Let’s just get straight to the point: this is not really much of a “Titanic movie” despite its title and the focus of the story. It is more of a drama that just happens to take place aboard the doomed ocean liner. For that reason, certain historical inaccuracies and omissions can be ignored, though not entirely forgiven. There are various moments during the film when we forget there is even a Titanic at all. However, due to the strength of the script and acting, it serves to make the striking of the iceberg as much of a shock to us as it was to the passengers in real life. Unlike A Night to Remember and the later James Cameron version, there are no signs of impending doom anywhere in the story. No hints dropped, no melodramatic self-fulfilling prophecies hidden within the layers. Yes, we all know how it ends, but many disaster movies tend to keep that certain cloud of doom around us at all times. This 1953 Titanic plows through both sea and screen in blissful ignorance.
With something like 12 Years a Slave recently nominated for an Oscar, I felt this was a highly appropriate film to review.
Very succinctly titled, Slaves is an incredibly strange movie that is neither here nor there in terms of entertainment value or anything else, but is still worthy of a watch. This film is set during the antebellum period in American history, around 1850, and tells a rather tired and ordinary story that we have seen, with slight variations, in every slave movie ever made. That said, there are some interesting characteristics here, including a sometimes exquisite script and some really brilliant moments. But unfortunately, the dialogue is restrained to nothing more than characters talking at each other, not to each other, and features so many endless speeches, monologues, and soliloquies that it makes Gods and Generals seem like a silent movie.
History-based films always work the best when we can watch a particular story and relate to the characters, and then in our minds, just change a few things around, and all of a sudden, a movie set during a particular time period becomes very relevant to almost any era. This is what happens with Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead, a film so incredibly distanced from Gettysburg and Gods and Generals (both in content and style), in a sense that it takes the both-sides-are-right mentality and completely smashes it, instead, choosing to come right out and say that war is wrong, because no matter what side you are on, or what the result is, good people acting as mere pawns in a chess game for generals and politicians, will be killed and wounded regardless. The families and conflicts present in this movie could quite literally be anybody. Yes, they are dressed in 1860’s clothing and talk about far-gone politics, but switch a few items around, and the Beeches and Hagadorns (the two main families of this film) could be any, everyday people dealing with their children being sent off to fight in Vietnam, or perhaps more recent actions in the Middle East. It is a film that can reach out and touch us, bringing us into the history in a more intimate, down-to-earth way.
Copperhead does leave some to be desired, by way of certain actors needing more screen-time, and some characters who are not developed well-enough, but overall, this is a movie that people will be able to relate to and discuss, which is definitely very important for something so laden with politics. As has been said ad nauseum, this is nothing like Maxwell’s other Civil War movies, because the battleground is not of open fields and cannons, but of vitriolic politics, families divided, and homesteads being threatened by fire and rope. The civilian is an oft forgotten facet of all wars and their history, but thankfully this movie begins to show us that the men, women, and children far away from the battlefields were just as much warriors as the soldiers doing the fighting. All of this is helped along by the outstanding soundtrack by Laurent Eyquem, which contributes much to the feeling of the movie.
When I first saw the poster for Immortal Beloved just about a month ago, the first thing that ran through my mind was, “A movie about Beethoven…with Gary Oldman…how have I never seen or heard of this before?” I happen to have a love of films that center around composers and their music (which may be ironic, because I detest actual musicals, both in film and on stage, so much), and have probably seen Amadeus close to 30 times by now. So late last night, just after midnight, when I was searching through Comcast’s Xfinity Streampix feature, the title of this film popped up and I became really excited, because it was by accident that I would be able to watch this surprisingly rare and seemingly forgotten movie. The story begins, much like Amadeus, after the composer’s death, and is told predominantly through the perspective of his secretary and only friend, Anton Schindler, played by Jeroen Krabbe. It then takes many expertly crafted twists and turns through the life and many mysterious loves of Ludvig Van Beethoven. It is after the funeral that Beethoven’s secretary and brother are rummaging through his personal items and discover an updated will left by the deceased maestro, and also a love-letter, both addressed to the same person: an unknown “immortal beloved”. While the brother wants to discard the new will, because the original had him receiving the bulk of the estate, Schindler takes it upon himself to investigate further, and track down Beethoven’s lost love.
