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Archive for January, 2013

This is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name.  It stars Michael Clarke Duncan in his most famous and memorable role as John Coffey, a child inside a huge man’s body, who comes to death row in 1935 (1932 in the book) having been found guilty of raping and murdering two young girls.  Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, the chief warden on the wing, who sees the apparent healing power that Coffey has, and starts to doubt whether he is in fact guilty of the crime with which he has been charged.

To say more about the plot would probably be to give too much away – this is really a film which people should discover for themselves.  However, if you are familiar with the book, you will find that this is a very faithful adaptation of it.  At just over three hours long, I put off watching this film for a long time; I often struggle to concentrate with films that are two hours or more – but The Green Mile did not feel long at all.  Every minute was essential to the telling of the story, and the time flew by.

Tom Hanks was already a double Oscar winner when he made this film, and he is excellent here.  However, he is also generous, and lets the talent of the rest of the cast shine through.  It’s unusual to find a film where every single cast member is truly excellent, but that is what we have here.  David Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn play Edgecomb’s colleagues.  They are also his friends, and like him, are compassionate and not always comfortable with the job they have to do.  Doug Hutchison was perfectly cast as Whetmore, a prison guard with a cold streak of nastiness running through him.  Michael Jeter and Sam Rockwell play two very different prisoners on death row – the first, Eduard Delacroix (Jeter) despite whatever (unspecified) crime he did to end up on death row, is a mild-mannered man, trying to make the best of his situation; the second Wild Bill Wharton (Rockwell, in a blisteringly good performance) is pure evil.  But the real acting plaudits must surely go to Michael Clarke Duncan for his measured, and, frankly heartbreaking turn as John Coffey.  Rarely do I cry so much at films, but Duncan’s acting was just so utterly believable and powerful that I found myself absolutely sobbing.  How on earth he did not get the Oscar for this role, I will never be able to understand.

The story, despite the aforementioned length, is compelling throughout.  I would recommend having handkerchiefs at the ready, because this film will make you cry – but it absolutely is a ‘must-see’ movie.  A deeply moving story, with excellent performances from all involved.  Just superb.

Year of release: 1999

Director: Frank Darabont

Producers: Frank Darabont, David Valdes

Writers: Stephen King (book), Frank Darabont

Main cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell Bonnie Hunt

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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This film stars Gene Kelly in a rare dramatic role, and Natalie Wood, who at the time was a rising star. Natalie plays Marjorie Morgenstern (Morningstar is her ‘stage name’ which she uses later on in the film), a young and somewhat naive young woman, who falls in love with Noel Airman (Kelly), a man wo works at a summer camp every year, writing and directing the stage play, but who has dreams of seeing his own show on Broadway. Although her love is returned, Noel first refuses to make any sort of commitment to Marjorie, because she is just one of many women who fall for him every summer. He does subsequently realise his own feelings for her, but while her star is on the rise, his career is stagnant; he is unable to commit to anything, not just relationships, and their love causes pain and anguish to both of them.

It’s unusual to see Gene Kelly playing against type here. Noel was not an altogether sympathetic character, but I did recognise bits of him – we all know people who are lots of fun to be around, but don’t have the self-discipline to see anything through. (It should be noted that while I have posted a clip from the film which shows Kelly dancing, this movie is not a musical.) Anyway, Kelly does a good job in this role – I have always loved to see his magic feet, but film such as this show that he had a talent for serious acting too.

Natalie Wood is just beautiful as Marjorie – it’s hardly surprising that two men fall deeply in love with her in this film! She plays the part really well too, and I liked the character a lot. The development from an 18 year old girl into a confident young woman was believeable. Her parents, played by the always excellent Claire Trevor and Everett Sloane, were also great. Indeed, Sloane had one of the most touching scenes in the film as he stares out of the window looking at people skating in Central Park, and remembers his youth.

It’s quite a tearjerker this one – I found myself crying a couple of times during the film – not so much at the pain of the relationship between the two lead characters, but more because the ending was so inevitable (but I’m not giving it away). It’s a film I’d definitely like to see again, and it’s well worth watching, especially if you are a fan of either of the two main characters.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Irving Rapper

Producer: Milton Sperling

Writers: Herman Wouk (book), Everett Freeman

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Natalie Wood, Claire Trevor, Everett Sloane, Martin Milner, Carolyn Jones, Ed Wynn

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This mini-series (four episodes) was based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s experiences as a doctor, which he wrote about in his book ‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’, and was part of the Sky Arts Playhouse Presents series.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a young, newly graduated doctor from Moscow in 1917, who is sent to a remote village where there is very little to do (even the nearest shop is half a day’s travel away).  It snows constantly, and the only companions he has are his two nurses, his assistant doctor, and his patients, who invariably don’t want the help that he offers.  John Hamm plays the same doctor 17 years later, and the two interact with each other (although the young doctor is the only one who can see the older version of himself).

