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Posts Tagged ‘four stars’


Review: The King’s Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper.
Written by David Seidler.
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, and Derek Jacobi.

The King’s Speech is the tale of the not-yet-crowned King George VI and his speech therapist. I know, it sounds extraordinarily dull, right? Except that it’s not.

Crackling dialogue and an absolutely stunning performance by Colin Firth make this a English production a riveting crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the term. Firth’s work masterfully sidesteps any cynical “poor little rich boy” resistance you might have, utterly humanizing Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who was born second in line to the throne and unexpectedly crowned after a royal scandal — just in time for England to get pulled into World War II. (The trailer is all you need in the way of plot synopsis.) As you can imagine, a Duke needs to speak publicly every now and then (and certainly a King does), so — speech therapy to the rescue!

“Bertie” and his therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, who also produced) are the warm, fuzzy heart of the film, and its their interactions that make The King’s Speech such a joy to watch, but a host of ace supporting players fill out the film beautifully, most notably Helena Bonham Carter as Bertie’s wife.

History buffs may smirk a bit at the seriousness of “Bertie’s” stammer; by most of the accounts I could find online, his stammer was never so bad as depicted in the film, and even so, Logue’s treatment had allowed him to speak publicly without a stammer (or without much of one) within a couple of years. Most of the facts behind the film do, in some loose sense or another, seem to be faithful to the truth, but it is more than a bit exaggerated in the dramatization. It’s a movie, after all, not a documentary.

Movie buffs will definitely smirk at the slightly too familiar story points: the set-up, treatment, growing friendship, a setback and a falling out, and then, of course, patching things up just before the critical moment (the titular King’s speech). Whether these are based on real events or simply dramatic inventions, I can’t say for sure, but the strength of the dialogue and the performances make it all ring true, at least for the duration of the film.

The King’s Speech is rated R for a bit of language (the S-word and the F-bomb are dropped multiple times, mostly in one scene related to the Duke’s therapy). There is no sex or violence in the film, and even just a bit of implied impropriety. Frankly, it’s absurd that this film is rated R; it’s absolutely a family film on every level. If the film isn’t playing near you yet, it will be soon.

Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part One (Tokyo Story and Good Morning)

Twenty-five of the 33 surviving features by Yasujiro Ozu comprise the current retrospective of the brilliant Japanese filmmaker’s career at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

So far, I’ve only seen the five available in four Criterion Collection DVD sets (Tokyo Story, Good Morning, Early Summerand Stories of Floating Weeds, containing The Story of Floating Weeds and its remake, Floating Weeds). Although, if I ever get over this wretched cold, I hope to see a few more at the Siskel Film Center in the coming weeks. Each film I’ve seen has been a touching portrait of a Japanese family (or families), beautifully told.

I encourage you to see any of them that you can, particularly those that are not available on DVD, since it may be the only chance you get for some time. But since I can only properly discuss those films I’ve seen, I’ll be touching on Tokyo Story and Good Morning in this column, to coincide with their upcoming screenings at the Siskel Film Center. Next month, I’ll talk about The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, to more closely coincide with those films’ screenings.

Review: Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire

Directed by Wim Wenders.
Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois and Peter Falk.

Angels are a tricky thing in movies. Anything supernatural is, really. But where I can run with demons and devils as just fun monsters to toss into a story, when you start talking about an afterlife that’s pretty much the same as the one we’re living now, except with wings and all the sucky shit taken out, it’s just a bit more than I can take.

So it takes a special sort of movie to get me past that hurdle: It’s a Wonderful Life works, for intance, because of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra’s irresistible humanity. In a way, it’s the same kind of thing that made Wings of Desire work for me, too. On its face, it’s the story of an angel, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), who has become frustrated with the unending task of invisibly chronicling the lives of us humans on Earth — specifically 1980’s West Berlin. (Chronicling for whom and why are never really mentioned, and they’re irrelevant.) But like all great stories, it’s about a lot more than just its plot.

The film is shot beautifully in black and white, punctuated by moments of almost fluorescent color representing the humans’ perspective. (A conceit  borrowed from Powell and Pressburgers’s 1946 film, A Matter of Life and Death.) The first hour of the film moved along rather ponderously. It’s at once dizzying and appropriately dull as it depicts Damiel’s job as an angel, pausing occasionally for a conversation with his fellow angel Cassiel (Otto Sander, whose face is utterly fascinating).

Damiel falls for a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommamartin) and decides he wants to create his own “story,” one way or another. Shortly after the half-way point, Damiel and Peter Falk (playing himself, in town to film a movie), share a pivotal moment, and in that one hilariously brilliant twist, and the film catapults into motion, racing towards its inevitable, sweet conclusion.

Wings of Desire is available from the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray — and, you can stream it through Netflix.

Review: Four films by Seijun Suzuki

Underworld Beauty

Starring Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Yusuke Ashida, Toru Abe and Hideaki Nitani.

Tokyo Drifter

Starring Tetsuya Watari, Tamio Kawaji, Ryuji Kita, Chieko Matsubara and Hideaki Nitani.

Branded to Kill

Starring Koji Nanbara, Joe Shishido, Mariko Ogawa and Annu Mari.

Kanto Wanderer

Starring Chieko Matsubara, Hiroko Ito and Akira Kobayashi.

Seijun Suzuki worked as a director in the Japanese studio system from 1956 to 1967, until, after filming Branded to Kill, he was fired for making an “incomprehensible” film, and, after having seen four of his films, it’s pretty hard to argue that claim. Taking the unprecedented act of suing his former production company, Nikkatsu, he won, but soon found himself blacklisted and didn’t make another movie for 10 years. Seijun Suzuki’s films are shockingly innovative on a visual level, and his characteristic narrative tangles have been a huge influence on modern-day filmmakers from Wong Kar Wai to Quentin Tarantino.