Capel. Capel helps Coco to open a new shop in Deauville, but WW1 comes and they have to part. The war gives a big influence to the fashion world because women will need a simpler, more comfortable clothes. The corset era is gone. Capel survives the war and returns to Coco, only to leave her again for he must marry the daughter of Lord Ribbesdale for the sake of his career. A year later, he turns up again in Coco's apartment, telling her that he is on his way to divorce his wife and asking her to be with him again. On his way to South France in Dec 1919 to meet his wife, Capel has a motor accident and dies. The movie starts and ends with a fashion show. It doesn't tell the audience what happens to Coco after 1919, but at this time she has already had her big success.

The three lead actors are great: Marie-France Pisier, Timothy Dalton, and Rutger Hauer. Like most of period movies, it used soft lense, so everyone looks handsome and beautiful here. The clothes are spectacular. The only scene I don't like is when Coco sings in the competition. It is ridiculous. There is an interesting moment when Coco asks her lover to try her new scent and that 'Number 5' name seems to interest her. "I always look for number five."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Permission To Kill (1975)

Despite the title, Permission To Kill is more a drama than an action movie. Dirk Bogarde plays Mr. Curtis from 'Western Intelligence Liaison' who recruits by force old friends of Alexander Diakim (Bekim Fehmiu), a nationalist party leader. The mission is to prevent Diakim to return from his exile to his country which is now governed by a dictator. Curtis collects 4
subjects: American journalist Scott Allison (Frederic Forrest) and Diakim's ex-lover Katina Petersen (Ava Gardner) to persuade him, secretary of British Foreign Affairs Charles Lord (Timothy Dalton) to bribe him, and if all fails he still has a sexy assassin Melissa Lascade (Nicole Calfan) to finish him. Being old friend of Diakim, Allison quickly changes side, tells him the truth and tries to convince the others (Petersen, Lord, and Lascade) to double cross Curtis. In the end, it only shows how dirty the politics are.

Interesting to note that after working on Mary, Queen of Scots in 1971, Dalton refused any movie projects and dedicated himself for stage full-time. Only four years later he agreed to come back in this Permission To Kill and 2 years later in Sextette (1977). He did a nice action scene in Permission To Kill: jumped out of a running car and ran to the woods where he fell down a slope.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hawks (1988)

"We call ourselves the hawks, the rest of the world are pigeons."

What would you do if you are diagnosed with cancer and only have several months to live?

Deckermensky (Anthony Edwards), an American football player, now can’t barely walk because of cancer. In the London hospital, he meets Bancroft (Timothy Dalton), once a brilliant solicitor. Bancroft, who also has only a few months more to live, seems to forget that he is sick and even able to give courage and inspiration to Decker, that they should struggle before they die. Decker wants to go to the famous brother in Amsterdam before he dies, while Bancroft wants to marry his girlfriend who avoids him after his illness. These two friends sneak out from the hospital at nights to go to clubs, expensive restaurants, and probably cinemas, too. When Decker asks Bancroft if he gets permission to leave, he replies, ‘A hawk requires no permission from the pigeons.’ Later they ‘borrow’ an ambulance, drive to Amsterdam, and meet two girls Hazel and Maureen who will give more meaning to their short life.

Hawks is a lovely little movie about friendship, moving and funny at once. I spent a hard time to obtain this movie. Bought it from the US in April 2006, but since it was only available as a used item, the store only could ship it to a US address. I sent it to my friend’s address and asked her to bring it to Indonesia when she came here for Christmas. She did came, but forgot to bring the tape and I had to wait until the next year. At least now it is here. It's a shame, a wonderful movie like this should be easy to get.

With a very good script, nice soundtrack by Barry Gibb, and two excellent actors as the main lead, if this movie was entered to the Academy Awards, I’m sure it would have won an award or two. There is something very warm in this movie. It’s hard to find a friend who would be happy to sacrifice his Rolex watch only to see you smile. Before meeting Bancroft, Decker has lost his will to live. On the other hand, Bancroft needs someone he can take care of to make his life worthy. Before Decker came, Bancroft's room-mate is ‘a lump of protein’ who can’t do anything but farts all day. He asks the nurse how long Decker has and if it’s worth to start a conversation. There is a very moving moment when he suggested to take a trip together and Decker said, ‘But I can’t walk.’, to which Bancroft replied, ‘I’ll wheel you.’

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House of Fear (1945)

I was surprised to know they could still produce movies in 1945 – at time of war. Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes is very convincing: arrogant, intelligent, and his skinny features made us all believe he was a drug addict. So successful his interpretation of this famous detective character that Disney used his name for their Sherlock Holmes character in The Great Mouse Detective. Must also mention that Nigel Bruce made a good old Dr. Watson.

The House of Fear started with members of Good Comrades Club in Scotland gathered for breakfast, and one of them received an envelope containing orange pips. Later the person died in a horrible way. Soon members of the club died one by one, and each time the unlucky man received envelope containing orange pips (whose number also decreasing along with the members) before his death. Sherlock Holmes was asked to investigate the case by an insurance agent because the rest of the members, who could survive, gained benefit from their friends’ deaths. Looked like the last person alive was the killer, like in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

Although this story contains orange pips, the plot is different from The Five Orange Pips, where 3 people were murdered after receiving an envelope containing 5 orange pips. The original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle involves stolen papers from KKK.

In this House of Fear, the twist in the end was very good – but I didn’t catch the reason why those people had to disappear. I guess it has something to do with smuggler. Also didn't understand why orange pips were used as a warning. In The Five Orange Pips, the first person who received them, understood their meaning instantly; but in The House of Fear all members of the club laughed when they first saw the orange pips and took them as a joke.

I've seen several Sherlock Holmes movies (with Rathbone), and this is absolutely one of the best.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Atonement, Talking Chipmunks, and The Seeker

Based on Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement is a wonderful movie with beautiful sceneries. 13 year-old writer Briony Tallis (played brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan, in my opinion), mistakenly interpreted things happened between her older sister Cecilia and their neighbour Robbie Turner she had seen and later sent him to jail for something he didn't do. As time went by, Briony's mind began to open but she could not undo things she had done and spent the rest of her life to atone. The movie follows the book closely, but watching what Briony saw and after that the thing really happened can be confusing. Also the Dunkirk scene, when the soldiers sing on the beach, I wonder if this really happened because I read they were without food and water for days and many had to walk many miles before reaching the beach. The book itself is not easy to read because of the long sentences, so thanks to this movie adaptation. The ending is very moving and Vanessa Redgrave who plays the older Briony, did it very well.

Alvin and The Chipmunks is an entertaining movie, about a desperate song writer, Dave Seville, and three chipmunks who turn out to be able to sing and dance and help him in his career. The story developes to how the greedy manager tries to make the chipmunks trio into a money making machine. I like better how Alvin, Simon, and Theodore look like in the 70's than in this computer generated cartoon. Ross Bagdasarian Sr. had wonderful voice and I miss his Dave Seville. It was strange to hear songs like The Witch Doctor and Christmas Don't Be Late I heard so often in my childhood, and this movie, set in present time, shows Seville writes 'new' songs for the chipmunks.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is another entertaining movie. Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), the seventh son of the seventh son, destined to be The Seeker. The Dark, in this movie is represented by The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), is going to have his full strength 5 days after Christmas, and to defeat him, Will must seek and collect 6 signs scattered in place and time. I haven't read the book and I cannot understand why people say this is a poor adaptation, but I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Amelia Warner, who plays Maggie, is very beautiful and doesn't look a day older than when I saw her in Lorna Doone (2000).