The first  two episodes were filled with dark humour (and some gory moments), but things took an altogether more sinister turn in the third and fourth episodes, when it becomes apparent that the older doctor is addicted to morphine, and faces legal trouble for falsifying prescriptions.  The older doctor wants to stop his younger self from repeating the same mistakes.

I won’t give away the ending, but it was oddly unexpected and inevitable, both at the same time.  I understand that there aren’t any more episodes planned, but the ending means that there could be more, so I live in hope!

As for the cast – Hamm was excellent as the older, world-weary doctor, and the excellent supporting cast included Rosie Cavaliero as Pelageya, a nurse and sometime sexual partner of the young doctor; Adam Godley as his assistant, and who provided some of the more humorous lines; and Vicky Pepperdine as another nurse.  Daniel Radcliffe was fine as the younger doctor, and was not as unbelievable as you might think, playing a younger version of  John Hamm!

Overall, well worth a watch – plenty of laughs and a few ‘cover your eyes’ moments.  I’d like to see a second series please!

Year of release: 2012

Director: Alex Hardcastle

Producers: Kenton Allen, Dan Cheesebrough, John Hamm, Matthew Justice, Lucy Lumsdem, Saskia Schuster, Yvonne Sellins, Clelia Mountford

Writers: Mikhail Bulgakov (book ‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’), Mark Chappell, Alan Connor, Shaun Pye

Main cast: Daniel Radcliffe, John Hamm, Rosie Cavaliero, Adam Godley, Vicki Pepperdine

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Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway steam up the screen in this drama/thriller.  McQueen is the eponymous anti-hero, an incredibly rich, charismatic man, who organises a bank heist, not for the money, but just for the kicks.  Dunaway is Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator, who has about as many morals as Thomas Crown – that is to say, very few.  Although they both know that she is trying to expose him as the man behind the heist, they are very attracted to each other, and start a relationship…but with one of them trying to catch out the other, just how far can such a relationship go?

I found this film flawed, but nonetheless enjoyable.  To get the major gripe out of the way first, there is excessive use of a split-screen in this film, and I found it annoying after a while.  I could see the need for it in some instances – for example where it was showing what five separate characters were doing at the same time, but there were times when it was completely unnecessary.  (For example, in one scene, Vicki is watching Thomas play Polo, and the screen divides up into multiple little boxes, all showing the same picture.  To compound the problem, occasionally one of the boxes would shrink and take up a corner of the screen while the rest of it was black.  In 1968, this may have been innovative, but in 2013, it was just annoying! (For this viewer anyway).

As for the story itself, it was wildly implausible, but a lot of fun for all that.  The soundtrack does date the film somewhat, but doesn’t diminish the enjoyment.  Steve McQueen just oozes charisma, in a role that was something of a departure for him. No matter – he was excellent, being one of those actors who you just can’t take your eyes off when he’s on screen.  Faye Dunaway too, looked stunning, and was fine as Vicki Anderson.  They definitely made a beautiful couple!  The most famous scene in this film is probably the chess sequence, where the sexual tension between Thomas and Vicki is almost palpable.  Although by today’s standards its fairly tame, I can imagine the reaction it caused when the film came out!

The ending was something of a surprise as well, and rounded it off satisfactorily.  I would recommend this film to fans of 60s movies, and/or fans of either McQueen or Dunaway.

Year of release: 1968

Director: Norman Jewison

Producers: Norman Jewison, Hal Ashby, Walter Mirisch

Writer: Alan R. Trustman

Main cast: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston

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Click here for my review of the 1999 film.

