Friday, 30 December 2011

Emma two versions

A feature of television at Christmas is a congestion of times past for the landed gentry who live in fine country houses and this year was no exception with Emma and Mansfield Park, a Downton Abbey Christmas special and from Time to Time. I also include the Dickens Great Expectations.

I have been less of a Jane Austin fan than the Bronte sisters as her portrayals of the superficiality between the landed gentry leave me cold. Mansfield Park and Emma is the same story told with different principal characters in the sense that a man and a woman become close friends over a period of time and only later appreciate that they also wish to become adult lovers and because they are friends there is confidence that their love could be long lasting if not happy ever after.

I have not read Emma the 1815 comedy of manners among the genteel of Georgian Regency England and therefore have been guided by others about the authenticity and effectiveness of the 1996 version with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role and Ewan McGregor and Greta Scacchi among the cast. A year before there had been a a USA set version called Clueless and last year an India film called Aisha. The television productions have been more faithfull to the original intentions with versions in 1948, a six part BBC serial in 1960 with another in 1972 and a four part version in 2009. In the same year as the Paltrow the BBC produced a single session film with Kate Beckinsale which should be the one to compare. By coincidence this film featured on ITV in the afternoon so my decision to watch the second part of the Harry Potter finale and then write about the series proved justified in more ways than I had anticipated. The Americans, NBC and CBS have produced three TV versions in addition and there have been seven stage production, including three musical versions.

Emma is an intelligent young women stuck in a world where she has too little to do other than gossip and match make about which she no talent. She is only twenty one so one has to make allowances for her youthful silliness. I am not sure if we learn when her mother died but with the marriages of her sister and her governess she lives alone in the country house with her father who leads his own life and therefore leaves Emma (Woodhouse) to enjoy the riding, the country walks, the picnics and dancing with her permitted circle of contemporaries. She enjoy the company of her father’s friend George Knightly unmarried and in his late thirties whose younger brother has married Emma’s older sister. They have five young children and prefers nuclear family life but indulges his wife’s enthusiasm for vacations and visitations. Something which she shares with her young sister who one predicts will follow in similar fashion.

Having decided that she is a good match maker Emma sets her sights on finding a husband for her friend Harriet Smith who is illegitimate, and raised locally and not part of the set until introduced by Emma. When a local farmer and his sister take an interest in Harriet, Emma does all she can to prevent a relationship developing and insists that the girl rejects the offer of marriage from Robert Martin and friendship of his sister because she believes the girl could do so much better.

She targets the new young Vicar Philip Elton but he first sets his sights on Emma and when Emma rejects him, he quickly marries another young woman from out of town because of her income of £10000 a year. Augusta but lacks the genteel qualities of her new circle and is written as pretentious and boastful and likes to have her own way. She struck me as very suitable for her husband who in the tradition of the Church of England is an ambitious man with only the trappings of Christianity lacking religious sincerity.
There are two other principal characters. The first Frank Churchill, the son by his previous marriage of Mr Weston who has married Emma’s governess of sixteen years and who acted as a substitute mother to Emma, exercising good influence but limited to having been a servant in the household. Frank has taken the name of the husband of Mr Weston’s sister who raised the boy has their own after the premature death of his mother. He was raised in Richmond in Yorkshire but becomes an immediate hit when he visits except for George who becomes jealous when Frank sets his sights on Emma. He appears to be good in his judgement when Frank returns briefly to London for the purpose of getting a haircut.

The other principal character is Jane Fairfax who has been raised by her grandmother and a spinster aunt to be a spirited and sensible young woman of musical and social talents but because she is without fortune to make an appropriate marriage she appears destined to become a governess. She and Frank Churchill became acquainted while holiday in Dorset and where he executed a rescue of the young woman when out on a boat trip which ended in heavy winds and seas.

Frank arranges a dance at the local Inn at which Mr Elton declines to dance with Harriet Smith who has to sit and watch the others enjoys themselves. Mr Knightley steps in. When Emma and Harriet and walking to her home one day they are accosted by gypsies in one version for their purses and by begging children in another. Harriet who falls to the ground is rescued by Frank Churchill and Emma gets her wires crossed and believes the girl has become infatuated with Frank who appears to be taking an interest in her when in fact she is taken with George Knightley.

There is a strawberry picking tea party at the home of Mr Knightly who owns the great house and estate in the areas. Mrs Elton says he should have asked her to organise the event but he puts her down saying that this will be the responsibility of his wife when he finds her but he remains in control until he does. I was struck by the volume of perfect strawberries on show in the British film version which does not reflect the size of the beds in the kitchen garden where they picks those they plan to take home.

There is a significant difference between the two films in the scale of the picnic to Box Hill which remains an important visitor attraction to this day and which I visited as a child in an extended family outing by bus. I revisited a few years ago and it is possible to park the car at the top of the film. In the British version film the party includes footman, cooks and maids in their uniforms who transport screens and comfortable chairs as well as setting a table with a full buffet style meal displayed. The Paltrow version the picnic is modest by comparison.

This is a pivotal event because Emma humiliates the spinster aunt of Miss Fairfax and is severely reprimanded by George who is disgusted and disappointed her behaviour and she suitable chastened and remorseful. However the crunch event is when the new arrives that with the death of his aunt Frank Churchill has announced that he and Miss Fairfax are engaged. They were secretly engaged after meeting during the Dorset holiday but could not disclose further because of the anticipated disapproval of the aunt. With her death the relationship can be acknowledged. Because Mr Knightly had made his carriage available to Miss Fairfax her grand mother and aunt for a musical evening, Emma had thought he was interested in the young woman at one point and that it was George who had provided the sister with a piano sp Miss Fairfax who is considered an excellent pianist and singer could play. In fact it was Frank Churchill who arranged the delivery on his supposed mission for a haircut in London. George returns home and visits Emma as soon as he learns of Frank’s deception. The scene leads the two disclosing their long term affection for each other. Meanwhile Harriet had regained contact with the farmer Martin and his sisters and they are also to be married. The film ends with a joint wedding.

Apart from her attractive facial features and body it is difficult to see what George sees in Emma It can be argued that at least Emma does not spend all her time seeking a partner or pursuing a fortune. However she must be condemned for the attachment to class and belief in her superiority over others. She contributes nothing to humanity. Miss Paltrow is excellent without a trace of an American accent and I preferred hersion to that of Kate Beckinsale. Mark String is excellent as Knightly and Bernard Hepton as Emma’s father in the latter.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Harry Potter and the Dearthly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 in perspective

Millions of young people around the world now aged in their early twenties have grown up with three fictitious characters and their cinematic portrayers, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Wesley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger the creations of J K Rowing in the multi billion dollar seven book eight film fantasy series Harry Potter.

Because of my devotion to the Lord of Rings and the Hobbitt in book and film and for other reasons I decided against reading the books when published or seeing most of the films in theatre where there were released.

The books are all titled Harry Potter and: - the Philosopher’s Stone, -the Chamber of Secrets, -the Prisoner of Azkaban, -the Goblet of Fire, -the Order of the Pheonix, -the Half Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows which was then made into a film in two parts. A total of 450 million copies of the books have been sold and translated into 67 languages. The films have made over $8 billion with merchandising bringing the total to $15 billion. While the series was given a special award at the last Academy Ceremony none have been awarded an Oscar although there have been a number of nominations.

While each book and film can be viewed as a self contained adventure there is an overall grand design and story which begins to unfold and then gathers momentum into the finale when many questions are answered including whether Harry Potter lives or dies. The final book is depressingly dark throughout with none of the humour and simple adventuring of the beginnings.

The world according to J K Rowling is divided between Muggles, that is you and me, and the witches and wizards and their world which including Goblins, Elves and miscellaneous creatures. The central location throughout every book is Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland which children of magical parents are sent to be trained in the arts of spells and potions each with a wand and super natural abilities.

We are introduced to Harry Potter as an orphan being raised by his uncle and aunt. Harry finds himself on his way to Hogwarts on a train which leaves from Kings Cross London on secret platform which can be entered through a pillar between platforms nine and ten. For the last film we are shown the completed St Pancras International station as King’s Cross is undergoing a major transformation in time for the Olympic Games.

At the school he encounters a gentle half giant Reubus Hagrid played by Robbie Coltrane who tells Harry that he is a wizard in the making and that his parents were murdered by an evil wizard called Lord Voldemort. Lord Voldemort is played by Ralph Fiennes. A feature of the films is that a number of actors play the same role throughout. Harry also finds that he is regarded as special by the Principal and other staff because when he was one year of age Lord Voldemort tried to kill the child but his killing curse had the effect of changing him into an effective weakling. This is a major clue to understanding the overall story and the ending.

The school is divided into four Houses with Harry making friends with two other pupils of the same House Griffindorf, the brilliant rational Hermione and the loyal Ron. From the outset a fellow pupil in another House Slytherin- Draco Malfoy, is a rival and plots Harry’s downfall at every opportunity. He appears to be supported by Severus Snape played by Alan Rickman who is one of the Professors responsible for spells and incantations. The School’s Principal was played by Richard Harris until his death before the filming of the third film and after that by Michael Gabon.