If anything, I was hoping that History Channel’s Vikings would do a lot to demystify the fascinating culture from the north, one that has been relegated to mere stereotypes and caricatures over the years when looking at their portrayals. The Norsemen are often seen as one-dimensional figures, who have a bloodthirsty craving for violence, rape, and pillaging, with their interactions between each other bordering on unintelligible muttering. Based on what this network has put out in recent years, I was expecting exactly that, only with a couple of horned helmets thrown into the mix. So far, though, after the first episode, I am quite impressed and happy with the overall look and feel of this coming ten-part series, which could expand into future seasons. It is not perfect, as nothing ever is, and there are a few cringe moments, but I actually found myself enjoying the first episode, and am anxious for the rest of the series. Below are some highlights and what stood out to me the most:
Some people were expecting the worst from National Geographic’s Killing Lincoln, for two reasons: Bill O’Reilly’s book of the same title was littered with inaccuracies, and the production team of Ridley and Tony Scott, along with director Adrian Moat, recently produced one of the most inept and historically insulting documentaries ever made, Gettysburg, back in 2011. Hosted and narrated by Tom Hanks, this is a docudrama which surpasses Gettysburg, distances itself slightly from the book, yet at the same time, does not adequately deliver the entertainment one would expect here, which I will address later. Billy Campbell, whose other Civil War-era film, Copperhead, is slated to be released in June, does a decent job as President Abraham Lincoln. It would be absolutely unfair to compare him to Daniel Day-Lewis, so on his own he is fine. The performance is very calm, quiet, and subdued and I have no problem with the voice he used, which is not accurately high-pitched, but also is not the typical Hollywood deep voice we have heard over the years. The production team used Campbell and his talents as best as they could. However, considering that this film is about killing Lincoln, and Lincoln dies just after the midway point, it did leave a lot to be desired.
War movies have had a bad habit over the years of putting extreme political views ahead of actually telling a story. Thankfully, we have a director like Kathryn Bigelow who can put the blinders on, and give us something refreshing, something that seems nearly impossible: a film about a modern war that is not top-heavy with political preaching and agendas. Zero Dark Thirty is not a great movie, and certainly not worth all the hype surrounding it. I would render a guess that if this film had a fictitious plot, or was about a manhunt of someone of a lesser caliber of evil, it would have been panned by critics before reaching a slightly positive edge. Unlike The Hurt Locker, this is not an action movie, nor is it a “war” movie in the strict sense, though I have loosely labeled it as such earlier, because it is difficult to find another moniker for it. This is a film that is effective in telling the story of the ten-year long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It is nothing more, nothing less. There is hardly anything artistic about this film except the way it sticks to a narrative, almost documentary flow, jumping from person to person, event to event. While parts of it were entertaining (such as the final “kill” scene and all of its deliberately paced build-up), I must admit that the scope of this film was almost too big for its own good. Cramming ten years of information, facts, statistics, and repetitive location settings begins to make your head spin, though it never gets entirely too much to handle. Perhaps this would have worked better as a two or three part HBO mini-series.
Where do I begin? This was a film that I had so many expectations for, and most of them were met. Before I get into this review, I want to say right off the bat that I think this film might be very difficult for anyone other than a history or Civil War buff to truly enjoy. Not to say that this is a dull film, because it is not, and is filled with complexity and enlivening dialogue, but as an actor once told me when it comes to Civil War films, “One bearded guy giving a speech to a bunch of bearded guys in one scene looks exactly the same to the general public as another bearded guy giving a speech to a bunch of bearded guys in the next one.” I feel that it would be unfair to use that quote to classify exactly what Lincoln is, but due to the fact that this film is entirely dialogue-driven, and lasts nearly two hours and a half, it might be a bit tough for some people to get through.
You just never know who may be reading through your blog, and in the past, we have had such a wide array of people become regular comment-posters here, one of which is Brad Clark, a Civil War buff from Iowa who decided to take his interest and enthusiasm to another level, by making a documentary film about the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. As Brad wanted me to point out, this is not a documentary about the battle itself, though there are plenty of details given early on, but rather the event that commemorated one of the war’s bloodiest battles. As for taking this program as an educational video, Brad notes, “This was not intended to be a History Channel episode presenting a detailed history lesson on the battle. They can do that better than I can.” Well, given the talent present in the making of this video, which will hopefully be the first of many presentations from his film company, Open Eyes Media, perhaps the ever-floundering channel he mentioned can’t. What we have here is a mammoth, two-disc feature running nearly three hours in length that perfectly captures the spirited essence of this reenactment and all those who took part. As someone who has been to many small reenactments, but only one big one (the 138th at Gettysburg), it was a pleasure to watch something so in-depth on something that was so grand of a scale. As was mentioned, there were more than 8,000 reenactors and 140 cannon present, the largest force assembled in Shiloh since the battle itself. More than 23,000 spectators also came by to watch the festivities during that overcast weekend in April.
Being a connoisseur of all things conspiracy, mainly anything having to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I was shocked that I had not heard of the film Executive Action until about five minutes before I watched it earlier this evening. Wanting to pass the time, I decided to give it a go, assuming it would probably go along the lines of The Parallax View, which came out a year later and depicted the assassination of a United States senator at the hands of a multinational corporation, with many similarities between that and the JFK assassination. However, what we have here is an actual telling of a conspiracy to kill the president, one that the opening credits notes is fictitious, but whose speculation is based in fact. The truth is, this is a 1970’s version of Oliver Stone’s JFK, as it expertly combines actual footage of Kennedy, Oswald, and other various people and events throughout the story, both through color and black-and-white photography. The end result is not as stunning as Stone’s work, but it is, perhaps, even more plausible.