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The Long Hot Summer, made in 1958, was the first film (of seven) in which real life couple Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward starred together.  Newman is Ben Quick, a man who due to his reputation for being a barn-burner, is usually chased out of whatever town he has settled in.  When he arrives in a small Mississippi town, he quickly ingratiates himself with Will Varner (Orson Welles) one of the town’s richest and most influential men.  Varner’s son Jody (Tony Franciosa) is unhappy about it, because he feels that Quick is usurping him in the affections of his father.  Varner’s daughter Clara (Woodward) is also unhappy about it because she feels that Quick is unscrupulous and untrustworthy.  She’s correct, but dammit if he isn’t incredibly charismatic too – a problem that Clara inevitably finds herself having to deal with!

Newman is terrific as Ben Quick – he was an incredibly accomplished actor and really brings Quick to life, and there’s no denying that he also looked stunning.  Woodward too is excellent as Clara, who is torn between being independent, and fulfilling her father’s (and her own) desire to get married and settle down.  Real life couples don’t always work well together on screen, but these two do, and the chemistry between them is sizzling.  The rest of the cast is not always so successful. Franciosa was not always convincing as Jody (although Lee Remick was a delight as Jody’s flighty wife Eula), and Orson Welles was just over the top for me.

The story was entertaining, although it sometimes became melodramatic, due in part to the soundtrack (something I’ve noticed in other dramas from the 50s), and the film is occasionally unintentionally hilarious.  However, Newman and Woodward keep it all together and make the film worth watching (see it for their performances, if nothing else).  The film as a whole reminded me somewhat of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, another Newman film set in the South with similar themes of parental expectations and disillusionment.

Overall, not a brilliant film and not one I’d rush to see again, but it was enjoyable enough and worth a watch.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Martin Ritt

Producer: Jerry Wald

Writers: William Faulkner (short stories ‘Barn Burning’ and ‘The Spotted Horses’, book ‘The Hamlet), Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.

Main cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Lee Remick, Tony Franciosa, Angela Lansbury

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Isabel Duncan is a scientist working with the Bonobo apes at the Great Ape Language Lab in Kansas.  When the lab is blown up in a deliberate explosion, Isabel is injured and the apes are ‘liberated’….right into the hands of a ruthless programme maker who is determined that the apes shall be the stars of a new reality tv show.  Reporter John Thigpen was originally supposed to be writing a piece about the work at the lab, but after the explosion the story turns into something else entirely…

I read Sara Gruen’s debut novel, Water for Elephants, almost three years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so in fact that I thought her follow-up was almost certainly going to be a let-down, but I am happy to say that I was wrong.  I was hooked on this book from page one.  The main characters – Isabel, her friend and co-worker Celia, John, and his wife Amanda were all skilfully drawn and well developed, and I felt as though I really knew these people.  More than that, the apes themselves were such distinctive characters too.

The writing flowed well, and moved the story along.  I was eager throughout to find out what was going to happen next.  I cannot comment on the accuracy of the description of the Bonobos and their ability to communicate with humans and each other; however Gruen has clearly done her homework in this regard (indeed, most of the conversations with the apes in this story are based on the real conversations of Bonobos.

Overall, this was a lovely book – part satire, part love story to the beauty of great apes, with plenty of comedic moments, and lots of drama.  Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Set in Alaska in the 1920s, this story (based on an old Russian fairy tale) is about Jack and Mabel, a couple who move to live in a farm in a remote part of Alaska, to escape their pain at not being able to have children.  One night they create the figure of a small girl out of snow, and the next morning the snow child has disappeared, but soon a young girl who looks remarkably like their creation appears in the area where they live and befriends them, so that they become almost like parents to her.

I wanted to like this book.  I really did.  People recommended it to me, and I read reviews of it prior to reading it, all of which praised the book highly.  So maybe it’s me, but…it just didn’t grab me.  The writing was really quite lovely in places, but the whole thing had an air of detachment and isolation to it – I never really felt engaged in the story.  The detachment and isolation perhaps reflects the isolated location where the story takes place (and certainly the author’s descriptions of the snowy, remote and lonely place where Jack and Mabel are evocative and atmospheric), but for me it also had the unfortunate effect of me not really caring about any of the characters one way or the other.

I did prefer the parts with Faina, the young girl who may or may not be real.  However, there was a large part in the middle of the story where she is not present, and I found that that portion dragged.  As descriptive as the passages of Jack and Mabel’s work at their farm were, it seemed all quite repetitive.  The story picked up pace in the last 100 pages or so however, and I liked that part more.

Certainly I can see the value of this story, and the eloquence in the writing, and it is understandable that so many readers seem genuinely touched by it.  But unfortunately, it just wasn’t for this reader.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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