Maggie Smith is Minvea McGongall as a Harry Protector and school champion also appears in very film. Some who have roles in certain films but also appear in the final episode as staff members are Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent. Zoe Wannamaker, Kenneth Branagh also feature in the early films.

In addition to some 30 school pupils who have speaking parts of substance there are other groups of participants who include some of the best British actors of recent times. The Order of the Pheonix founded by Dumbledore to fight Voldemort has Julie Walters as Ron’s mother and Gary Oldman as Sirus Black with Adrian Rawlins playing Harry’s father and Geraldine Somerville as his mother, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin appears in several films together with Brendon Gleeson and Jim McManus.

Lord Voldemort when he returns to claim his destiny has his crew of Death Eaters with Draco’s father Lucius played by Jason Isaacs and Timothy Small as Peter Pettigrew. Helena Bonham Carter has a key role in the final films as Bellatrix Lestrange while David Tennant appears in one film.

There are a host of characters at the Ministry of Magic with Robert Hardy, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton having key roles and where Percy Weasley, played by Chris Rankin has several appearances. Richard Griffiths plays Harry’s foster father and Pam Ferris has a role as his wife. Among the foreign wizards and witches is Francis de la Tour playing Olympe Maxime and Dawn French is a Fat Lady Muggle with John Cleese in a couple of early films along with Rik Mayall and Leslie Phillips. John Hurt has an important role at the end and is also there at the beginning while Miranda Richardson and Julie Christie make appearance. Lenny Henry plays a creature but the final accolade goes to Toby Jones as the Elf Dobby.
In the second film Harry has to prove himself the heir to Salazar Slytherin the founder of the Chamber of Secrets in which in finds himself imprisoned for a time. In the third episode Sirius Black escapes from prison and Harry learns something of the role the man had in his life with the help of Professor Lupon in his staff role as Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. These three films form the introduction with the main action commencing in the Goblets of Fire with the re-emergence of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

From the outset Harry and then Ron play roles in school game of Quiddich which is a competition played above ground using broom sticks to catch a flying object (A Snitch) and score goals. Harry and friends attend the World Championship at which the Death Eaters make their unwelcome appearance.

Three European Wizard schools then arrive at Hogwarts with their Champions chosen by the Goblet of Fire in a TriWizard Tournament with Harry chosen to represent Hogwarts. The tasks required in the competition can involve the loss of life and this brings Harry into his first encounter with the Dark Lord.

It is with the fifth book/film that we learn of the Order of Pheonix, a secret Order for the protection of Hogwarts and Harry and against the return of Voldemort. The Ministry of Magic is in Chaos because they cannot accept that Lord Voldemort has returned with his Death Eaters and Dementors. Their power and attacks on the worlds of magic and muggles intensifies and the Principal accompanied by Harry persuades his old friend and colleague Horace Slughorn to return. As the various forces line up Draco Malfoy is persuaded to attempt to poison the principal and Harry learns more of his past and relationships when he discovers the textbook inscribed as the Property of the Half Blood Prince.
The Principal and the old friend devote their attention to way to destroy Lord Voldemort.

As the series has progresses Harry finds several ways to learn about his past and the future. The most disturbing is that he appears to have direct contact with the Voldemort and therefore learns something of what he is planning and vice versus but the sessions, depending on their length also appear to drain Harry and place him under the control of his adversary. The principal characters are no longer children so there is romance but surprisingly not between Harry and Hermione despite their close and common purpose and endeavours with at times Rom something of a hanger on. However it is Ron who falls for Heroine and she appears to have a love hate relationship with him while Harry‘s interests are elsewhere.

This is all by way of introduction to the final books made into two films which I viewed as a Christmas new release on Sky Premier yesterday recorded while I was away and then Part 2 on the Sky Box office this morning on payment of £3.49.

In the sixth book professor Dumbledoor was killed by Severus Snape who then becomes head of the school. Harry entered Hogwarts aged 11 and this should be his seventh year but he has been told that the protection from the Dark Lord when staying at his Uncle and Aunt will end on his forthcoming birthday and that he must move to another location where he can be protected. A potion is used which can turn people into the character of choice for a short period so that all his friends who are members of the Order of the Pheonix now including Ron and Hermione partake and then go off by diverse means in pairs with one appearing to be Harry. They are soon attacked because of an unknown spy in the camp and George Weasley is wounded but they reach the refuge and Harry is safe.
Unable to return to the school the trio decide to concentrate on the task which Dumbledore and his old friend had commenced: to find the way to destroy Voldemort. They know that he has hidden parts of his soul in objects called Horcruxes, which contribute to his purpose of becoming immortal. They isolate themselves to ensure their friends and families' safety. They have little knowledge about the remaining Horcruxes except the possibility that two are objects once belonging to Hogwarts founders Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff and a third may be Nagini, Voldemort's snake familiar. The whereabouts of the two founders' objects is unknown, and Nagini is presumed to be with Voldemort.

As they search for the Horcruxes, the trio learn more about Dumbledore's past and the existence of a brother. Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour are married, but the wedding is disrupted by the news that Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione flee into London and to 12 Grimmauld Place, where they learn from Kreacher the whereabouts of Salazar Slytherin's locket. They successfully recover this Horcrux by infiltrating the Ministry of Magic and stealing it from Dolores Umbridge. This is a great adventure.

They are unable to destroy the locket which exerts an evil influence over the carrier reminding of the power of the Ring in the Lord of the Rings. During one spell of carrying Ron becomes concerned about what he sees as a growing intimacy between Harry and Hermione. She has with her a small bag which contains a depth of objects including the ability create a protective tent for nightly stopovers while they try to work out the location of the second Horcrux and the means to destroy the locket. Ron goes off in a huff calling on Hermione to give up the quest and follow him. She is tempted but her loyalty is not just to Harry but to the purpose of the quest.

Harry and Hermione travel to Godric's Hollow, Harry's birthplace and the place where his parents died. They meet the elderly magical historian Bathilda Bagshot, who turns out to be Nagini in disguise and attacks them. They escape into the Forest of Dean, where a mysterious silver doe leads Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, one of the few objects able to destroy Horcruxes, lying at the bottom of an icy lake. When Harry attempts to recover the sword from the pool, the horcrux attempts to kill him. Ron reappears, saving Harry and using the sword to destroy the locket.

Hermione is angry with him for leaving and for the casual manner of his return although he explains he was led to them by the Deluminator, a gift left to him by Dumbledore in his Will so he comments that the Professor must have known there would be need. Dumbledore has given Hermione a book whose value is to be determined and to Harry the original Golden Snitch which he caught in his first game at Hogwarts which has an inscription which is yet to be understood. He has also bequeathed the sword which was lost and which technically was not his to give.

Resuming their search, the trio repeatedly encounter a strange symbol that an eccentric wizard named Xenophilius Lovegood tells them represents the mythical Deathly Hallows. The Hallows are three sacred objects: the Resurrection Stone, with the power to summon the dead to the living world; the Elder Wand, an unbeatable wand; and an infallible Invisibility Cloak. Harry learns that Voldemort is seeking the Elder Wand, but is unaware of the other Hallows and their significance. (Harry used an invisibility Cloak in an earlier episode).

The trio are captured and taken to Malfoy Manor, where Bellatrix Lestrange tortures Hermione. Harry and Ron are thrown in the cellar, where they find Luna Lovegood, Ollivander, Dean Thomas, and Griphook. They escape to Shell Cottage (Bill and Fleur's house) with Dobby's help, the Elf but at the cost of his life. The Elf is buried in the sand dunes surrounding the refuge. The first part ends with that Voldemort breaking into Dumbledore’s tomb and taking the Elder Wand which he uses on the sky signalling that he is now in command

The second film opens with the same sequence and then Harry determines that the must break into the vault of Bellatrix where the second foundation Horcrux is thought to be held. Hermione uses the shape shifting potion to appear as Bellatrix and they taken along the Goblin Griphook. The vault is in the bowels of earth involving a dangerous helter-skelter ride and although they enter the vault they encounter a problem as everything they touch multiplies exponentially. Griphook tries to turn the tables when exchanging the Horcrux for the sword but the trio manage to escape on the back of a dragon similar to a prehistoric flying creature

They return to Hogwarts and oust Severus Snape. Ron and Hermione go to the Chamber of Secrets and destroy what had been hoped was the remaining Horcrux. However they have worked out there is another Horcrux after Harry has confronted the spirit Rowena Ravenclaw and this is a diadem in the Room of Requirement. Malfoy and two others attempt to foil Harry who is rescued by Ron and Hermione but then find themselves engulfed in the flames of a fiend. They only escape using broomsticks, with Harry deciding to rescue Malfoy. Ron makes one of the few jokes that he will kill Harry if they rescuing their adversary. The remaining Horcrux is destroyed leaving just the snake familiar.

The Death Eaters and Voldemort besiege Hogwarts, while Harry, Ron, Hermione, their allies, and various magical creatures defend the school. Several major characters are killed in the first wave of the battle, including Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Fred Weasley. Voldemort has pleased with the school to give up Harry or be killed.

Voldemort then kills Severus Snape because he believes doing so will make him the Elder Wand's true master. Harry finds him dying a uses a utensil to capture the tears of Severus who urges Harry to use them to discover the truth about the overall story and its outcome by consulting one of he devices which has enabled Harry to see back as well as to the future.

There are two revelations which astound Harry and turn everything on its head. The first is while Harry’s father was not the hero that been assumed it was Severus who had adored Harry’s mother and attempted to save and then Harry. He had been a double agent throughout pretending to be on the side of the Dark Lord as a means of guarding Harry and had done this with the full knowledge of Dumbledore.

It was Dumbledore with only a year to live who had asked Snape top kill him as a means of saving the soul of Draco who throughout had acted under the influence of his parents who were servants of Voldemort.

However the main and most challenging revelation is that when Voldemort had attacked the one year old Harry he had made the boy into a Horcrux which means that Harry had first kill the snake and then let Voldemort kill him so the dark Lord would be destroyed by his own hands. This presents Harry with his greatest test.

After using the Resurrection Stone to bring back his deceased loved ones for a short while and to ask them about the moment of death and to be with him as he surrenders himself to death at Voldemort's hand. Voldemort casts the Killing Curse at him, sending Harry to a limbo-like state between life and death. There, Dumbledore explains that when Voldemort used Harry's blood to regain his full strength, it protected Harry from Voldemort harming him; the Horcrux inside Harry has been destroyed, and Harry can return to his body despite being hit by the Killing Curse. Dumbledore also explains that Harry became the true master of the Deathly Hallows by facing Death, not by seeking to avoid or conquer it.

Harry returns to his body, feigning death, and Voldemort marches victorious into the castle with his body. However, he shows that he is still alive while Neville Longbottom kills Nagini, the last horcrux, with the Sword of Gryffindor. The battle resumes, and Bellatrix Lestrange is killed by Molly Weasley.

Harry and Voldemort engage in a final climactic duel. Harry reveals that because he willingly sacrificed himself to death by Voldemort's hand, his act of love would protect the Wizarding community from Voldemort in the same way the sacrifice Harry's mother made protected Harry. Harry also reveals that Snape was never loyal to Voldemort and did not murder Dumbledore Voldemort, who murdered Snape, was never the master of the Elder Wand. Draco was the master of the Elder Wand after disarming Dumbledore, but Harry disarmed Draco at Malfoy Manor, making Harry the true master of the Elder Wand.

The wand refused to kill the one to whom it had allegiance, further protecting Harry. During the duel, Harry refuses to use the killing curse and even encourages Voldemort to feel remorse, one known way to restore Voldemort's shattered soul. Voldemort dies when his own killing curse backfires; he and his Death Eaters are finally defeated. The wizarding world is able to live in peace once more. Harry breaks the wand and throws it into thee deep.

There is a splendid epilogue some nineteen years later and once again the train departs from platform nine and three quarters for Hogwarts. But this time Harry is there as a parent to see a son off to school for the first time. There he meets Ron and Hermione who are married and are also there to see one of their children off to the school. For a moment the trio stand together as the train moves out. Also present at the departure is Draco Malfoy and his family seeing off their son Scorpius

Harry and Ginny Weasley have named their three children: James Sirius, Albus Severus, and Lily Luna Harry's godson, Teddy Lupin, is found kissing Bill and Fleur Weasley's daughter Victoire in a train carriage. Harry tells his son Albus, who is worried he will be sorted into Slytherin, that one of his namesakes, Severus Snape, was a Slytherin and the bravest man he had ever met. He adds that the Sorting Hat takes one's choice into account, like it did for Harry.

I am told the book ends with these final words: "The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well."

But is it really the end?

I enjoyed the two films seen in close proximity more than any of the other films which were disappointments after the originality and novelty of the first. My attention did not waiver. However they do not compare with the Lord of the Rings or the adult George Martin Game of Thrones series which returns for the second book dramatization in April.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Bridge over the River Kwai

I tested my Bluray player not with an H Day or 3D film but The Bridge over the River Kwai a film released in 1957 when many families, such my own extended network were still affected by the loss of sons in Japanese prisoner of war camps. The film is a fictional account of the building of the Burma Siam railway in which an estimates 80 to 100000 civilians perished and 13000 prisoners of war. The treatment of the prisoners was much worse than depicted in the film. Alec Guiness plays a tradition career British commanding officer who with his men is brought to a camp where the Japanese commander is under pressure to complete a bridge over the river in time for the arrival of a train.

Already at the camp is William Holden an American who spends his time trying to survive by bribing guards to get out of the work parties and get extra rations. He is bemused by the British Commander who immediately takes on the counterpart who insists that the officers should undertake manual labour with the rest of the men despite this being banned by the Geneva Convention. Guiness survives being imprisoned in the oven a corrugated metal box and eventually does a deal with the captors to complete the bridge to high standards as long as he is given control over the men. This brings concessions in terms of medical care and Red Cross deliveries.

Meanwhile William Holden has escaped and his would are treated by local villages before making his way to a British base in Ceylon. Here he is approached by Jack Hawkins to accompany small mission to return to the site and destroy the Bridge ideally with the first train. With Hawkins injured they managed to reach the camp just before completion and train arrival and mine the bridge to detonate as the train arrives. It is Guiness who spots that the bridge is mined as the water drops from the tidal flow revealing the network of explosives. Eventually Guiness realises he has put the mission in jeopardy and falls on the detonating box as he dies and the train arrives with successful and spectacular consequences.

The film won seven Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor Alec Guiness, and Screenplay. Editing Cinematography and Music with the theme Colonel Bogey a hit [parade success. The film also won three Bafta awards, Golden Globes and other awards and remains in several top 100 lists, 10th as recently as 100 war films in 2005.

Brother Sun Sister Moon

Brother Sun and Sister Moon is the story of the early life of Saint Francis of Assisi in a Franco Zeffrelli production and which interested me because Donovan had contributed the song track including the title number.

There have been a number of films about the life of Saint Francis including the Flowers of St Francis in 1950 which I saw as a school boy as well as another film in 1961. Brother Sun Sister Moon came next with three others following the latest in 2007 none I can recall seeing.

Brother Sun \and Sister Moon accurately represents his early life as the young man about town son of a wealthy cloth merchant who together with his companions goes off in the finest armour to fight with Catholic church blessing. He had six brothers and sister who are not shown in the film.

The film telescopes his experiences of fighting in two wars during 1201 -1205 and becoming a captive during one for a year. The film does cover a period of illness and the apparent effect of armed conflict on his outlook on life. The film plays around with the chronological sequence. It tends to overdramatise his identification with the poor and beggars. In the film his father becomes excessively wealthy exploiting the wars controlling scarce resources and getting nobles to surrender their valuables in exchange of essentials. There does appear to have been conflict with his father because Francis identified with his mother, a French woman, learning her language and cultural interests. It is supposedly correct that he did give all his possessions at one point to a beggar and also sold off his fathers possessions in order to give to charity and fund the rebuilding of a derelict church outside of the city. The film ends with a mission to Rome to see the Pope and ask what he was doing wrong after being rebuked by the local bishop egged on by one of his former friends. Alex Guiness play the Pope.

The film has a romantic sixties slant and introduces early on the daughter of another noble who Francis encounters giving alms to lepers and later during the film Francis and his small band are seen administering to the leper colony who live out of the town. There is the suggestion of romantic relationships early on between Clare and Francis but when he adopts celibacy she also joins the group and later he established an Order of nuns for her with the Little Clare sisters coming from daughters of the Poor. Much is made in the film of his visit to Rome when the Pope is portrayed with his court in great splendour and where the group dressed in the rags of the poor are met with ridicule and hostility and told to address the Pope with a prepared formal dress. However Francis decides to be his true self and impresses the Pope who is reminded of his original faith and gives his blessing

Francis is also known to have established a lay order for those who wanted to marry and this aspect is also covered in the film. The film covers his love of nature and animals and is beautiful shot in terms of the techniques of the era.
Zefrelli was known for his version of Romeo and Juliet and there are elements in this production coupled with the poetic romanticism of Donovan. The film creates a mood of peace and gentleness

Friday, 9 December 2011


Any connection between the 1930’s Lost Horizon and the 2009 Disney Pixar film Up will be considered remote at first consideration. You would be wrong. The main theme of the film is the desire of Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie to find their Shangri-la - Paradise Falls in the midst of South America. As an eccentric tomboy who befriends shy and quiet Carl Elle confides that she dreams of moving the ramshackle old property which she invites Carl to join her in a club of 2 to take the house to the cliff top on top of the falls. Carl’s hero is an explorer Charles F Muntz who disappears have being accused that the skeleton he brought back of a giant bird is a fake.

The two grow up and marry and then age happily together with Elle still clinging to her dream but practical considerations prevent attempting to make the dream a reality although they do up the house as their comfortable home and in which Elle dies. Carl is determined to carry out her lifelong wish and devises a scheme to take the house using a vast collection of hot air balloons. Just before he is ready for take off he is approached by a young boy called Russell similar is part of an organisation called the Wilderness Explorers who need his final “Assisting the Elderly” badge to complete the set required to be honoured at which he hopes his busy father will find time to attend the ceremony. The approach to assist Carl is rejected but the boy hangs around on the porch and seeks entry into the house when it takes off for the adventure.

They make their way to South America but land near a ravine close to the falls so the two harness the buoyant house to themselves and attempt to get to get to the falls on foot when they encounter a large colourful bird which does not fly and which is trying to reach her chicks, Before then the two also encounter a talking dog because of a special collar.

The dog is part of a pack all who speak although one has a quirky voice because of collar defect, The pack are in fact pet servants of the explorer Charles F Muntz who has a large Airship from which he has spent years tyring to capture the colourful bird who is the living form of the skeleton which he was accused of faking

He wants and is successful in capturing the bird to take back to vindicate himself while Russell wants to rescue the creature so he can be reunited with his chicks. Carl just wants to get the house to the spot on the cliff above the falls but goes along with the effort to find and release the bird although he is initially impressed on finding Muntz until he realises how ruthless he has become killing others who have got in his way in the past. There is a great battle of wits with many scrapes until they defeat Muntz and take over his airship leaving the house just where Elle wanted and getting the bird back to her chicks. Before they return Carl has to jettison all the furniture to refloat the house and he finds an album which Elle has named the great adventure. He does not fully examine the book until he returns with Russell and attends the presentation of his award for having achieved a full badge set. He finds that in fact Elle had long abandoned the Paradise Falls project because she considered her life with Carl to have been the greatest adventures she could ever have hoped for.

Lost Horzion

My only reservation with the day was falling asleep early waking but remaining tired and eventual going to bed at 9.30 which meant rising at 4, Now to the original 1937 film Lost Horizon created from the 1933 novel of the same name by James Hilton and which is remembered as the concept of Shangri-La a fictional utopian non industrial society set in an isolated sheltered Tibetan Valley.

There are several important similarities between the film and book. Both rely on a third party recounting his experience of finding a former British diplomat/politician Richard Conway in strange circumstances and nearly dead who after recovering told his bizarre story about the utopian community he had discovered and to which he had decided to return. The man had disappeared and his fate was unknown. In the book Hugh Conway is a Diplomat while the film Robert is an ambitious politician talked of becoming Foreign Secretary.

His story opens when on a mission to India in 1931 and the need to evacuate 80 white British citizens because of a local uprising with planes provided by the Maharajah of Chandapore, a real character. This is in the days of small twin engine passenger planes accommodating less than a dozen.

In the book in addition to Conway there are Conway’s number two and an American together with a British missionary, a female. The plane is hijacked and taken into Tibet and running out of fuel crashes killing the hijacking pilot who is able to reveal to the passengers that they should make their way to the nearby lamasery known as Shangri-La where they will find shelter and help. They meet up with someone from the lamasery who takes them to the valley where they find a modern house community with central heating, bathtubs, a huge library, a grand piano and a harpsichord and unlimited food from the valley.

In the film Ronald Coleman plays Conway and instead of his deputy John Howard plays a neurotic brother who cannot wait to get away from the valley as soon as porters arrive to lead them back to civilization. The other significant difference is that Conway is kidnapped because of his previous writings and known works whereas in the book the decision has been taken to add some “outsiders.” In both formats the American is someone escaping from the authorities because of a share fraud although in the film he explains that this was all to do with the great crash. In both situations he has no wish to immediate return when he finds there is unmined unlimited gold in the hills which would help to put him right with his creditors.
In the film there is an additional male character that has been researching fossils and has uncovered remains indicating that a creature previously unknown to the area has been found. This strikes a chord with UP the family two and three dimension feature where I recently saw the two dimension version on Sky Premier. He is a thoughtful individual used to relying on his own resources and also immediately takes to the community. The woman character could not be more different. In the book she is a missionary who also immediately takes to the community seeing her role as bringing Christian morality and education to the native population who are essentially Buddhist. In the film the woman is an actress who has an incurable disease who already has reached the forecast length of her life.

In the film there are two women who interest the visitors. Jane Wyatt plays Sondra Bizet who has grown up in the valley and teaches the local children. It is she who read about Conway and suggests he should be brought to the valley. They quickly establish a bond.

In both formats Conway is ripe for this relaxed contemplative peaceful life. In both the author predicts the prospect of another world war and that the destruction of property will be as great as that of human life as experienced in the first. Conway has been pursuing a peaceful solution to the world’s conflict.

In the book there is only one female character of interest Lo Tsen who does not speak English and plays the harpsichord. In the film there a similar character who falls in love with the brother (in the book the Vice consul) with both wanting to leave.

The core issue in the book is the discovery that the community was established several hundred years before by another traveller, a Catholic Monk from Luxembourg who is now the High Lama and 300 years old. The way of life has lead to such a long life, forecasting present knowledge that with appropriate diet, exercise and an absence of stress, coupled with the control of disease, the human body is capable of a much long existence than in the past. However their is a limit to life and the High Lama is aware he is approaching the end and is seeking a replacement and find Conway is ideally suited and Conway is interested especially after exploring the community and finding romance.

His brother refuses to believe the story and persuades Conway to leave with him and Maria when local porters/ Sherpa’s arrive to mark the death of the High Lama. In the film they were found at the plane by such a party sent to look out for them and who lead through blizzards and high mountain passes to the secret entrance to the valley. On the way back the two outsiders and the local woman find it difficult keep up with the Sherpa’s who cause an avalanche which consumes them. Then the local woman rapidly changes from a beautiful young girl to an aged woman who dies from old age and the hostile environment. The brother also dies from a fall leaving Conway to struggle over many days to find another community where he collapses but is cared and survives until news reaches the outside world and someone is sent to find him and bring back as the new Foreign Secretary. Conway rejects this and makes his way back eventually finding the pathway and the entrance to the community. The cinema audience is left to conjecture what happens. The actress has discovered her life has improved and decides to stay and similarly the two others but for different reasons. The community is able to continue as before but the search for Shangri-la has continued.

In the book Conway agrees to accompany his Vice Consul and Lo-Tsen to where the porters are waiting five miles beyond the valley but when he is found he was brought by a very old woman. He is known to be attempting to make his way back but the readers do not know if he made it.

The book has sold several million copies with a burst in sales in the 1960’s. In 1973 a musical version of the film was released although previously a broadway production was not successful. The BBC has made a three hour radio play in three parts in 1981 and was broadcast again last year with Derek Jacobi.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Superman Returns

Two decades later Bryan Singer decided to direct a Superman Movie Superman Returns in 2006. Superman played by Brandon Routh with a similarity to the original had searched the universe for five years trying to find out the remains of his home plant after astronomers believed they had located its existence. There is a recap of his origins and as Clark Kent he returns to work for the Daily Planet, he discovers that Lois has become a celebrity and a Pulitzer Prize winner for an article Why the World does not need superman.

Lex Luther has been released from prison has successfully appealed because of failure to follow due process and has married a rich widow to inherit her wealth upon her death. He is played by the best Lex Luther of all Kevin Spacey. He steals Crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and starts playing with their power causing power failures which affect as passenger airline which has a space shuttle to be launched from a piggyback mounting which fails because of the power loss. This is in fact the sequence where the airliner loses its wings and Passenger compartment is stopped from crashing into a baseball field with assembled crowd by Superman.

In a plot reminiscent of an earlier film Lex Luther has the idea of creating a new land mass to replace that on the Eastern seaboard which he utilise for profit creating new cities. He believes he will do this by combining the crystals with a sample of real Kryptonite held in a museum. So far so good.

Lois Lane is married with a son who appears to be a sickly weakling but in fact appears to be the son of Superman who reluctantly begins to show powers. The husband of Lois appears devoted to her and the boy and through the films there is the sense of God sons of God, Lois as Virgin Mary and her husband as Joseph!

The new land mass which is to replace the Eastern Seaboard begins to take place but fortunately is not the promised land but a dark and unattractive series of rocks which resembles the Krypton home planet and which without the protective creation of the super beings once again debilitates Superman. The good trio of Lois, her husband and the boy become trapped on Luther’s expensive yacht and are nearly killed until rescued by Superman so when Lois senses he has a problem she persuades her husband to return to the new land mass where they are able to free Superman and have a hair raising flight to safety.

It is not Superman who saves the world by Luther’s woman who tosses the remaining crystals away so they cannot be used to continue the land mass creation. Superman has used all his strength to gather the existing landmass at hurtle into far space but the effort drains him and weakened the proximity to the Kryptonite sends him into a coma. Lois visits whispers in Superman’s ear the information that he has a son. Superman visits the boy when he is sleeping and kisses him reciting his father’s last words to the boy and then flies off back to his old self. Lois writes a new article on why the World needs Superman. Thus the film ends with the implication that it is to be the first of a new series.

The film cost over $200 million to make whereas the originals started around $50 million making £300 million until the low budget financial flop of the 4th with Christopher Reeve. The actual costs are open to question with at one point talk of some $400 million taking account of marketing so with box office said to amount to £400 million even with the tax breaks which created a good profit it appears the latest recreation did not achieve the required sums for a series.

Despite 25 years between the first and second reincarnations the basic was problem is that Christopher Reeve had become an iconic hero in real life having become paralysed in a riding accident he had struggled to communicate and then to play a role in the world Reeve had only recently died and Brandon Routh met with the approval of the widow for his physical resemblance to her husband. I thought the film was made by Kevin Spacey who although as with the excellent Gene Hackman filled out the stereotype crazy villain Kevin brought a more serious and nasty edge to the character. Despite plans for sequel which should have hit the screens two years ago it was never made and with the momentum lost one can only speculate that it is back to the drawing for some 3D latest technical wizardry sometime in the future. My own view is that they ought to go back to the original planet of Krypton for a prequel

The only reason why I have tackled the five film sequence before other priorities is that the films were shown back to back over one 24 hours period and I recorded and then needed the space.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Superman IV The Quest for Peace

It was back to normal with Superman IV The Quest for Peace with Sydney J Furie the Director Les Luther and Lois Lane restored and Christopher Reeve contributing to the story team. The film was however a box office and critical disaster.

It is in this film not III that he returns to the dispose of the farmstead after the death of his mother. There is still the prolonged opening credit sequence and an early display of his powers while he saves a group of Russian cosmonauts on a space station after they have been hit by an off course satellite.

Returning to the Daily Planet he finds a new owner with idea akin to the Sun Newspaper and News of the World. This 1987 thirty years ago! The man puts his daughter in charge that takes a fancy to Clark and attempts to seduce. There is a scene in the film when he double dates as Clark with the daughter of the Media Mogul and as Superman with Lois who still unaware that she was once the wife of Superman helps the daughter to appeal to Clark while she continues her romance with Superman.

When there is deterioration in relations between Russia and the USA he is in dilemma what to do. He attends a meeting of the United Nations and announces her is going to unilaterally rid the world of nuclear rockets which he captures and then in large net in space hurtles into the sun.

Les Luther is broken out of prison by his nephew and seeing an exhibition in which a single strand of Superman hair is holding a gigantic weight he works out that the hair can be used to create superman stronger than the original by attaching the hair with a regeneration formula to a missile which superman hurtles into the sun. Superman and Nuclear Man fight and he is wounded from a scratch of the creature’s radio active finger nails. He loses his cape and the Daily Planet headlines Superman is dead. However he manages to get to the penthouse of Lois and she retrieves the green crystal which he found when he returned home but which can only be used once.

He recovers and goes off to battle “Nuclear Man” who has taken a shine to the Medial Mogul’s daughter. Superman appears to have been defeated again and is driven to moon. Here works out that temporarily pushing the moon into a eclipse of the sun he will diminish the powers of Nuclear Man who he then captures and deposits him into a nuclear power plant (big error here as putting him down the chimney of a coal fire plant) and then capturing Lex Luther back to prison and his nephew to Boy’s Town. The problem with this film as with III is that there is no development of Superman Character or technical surprises.

Superman III

Alas this cannot be said for Superman III which was released in 1983.

It was understandable that after defeating Lex Luther twice the decision was taken to create a new villain but Robert Vaughan as Ross Webster somehow fails even my comic book villain standards to convince that he is anything other than Robert Vaughan. He is assisted in his dastardly schemes by his sister played by Annie Ross the Mitcham Jazz singer and his woman Ambrosia Webster played by Pamela Stephenson, having fun.

The plot primarily involves Richard Pryor as bank employee who goes on a computer course and finds he is a genius manipulating codes in the days of the green screen basic programming. He finds that by siphoning the half pennies/cents which are rounded in the system he can achieve a fortune ($82000) over the first month of operating the system. However this shows up in the books and it easy to work out the culprit as he appears in a flashy car. His boss Vaughan instead of punishing up employs me to take control of Coffee industry by manipulating the weather conditions.

Meanwhile Clark has returned to Smallville to dispose of the farm following the death of his mother and to attend he High School reunion where he meets his former teenage love, now married with a husband who turned as the stereotype self centre mid American male a drunken bully. On his way he has to put out a dangerous far at a chemical plant. They have a picnic where her son runs off and falls asleep in a field being harvested so Superman saves him thus cementing the rekindling of their original relationship which never got off the ground. Superman returns to his role as saviour of the world this time preventing bad weather destroying the coffee crop.

Vaughan now remembers the article written by Lois Lane in which she discloses that Superman cannot cope with the mineral Kryptonite which is another way in which his powers are neutralised. Vaughan persuades Prior to use his computer skills to devise synthetic Kryptonite which they trick Clark to touch. This does not have the same immediate effect as the real stuff but gradually changes his approach, slows him up and makes him selfish. He straightens the Leaning Tower of Pizza, blows out the Olympic Flame and spills the contents of an oil tanker into the sea.

Vaughan now hatches his latest plot which is to take control of the entire ocean going oil tankers and hold, them in a spot in the Atlantic Ocean. Superman goes from bad to worse become drunk and has a nervous breakdown. He splits into two characters one good and one bad and they engage in battle and eventually overcomes his evil persona and becomes his original self.

Meanwhile Pryor has persuaded him to build a super world controlling computer which becomes self aware and seeking a life of its own as la Hal in 2001. The machine starts to defend itself draining electricity for the national grid. The evil influencing sister is drawn into the machine and becomes a Star Trek Cyborg an turns on brother and his woman.

It is left to Superman to turn to the chemical plant for the substance which he prevented from exploding and poisoning the atmosphere. This is used to destroy the computer with the sister returning to normal and she and her brother are left to the authorities. He requires Pryor to work in a coalmine and he reunites with his former love.

Superman II

The sequel to Superman the Movie was eagerly awaited and was released two years later as Superman II thus signalling the commencement of a series. There are in fact two version of the film. The original released produced which included 75% created by the Director of the first film Richard Donner with the latter by the replacement director Richard Lestor who did not use some of he original produced film. To and a half decades later Donner released a second version which reinstated the cut footage under the title Superman II the Richard Donner Cut and which also retained some of the Lester footage.

Despite the gap the original actors were all available. Superman foils a terrorist plot which results in hurtling a nuclear rocket far into space where it explodes just as the imprisoned Krypton trio are passing thus freeing them to explore the universe and they encounter an earth planetary expedition and learn of their communication with Houston. They decide that Houston sounds like a place to conquer finding that as they move towards earth their strength and powers increase. They land and quickly terrorise the plant as none of the earth’s weapons has any effect. The dastardly trio storm into the Whitehouse and force the President on behalf of the rest of the world to yield to General Zod with everyone asking where Superman is. A good question.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane are doing a feature on Niagara Falls as a rip off tourist trap staying at a revolting “romantic” hotel. Lois finally works out that Clark is Superman and to test her theory throws herself into waters of the Falls and although Clark is effective in staving her he does so as Clark attempting to retain his cover. Back in the hotel Clark accidentally falls into the fire and Lois seeing that he is unharmed is able to persuade Clark to admit the truth. He takes her to the Fortress of Solitude at the North Pole where in order to be able to have a normal adult relationship he loses his special powers without understanding what the implications will be. He quickly finds out what this means when encountering a bully at a diner. The couple then find out what has happened and Clark realises he has no alternative but to return to the Fortress alone to reverse back.

Meanwhile Zod and his two companions are curious about who this Superman is. Lex Luther meanwhile has escaped from the chain gang and makes his way to the Fortress of Solitude. I am not sure if it is explained how he works this out but he learns the secrets of the man’s background and goes off to deal with General Zod who is delighted to hear that Superman is in fact the son of the man who had him banished. The price of the deal is Australia!

Superman has returned to his roots for the green crystal to enable the reversing processing and meanwhile the deadly trio had gone to the Planet and kidnapped Lois. When Superman retreats to the Fortress he is followed by the trio led by Luther and with Lois their prisoner. Luther explains that if they put Superman into the chamber his powers will leave him not realising that Superman has prepared for this and reversed the position so that those outside the chamber lose their powers.

The dastardly trio are defeated and the world is saved. There is however one negative and somewhat sad consequence as he is wipes the mind of Lois so that she has no knowledge that Clark Kent is also Superman. Superman II lived up to the expectations back n in 1980. Alas this cannot be said for Superman III which was released in 1983.

Superman the Movie

The World let, alone the UK could do with a reality Superman. The 1978 Superman -the Movie film, introduced the former comic book character to a new generation with its trademark prolonged title sequence using the latest graphics and Marlon Brando as his father and Susannah York in his mother on the doomed planet Krypton in the opening sequence in which the main plot of the follow up film was also heralded as the Council banished three traitors into space where it appears they were able to escape from their imprisonment after the Krypton explodes.

Before the explosion Brando and his screen wife said loving goodbye to their son before placing him in a space craft intentionally directed to earth because of similar human physical characteristics and an environment in which he could thrive and do good.

It was fortunate that he landed meteor like in the days before the entire earth air space could be monitored and he landed close a an agricultural middle America just at the point that the kindly childless dirt farmer couple of Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter who immediately take the child as their own and realising his superhuman powers, when he lifts their truck with one hand so the wheel can be changed, bring him up as normal as possible and keeping his strength secret.

At this point he has not learned to fly although when at High School he is thwarted in his normal interest in girls by a local yokel he runs faster than the a passing train to reach home before the rest of the carload pass by on the way to their respective homes at other farmstead. It is presumed that he has also hidden his knowledge and mental abilities his biological parents having provided the sum total of human and terrestrial knowledge over the journey which enabled him to grow from a baby into a young boy. Once source says three years later.

Following the death of his father he makes arrangements for his mother to be able to continue living at the farmstead and goes off to the artic with a green glowing crystal which creates a structure in which he can learn of his parental background via holographic images, develop his abilities and his destiny. This includes the trade mark costume and cape together with the ability to fly at speed across the planet, into space and back without the need for respiratory gear. He is also able to stand the most intense and fierce heat as well as hold or lift breathtaking loads.

Again from a source the period of his stay in the artic is twelve years after which for some unexplained reason he chooses to become a reporter on the Daily Planet the Metropolis (New York) newspaper on which he is immediately assigned to work with the ambitious Lois Lane(Margot Kidder) to regards him as a hack handed hack! Her first impression appears confirmed when the couple on leaving the office are accosted by a mugger with a gun who Lois takes on unaware that Clark (Superman) has saved her life by capturing a bullet in his hand.

Clark only commences to reveal his superhuman powers after a helicopter leaving the top of the building becomes entangle and crashes downwards from the skyscraper and this heralds the city and the world learning of this amazing individuals who prevents disasters and catches criminals while continuing to function as a not so good journalist.

Unlike batman and Robin who confront a series of villains Superman has only one adversary, the master genius intellectual criminal, Lex Luther played by Gene Hackman who lives in a super dwelling hidden beneath the subways and which primarily consists of huge luxury fitted library with an incompetent henchman and peroxide girlfriend played by Valerie Perrine. His first plan is to capture USA nuclear rockets and aim at the San Andreas fault tipping the Western seaboard into the ocean (people and buildings and all so that the large area of inland desert which he has acquired becomes the coast and the home of various new cities and towns making him a rich and powerful man. The plan is thwarted by superman who also prevents Lois being submerged as a dam breaks. Superman saves the Lois by spinning the earth back in time.

Before this event Superman has prevented Airforce One from crashing into a baseball stadium/may have been football and captured some bank robbers escaping by boat which he returns to the police station. Superman then delivers Luther and his male associate direct to a chain gang prison. His relationship as superman with Lois has developed when he takes her flying around the world from her penthouse with patio garden home where he alternates with Clark as her date for the evening.

Although the plot is full of holes the film has credibility because of the role of Christopher Reeve as Superman and the exceptional cast where in addition to Brando, Hackman and Ford there is Trevor Howard as the first Elder on Krypton and Terence Stamp as General Zod the banished leader of the plot by the trio of villains to take control of the Krypton before it explodes. The cinematic tricks including flying around the planet, stopping planes and trains and rockets were also firsts as the new era of science fiction got underway, before Star Wars, Batman, Spiderman and the rest. The film has been much written about as a consequence including reference to potential biblical themes with General Zod as the devil cast out from Paradise and Superman as Christ set down on earth to lead the way with his miracle working and selfless behaviour. However at the time it was great family entertaining ground breaking fun.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Square

The Square is an Australian film which was shelved by its author because he considered it not strong enough but was persuaded to make the film by his brother. He should have trusted his instincts.

Raymond Yale is a contractor working on the site of a new development who accepts substantial backhanders from sub contractors. He is having a passionate sexual affair with a young neighbour who is married to a criminal. He promises to leave his wife and set up home separately with the young woman as soon as he has amassed sufficient funds start a new life.
The young wife discovers that her husband has hidden the substantial proceeds of crime in the loft of their home. She devises a plan for the lover to set fire to the home after they have removed the money. Unfortunately a relative is in the home when the fire is started and dies so the couple have become murderers along with accomplices involved. There then follows a series of misadventure which descend into farce in which several people are killed. Finally there is confrontation between the criminal and his crime partner which appears to be settled when the crime partner is killed however as the lover wrestles with criminal over the possession of the weapon it goes off and shoots the young woman in the head killing her instantly. And the moral is.

Un Posto all’inferno, A place of Hell

Just two to go with Un Posto all’inferno, A place of Hell, an Italian 1969 released film which has recently been successfully dubbed in English. Most dubbed films are awful as those undertaking the dubbing fail to understand the idiom of the original language with some excruiating results. It was only at the end of he film that I discovered it had been dubbed.. It is set on a small Pacific Island where the indigenous people are held captive by the Japanese during World War II. On the island is a British Officer who has been responsible for setting up the new radar system and which has now fallen intact into the hands of the enemy.

There is also a small group of American soldiers where the officer holds the rank as War Correspondent.

Typical for this kind of film in which the allies provide heroic sacrifices by wounded individuals who enable their companions to escape from advancing forces by holding their position for a time despite mammoth odds against them. They are assisted by heroic villagers and they are able to carry out major assaults such as the destruction of the radar system with minimum casualties compared to those of the enemy who also speak perfect English,

The final sequence of the film as a surreal quality as an indigenous young woman bravely explores each of the hut dwellings at the waters edge to ensure it is as deserted as it appears. Her search takes several minutes. However when the remaining soldiers reach the centre of the village and approach the small sea going patrol boat they find that they are surrounded but several dozen enemy troops who have buried themselves in fox holes and covered pits in the sand. They are all killed but even after this the remaining men are attacked by two sailors on the patrol boat so that in the end only two survive including the war correspondent who surveying the beach covered with bodies comments about the cost of war and its futility.

The Jack Hunter Trilogy

This is good point to introduce a mini series of three separate but connected films under the banner heading of Jack Hunter with each film titled the Lost Treasure of Ugarit, The Quest for Akenaten’s Tomb and the Star of Heaven.

The main story is the search for two artefacts which combined become an extraordinary weapon in the form a nuclear laser which turns rock into molten lava. There are various interests in the search of the two artefacts. Jack is a treasure seeker who works for a National USA intelligence service which operates with dozens of operatives keeping watch via satellites on banks of computer screens and led by a comparatively young woman who has a love hate relationship with Jack. He has a history love and sexual adventures although it is not clear which affair is what.
In the first he teams up with a US educated Syrian Nadia who is only interested in preserving the ancient artefacts and preventing them in being misused when their potential power is understood. She is accompanied by a driver who is a stupid and nervous coward who is intended to provide comic interludes. He does have his moments which makes his usefulness worthwhile and at the end of the series Jack and Nadia are present at the airport when he goes to greet his long suffering and separated wife anticipating she is the small height challenged and large weight challenged person who appears to open her arms to him but is for another while his wife turns out to be a beautiful beauty queen type.

There is also someone with wealth and the ability to hire hundreds of Russian type young hoods and he employs a former associated and friend of Jack which leads to the friend not killing Jack when the opportunity arrives in each of the films, sometimes on more than one occasion. There are also corrupt officials who with the prospect of Treasure also become involved. The antiseptic death rate is ginormous but remains suitable for Saturday morning Children‘s cinema. The films are allegedly set in various historical sites around the Mille East and also in various cities including Paris and Istanbul.

In the end the one of the main villains kills the other and just when it looks as if he has been successful using the weapon to destroy just about everyone and everything in sight there is an eclipse which means that the weapon cannot draw on the required energy from the sun and Jack is able to part the weapon for the surviving villain who falls into magna river he has created. Moreover Nadia is able to get hold of the weapon and throws it into the Magna causing a nuclear type of explosion. There is not much else which needs to be said. In fact there is nothing else to be said.

The Doomsday Prophecy.

Although I have number of films to record it cannot be described as a film fest.

I begin with an end of the world forecast film which combines the Mayan Calendar with the Planet X or Planet Niburu forecast resulting in the films 2012 which as will be recalled featured volcanic and earthquake eruptions as the earth alters its axis following major solar flares and leading to a second great flood with the creation of several great Ark Ships so that humanity survives, and Deep Impact where a seven mile comet impacts with earth.

The Mayan calendar is said to end on December 21st 2012 along with less precise forecasts of other ancient peoples where as the Planet X being on a long rotation around the sun due to come close to the earth in 2012 with damaging consequences is more the notion of a 20th century individual who believed they received messages from an mind implant (upon which a large part of the X files was based)

The film is called the Doomsday Prophecy and was part of a week long series of disaster movies on a free film channel on Sky, free in the sense that an additional payment is not required.

Two individuals receive summons to meet a recluse professor living in the outback. One is a specialist in investigating ancient artefacts including the famous Mayan statues on Easter Island. Why they were there and how were they created? The other works for a publishing company who sent to meet the recluse who has offered to give to the company the exclusive rights to publish his latest manuscript forecasting the future following the success of an earlier publication along the lines of Nostradamous which can be interpreted as forecasting events that have already occurred. He aks for the young man to be his contact. Why these two individual should have been selected to meet with reclusive professor is subsequently revealed.

When the two reluctant would be saviour of humanity meet they are suspicious and hostile pulling in opposite directions when they arrive at the home of the Professor and find him murdered The clue is a kind of ancient rod which enables the recipient to receive visions of the future. And as the two subsequently find the use has the effect of destroying the brain and therefore the body of the user as it reaches the point where the world is due to end unless certain action is taken. The Professor points the way for the two to solve the mystery adn save humanity.

Meanwhile there are two developments which add to the pressure upon the couple. The first is that a series of catastrophes occur of increasing magnitude which includes the destruction of central New York, the disappearance of the Italian peninsular and such like. They are also pursued by a special Presidential Task force who have been monitoring the Professor and those he has contacted. A leading general in national security instructs a agent commander on the ground that it is the national interest to kill the two chosen ones and retrieve the rod, although it is never explained about how the General got to know about the rod and its powers.

The chosen young man has used the rod twice, the first unintentionally when he picks it up out of curiosity on finding the body and then intentionally when he understands it potential significance. He realises that for some reason the authorities are enemies while the young woman wants to get into contact with them and reveal all. Eventually they are able to persuade the lead pursuer that they must carry out the mission although they remain unclear what it is. They are assisted by an elder of the local indigenous people and his daughter who form part of the second visions as does leader of the pursuers.

What emerges is that the world was in a similar peril thousands of years before and that the Mayan statues were part of a device by an other world civilization which creates a force field when the rod is inserted in one of the heads and which counters the force directed at the earth which is potential creating its end. The rogue General wants to be the one to hold and control the power but when he does so he finds that it does not work for him.

The reason is that young man is the son of the Professor adopted as an infant and has inherited the power although how the Professor came to have the rod and the power is never explained. In the spectacular finale they are able to raise a new set of Mayan type figures which emerge from the ground in the area known to exist by the indigenous elder. The earth is saved from complete destruction although it is a close call.

Interview with an Assassin

I have previously mentioned before the other film which deals more directly with the day of the Assassination of President John F Kenney entitled Interview with an Assassin. The film is made in the style of the Blair Witch project with a hand held poor quality camera and sound work and as a ‘mocumentary’. I hated the Blair Witch as did the majority of the audience on a weekend evening because it was badly made and ineffective as a scare movie. The style of this film also results in a lack of credibility if one sets aside the boredom and persists in viewing. It could have been a much better if not great film because it deals with one of the great cover-ups of all time. The Assassination of JFK and the cover up by the Warren Commission. It is unlikely that the US government will ever come clean that there was more than one shooter and that the bullet which causes the fatality came from what is known as The Grassy Knoll on the other side of a roundabout and where the shot was most likely fired from behind and above the fencing.

The film concerns an out of work camera man Ron Kobeleski who is contacted by a neighbour and retired marine Walter Ohlinger who prefers to be called Barry. Barry alleges that he is dying of cancer and wants to confess a secret which he has kept for forty years. He says he was the gunman that fired the fatal bullet and he shows Ron the bullet casing which he kept after it was fired before making his escape. He persuades Ron to take it to a specialist laboratory who are able to confirm that it is similar to the weapon used to kill the President but it would be necessary to compare with casing with the bullet to confirm it was the precise weapon. For some reason Ron leaves the casing at the laboratory which later disappears.

Given the significance of such a story if it was true Ron does not go immediately to the authorities and goes along with Barry’s assertion that to do so would endanger both lives and the family of the camera man. They go on a tour of the area and to find others who were involved in the conspiracy and still alive. Barry’s ex wife says her husband is a lunatic and a fraud while others appear to add credence to what the man says. However there are two twists as the film ends. Ron finds himself involved as Barry cleverly gets himself into a position where he attempts to assassinate the present day President. Barry says he just wanted to prove that he could do it to confirm his story about the killing of JFK. The second twist is that Barry then attempts to kill Ron who manages to wound Barry.

The film ends with a policeman saying to the incarcerated Ron awaiting trial that he could help his case by revealing the location of the tapes and the account of what was said to have happened re JFK and their subsequent research. Ron says that would end his life and that of his family. Ron is therefore telling the tale to us after his release from prison and it is mentioned that Barry died in prison not from cancer but mysteriously and allegedly by other prisoners. The film attracted interest in Texas and was made with a budget of just $1 million. It showed.

Both films are about how characters whose live are significantly changed from the interaction with strangers, one for the better and one for the worse.

Love Field

There is more weight to Love Field a 1992 released USA independent film with Michelle Pfeiffer and Dennis Haysbert who are two individuals with spectacularly different reasons for taking a Greyhound bus from Dallas heading for connections to Washington DC. Michelle plays a housewife beautician, suffering the loss of a pregnancy and married to a stereotype male more interested in beer, watching games on TV, having his wife cook and tend to his needs on demand. He does not share her enthusiasm for JFK as the only politicians she ever voted for and adores his wife with scrapbooks filled with pictures and articles.

She takes time off to help a neighbour who is wheelchair bound to go to Love Field, the name of the airport, to see the President and his wife arrive. Because of Traffic problems they arrive just as the plane lands and a security man/policeman enables them to stand at the barrier with a good chance of shaking the hand of Jacqueline as she walks their side of the line. Unfortunately the woman she accompanies has dropped her purse (handbag) and while she is retrieving this the President’s wife shakes the hand of her companion and she misses close contact.

Later she arrives at the hairdressers/beauticians and notices crowds outside a TV shop window and they learn the news of the assassination. She is devastated and decides she must attend the funeral and makes plans to attend the funeral when it is known where it will take place. He husband refuses to take time off so he can drive her despite the incentive of staying at the same motel they used on their honeymoon so she goes off without his knowledge taking the Greyhound.

She sits at the back just in front of the seats used by “the coloureds” with Haysbert in what one critic described as a Sydney Poitier standard role but as with Pfeiffer both actors quickly transcend the stereotype characters that have been created for them. She is talks without thinking at great speed, jumping to conclusions and judgements emotionally on impulse without rational basis echoing the prejudices of upbringing and lack of education. She is a typical while working class American of that era.

Haysbert plays a father who was not ready to marry the mother of their daughter when the pregnancy was determined. When the mother died the child appears to have been cared for by the maternal family or foster parents who mistreated her physically so that she flinches when anyone goes to touch. Ffeiffer discovers this when the toilet for ‘the coloureds’ is closed and she take the child into the ‘whites only’ and discovers bruising. She accurately assumes that the child is being kidnapped and the man is the perpetrator and contacts the police giving her particulars. She breaks off and quickly learns that that the story that the father had undertaken his national service and on learning of the death of the mother had gone to find the child and immediately discovered the ill treatment. He was able to show pictures of the girl as a baby with her mother and himself to confirm the story and that because he was not the legal father he taken the child without going through the legal process to immediately protected. The days before DNA!

The coach is then forced off the road to avoid an accident and they are taken to the nearest Bus and Coach station to await a relief vehicle. Because from his rear seat he had noted a drunken driver trying to overtake he is required to give evidence and the local police become concerned as an officer has gone to the address of the Ffeiffer and alerted the husband to where she was and the possible destination. They decide to jump the bus leaving her case on the vehicle but he has his own and the child’s clothing with them.

They steal a clapped out car that only does 40 MPH but they get this fixed along the way but eventually it breaks down and they have to overcome an attack on him by three white men while she is away trying to get help and the girl hiding in the car. Fortunately she has a distant relative in the area and they are taken in while he recovers. The woman cooperates with keeping silent when the local sheriff calls to enquire among all the isolated properties in the area because they are on the look out for the threesome after it has been established that the man was involving in the kidnapping of the children and was being helped by the white woman.

This relative contacts the husband who comes to take his wife home but she refuses and it is evident this marks the end of the marriage. There is to be no happy ending though as such because the couple recognise the inevitable when attempting to get to the Presidential funeral at Arlington. He is given a custodial sentence but in the Washington area when Ffeiffer also settles and keeps in contact with the girl. The final scene is his release. Ffeiffer is divorced but managing on her own with the road trip having enabled her to stand on her two feet, grow up and understand more of the reality of the society and the prejudice that existed and continues to do so. Her performance led to a nomination for an Academy Award for an actor in leading female role.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

London Boulevard

London Boulevard is described as a 2010 British Film noir. Perhaps it is, but for me it is another violence exploitation movie in the genre of Lock Stock and Two Barrels which appeals to the weekend lads and lasses. Colin Farrell plays a contemporary East End criminal released from prison who wants to go straight, or at least not return for any more porridge and evening pint mugs of cocoa. He is collected by a former friend and associate Billy who says he can stay at his flat which is decidedly up market because it has been provided by the man he now works for the notorious Rob Gant played by the ubiquitous crime boss Ray Winston.

At first Farrell as Mitchell (any connection with the Mitchell’s of the Old Vic is coincidental) resists the offers from Winston and investigates the offer of a security guard to Keira Knightly who is well suited for playing Charlotte your today’s flat chested stick actress model and creative artist who cannot go anywhere with anyone because of the paparazzi who have somehow persuaded the owners of a neighbouring building to allow them to camp out on the roof so there is are only a couple of spots in the garden of the West London house where she resides and shares with Davis Thewlia who plays an disturbed business manager.

The absurdity of this aspect of the plot but one of several similar aspects of film which is all about slick appearance over substance. In reality she would have vacated the premises long ago to something offering greater internal security or have taken appropriate injunctions. The idea of someone like Jordan being such a successful business manager is also pure fantasy. She also has a grand county house in need of renovation but again without adequate securing fencing and screening.

What Mitchell is not aware when he arrives is that she is suffering after a date rape in Rome when the perpetrator another fashionista film producer I think, is dealt with by the businesses manager although I not sure if he was murdered or severely harmed. There are two attractions to the job. The first it has accommodation and the second is that he is a stupid man as well as a criminal and takes a shine to the lady of the house because she is fascinated by his ruthless hard man criminality. He is a dangerous thug no different from the crime boss who recognises this and offers to take him under his wing.

Winston is no nonsense crime thug who likes to order scampi and chips with beer at posh nosh restaurants and uses his money and reputation to bully everyone into submission. Farrell turns to him for help when a tramp he knows, although it is not explained why he would ever take an interest in the tramp, is murdered by two young Turks from a local estate one of whom is a professional footballer which I suspect is supposed to surprise teenage viewers.

In the event Winston’s henchman picks up the wrong man but this does not the boy being tortured and killed. The film also features a corrupt policeman Detective Inspector Bailey played by Eddie Marsden. So how does it all end well DI Bailey gets ambitious and is murdered by Thewlis as Jordan. Farrell and he take the body to the water system at the country house so the body will enter the adjacent lake/river. He also murders Winstone in a shoot out where he knocks out Winstone’s whore and so that it looks as if she had killed the security guard who is made to look as if he has killed Marsden or vice versa.

Farrell is then knifed to death by the footballer he is trying to find while fortunately for her Keira as Charlotte is able to show she had nothing to do with any of this by being on a plane to the USA for an engagement there. And the moral is? Criminals are no different from crooked police and overpaid footballers and fashionista personalities together with red top papers paying the paparazzi. They are all scum bags who meet early bloody deaths. While the former may be true that latter is sadly not.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes is a 1998 released film featuring Nicholas Cage in a bravura performance as a dodgy detective who knows everybody who is anybody in contemporary Atlantic City which he regards as his manor. He attends a major Boxing event intended to help rebuild the image of the City at which also present is the United Sates Defence Secretary on his was back from attending a demonstration of a new missile Defence system which the Department is considering buying from a private company. Cage is accompanied by going back best friend who is the chief of staff and security officer for the Secretary.

Cage has gambled out of his depths on the Champ beating his opponent and is shocked when the champion appears to take a dive although this is only apparent later from video tapes. Before this his attention is directed at a sexually attractive red headed young woman who takes a ringside seat. Another young woman takes the vacated seat of the chief of staff who has moved to talk to the young woman and who had then moved away up a stairway as he approached. This young woman is shot wounded as the Secretary of State is also shot and killed.

The chief of staff shoots the assassin who is located at the top of the steps where he was following the red headed woman as she left. The State police attempt to take charge but Cage exerts his authority until Federal Government agents arrive. There is lock down at the stadium while the identities of everyone are checked out and to establish witnesses to the event. Cage watches available video and works out the champ has dived and confronts him, gaining the admission that he was blackmailed because of gambling debts to take the dive at a signal from a man in the crowd.

He also works out that the young woman who sat in front of the Defence Secretary is connected although the initial reaction from the information about the killed assassin is that he was a Palestine Terrorist. The young woman behaves suspiciously in covering a wound to her arm and talking her way into the hotel room of a gambler at the adjacent Casino to the fight Hall with a view to hiding out.

Cage goes in pursuit using closed circuit TV to track her movements. By this time we also know that his friend is a villain and involved in the killing of the Defence Secretary and attempted killing of the young woman. He has a small team with him who included the red headed woman who was wearing a wig and is an official member of staff. He has killed he three members of his support team and is also in pursuit of the young woman.

What emerges is that the young woman is a research worker at the company and discovered that the evidence of the missile system working was fixed to give the impression that the targets at the demonstration were hit when they were not. The company wanted the contract to go through which they had bribed the Chief of staff and hoped they would be able to fix the faults before the required delivery dates.

The young woman had attempted to contact the Defence Secretary and arranged to meet him at the Boxing match to pass on the evidence of the conspiracy. The style of the film is that of the caper the Tourist although there are several more dramatic moments including when Cage has to wrestle with the accusation that his best friend is behind the killing. There are also moments of farce. Their respective lives are saved and the friend killed.

Cage is immediate recognised as a hero and his ambition to become the Mayor of Atlantic City becomes possible. However the press who have been investigating his activities produce evidence that leads to his arrest for corruption. His wife abandons him and he loses custody of their son. He is also abandoned by his mistress. On the day before he is due to commence a prison sentence he meets the young woman whose life he saved and who thanks him for his involvement as his actions prevented the fraud being perpetrated and which could have resulted in the loss of soldiers’ lives. Despite the difference in ages she says she will wait for him after they kiss.

Throughout the film there is a sexually attractive women involved in a way I cannot now remember. As the final credits roll we see a construction team placing a large column into a hole and the sight of large ruby which the woman had been seen wearing, What the implications of this is in terns of the Mafia tradition of burning in concrete as well as among the fishes is uncertain except for the reputation of Atlantic City being a Mafia style gangland run City from the days of Prohibition, Nucky Thompson and the Boardwalk Empire.


A similar kind of caper although one which was more inclined to take itself seriously is Mozambique a 1965 British Drama. As with the Tourist the aspect of the film which engages is the location shooting at the Victoria Falls and in Portugal who then managed the African country as a colony. It has to be said there is no rational justification for any of the action centring on the falls as the main action appears to centre on the Capital city which is in the far south of the country and smuggling to the island of Zanzibar which is off the coast of a neighbouring country to the far north. It is possible that the location of the hotel and the nightclub featured in the film was not in the capital city although it is unlikely there were two International airports in the country at that time.

The film is the story of an out of work pilot in Portugal since the aircraft he was flying crashed killing his passengers and where he was the only survivor. He is offered a job in Mozambique provided with a one way ticket and not told what his duties will be. Also on the same plane is a young and attractive singer also out of a job who has been offered a contract to sing at a night club again with only a one way ticket. Both are clearly desperate to have accepted the offer on this basis.

Prior to their departure a man is seen travelling down some steps and then is found murdered at the same time a number of children are also passing down the same steps. There is an important clue here which will escape most viewers unless they have some advanced insight into the story.

I cannot remember now why the pilot comes to the attention of the Portuguese authorities and in particular one police inspector but he does and it emerges that his interest is in the activities of the man who has hired the pilot and similar to the Tourist the interest is as much in the location of the ill gotten funds in a numbered account which it emerges the murdered man on the steps was carrying information in the attaché case.

In Mozambique where the main action takes places the pilot is surprised, rather than shocked, to find that his employer has died and that his widow, played by Hildegard Knef appears under the control of the mans chief assistant who in turn taken control of the nightclub and is assisted by a at least one heavy as well as other security personal.

There are various scenes at the night club which appears an extraordinary odd place filled with unhappy looking people who spend their time listening to acts or sitting in silence. We are treated to an African dance troupe and to various boring singers even by the standards of the day. This includes the new recruit although the contribution by Knef later in the film is worth attention and only underlines the gulf between her voice, the song and performance and that of everyone she followed.

Having said this about the club it is also used as a brothel where the singers are expected to sleep with customers under management arrangements. There is an Arab racketeer based in Zanzibar but with a penthouse in Park Lane who engages in white slaving kidnapping and rape. The new singer is duly kidnapped and carried off to Zanzibar after she has established a sexual relationship with the pilot who she turns to for protection.

He finds that his task is to fly a light plane involved in trafficking pharmaceutical products and as well as illegal drug substances. This leads him to accompanying the new boss to Zanzibar where he is able to rescue the singer and the three return to the private airfield used for the enterprise. However before arrival they have to take the plane down on a beach because of a clogged fuel line and after fixing decide to take a break at a beach spot for some distance away from where the lane has landed. When the couple return they find the new boss stabbed. They bring the body back with the plane only to find the police waiting and wanting to check for drugs. The two are taken into custody on suspicion for murder.

The senior police office from Portugal has arrived in order to pass to the widow the missing brief case which was subsequently found. It is at this point I cannot remember aspects of the plot which involves another character who the pilot has followed one night from the night club to a first floor apartment. The individual prevents the pilot from entering the apartment on the grounds he has a woman for the bar also in the building living there. Later the pilot discovers that living in the apartment is a man who these days we will describe as a height challenged individual, known in the day as a dwarf. He had been employed to kill the agent with the brief case in Portugal and has merged in with the other children who with amazing coincidence had gone down the steps at the same time. He had also hidden in the plane undetected on the journey to Zanzibar and having doctored the engine intended to kill the new head of the enterprise.

This individual was acting for the widow who he now double crosses and takes off on road on his way over the border via the crossing at the Victoria Falls stopping off at the Victoria Falls hotel for breakfast and room to freshen up. The Portuguese police man accompanies the pilot in a borrowed plane in pursuit of the car and sets down at the nearest airport not without great views of the Falls beforehand. The adventure appears to end at a bridge at the Falls from which there is a fight with the death of the villain. On return to the capital the widow is arrested as the instigator of the deaths in order to gain control of the funds of her husband. The pilot and the singer are able to go off into the sunset as a couple.