Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Episode 7: Babette's Feast - Hallelujah!

The Patriarch's cooking skills, Law and Grace, something's rotten in the state of Denmark, and why Christians should stop acting like accountants.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: The Labours of Hercules

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start this review with a personal anecdote. 

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot since I was around five or six, that Poirot and co. have been constant comfort food throughout my childhood. I wouldn’t say how very close David Suchet’s little Belgian was to me.

So now I haven’t said all that, I will say: 

Okay, that’s done.

Curtain brings Poirot full circle, back to Styles, where he first met Arthur Hastings. The old house (sadly not the same filming location) has been converted into a nursing home, where an ailing Poirot lives. When he summons Captain Hastings, he tells him that (shocker) there’s a murderer on the premises, but, in the grand tradition of detective and Watson since time immemorial, refuses to inform his old companion of the killer’s identity. Could it be an unusually posh Philip Glenister as Sir William Boyd Carrington? Or is it Judith Hastings, daughter of our beloved Captain? Toby Luttrell or his nagging wife Daisy? What about (my favorite of the line-up), the unassuming Stephen Norton (Aidan McArdle)? Or Judith's mild-mannered boss and his glamorous wife? 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Episode 5: A Christmas Carol - All that Glitters

George C. ScottAlistair Sim's Scrooge was less a cruel miser than a miserable man, making him a character we actually wanted to see change.

We talk about two Scrooges: Sim and Scott. Also: South-West Virginia, The Muppets, putting the mass back in Christmas, favorite Dickens names, Mrs. Crachit’s divine pudding, and the cruelty of government charity.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 10 - Review

My review of last week's episode

I've already noted that the Gracepoint showrunners completely missed the point of their source material, but this finale clinches it.

For those who saw episode 9, the killer reveal shouldn't have been all that difficult to predict. Several subplots had been resolved - the whole Jack Reinhold part (my favorite segment of the season), Beth and Paul, Emmett's background, Susan Wright's past, Vince's reason for threatening Susan. All that was done with, so it was fairly reasonable to expect the one unresolved thread to come to the fore, as it did.

(Spoilers for the endings of both Gracepoint and Broadchurch.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 9 - Review

My review of last week's episode.

It's been a pretty good year for small-screen Brits in the U.S. of A. Not only has David Tennant hopped the Atlantic and gained an accent, but so has Martin Freeman. In other quarters, Ioan Gruffudd and Jonny Lee Miller investigate crime in the big city.

For Gracepoint, the things lost in the passage are subtlety, originality, and faith. It doesn't help that comparison to the much superior Broadchurch is almost impossible not to make when Gracepoint has steadfastly refused to break out a new plot. Rather than a poignant reconciliation under the direction of Paul Coates, we get a pedestrian love-triangle which climaxes in an argument between Beth and Mark (followed by...revelation? reconciliation? what?). At least we can hope that that subplot has finally been played out, because, like Beth, none of us care about Paul.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Mission (1986) - They Who Live

In the first few scenes of The Mission, we are introduced to an Amazonian paradise, a lush expanse of leaf and stone and river. Waterfalls, massive sheets of white foam, cascade into gaping chasms. 

It holds all the power and mystery and beauty of Eden.

And there, amidst it all, is martyrdom and blood, as a man strapped to a cross floats down the river to this death.

Robert Bolt, the screenwriter, had a fascination with identity. His protagonists often exist in a crisis zone where the basic texture of their lives comes under extreme strain. This happens in both Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for All Seasons, as it does in The Mission. 

But instead of a single leading role, the story is balanced between Cardinal Altamirano (Ray MacAnally), Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), and Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro). While all three are interesting, this splintering of interest contributes to a lack of focus in the narrative, and produces three distinct acts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 8 - Review

My review of last week's episode

And...that was a let-down. It's not a terrible episode, but a few logical fails manage to dispel much of the story.

Speaking of dispelling tension, we start by finding Tom, who is indeed in the woods bleeding. Paul Coates is creeping along singing hymns out of tune, because apparently that's what Hollywood people think priests do. The moment when he does find Tom is appropriately scary, but most everything's down-hill from there, because Ellie and Carver completely buy Tom's explanation that he was going looking for Lars so that he could confront him with...knowledge of his sins. Do normal children do this? I think not.

Tom must have been thinkingIncredible! One of the worst performances of my career, and they never doubted it for a second...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Episode 2: Indiana Jones - If You Like Your Ark...

In Which: we discuss self-reliant heroes, danger in action movies, and why John Williams is the star of every movie he scores. Also: What is a swashbuckler? Is the Ark of the Covenant a weapon of mass destruction? Does this movie end with a Deus ex machina? And could Indiana Jones have been European?

All this and more in the second episode of The Pilgrim's Podcast.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 7 - Review

If last week was a marked departure in terms of atmosphere, this week's plot has finally diverged significantly from the original. Not only does Tom Miller go missing, but we're introduced to the Creepy Backpacker, and Emmett Carver's daughter Julianne. All of this happening in one episode gives us a lot to chew on (not to mention the fact that it ends with a cliffhanger - AGH).

The last episode ended with the death of Jack Reinhold. We pick up as the town is coming together for a memorial service. Paul Coates gives the congregation a tongue-lashing (translation: mild rebuke, because the man has no charisma whatsoever) about failing Jack. Presumably, this is because they suspected him, because soon after this, Joe lets Carver have it about suspecting Paul Coates.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Episode 1: The Godfather - Never Go In Against a Sicilian

The theology of story, the need for grace to counterbalance justice, and throwing tea in the sea of Galilee. Should the plural of fish be fish? What would the world look like without police? Is Christianity a democracy? And is The Godfather all about the Pharisees?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 6 - Review

My review of last week's episode

This episode is the first to really strike into new territory. And it does so in fairly dramatic fashion.

The unquestionable star is Nick Nolte, a surly teddy bear of a man, trying to cope as his life crumbles around his ears.

In the last episode, Nolte's character, Jack Reinhold, was accused of statutory rape. There's never really any question of his innocence - the man exudes sincerity. But while there isn't a tremendous amount of suspense about whether or not he's guilty, the episode makes the most of the tyranny of public opinion, the reaction of the community, and the way something like this is quickly sensationalized.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Pilgrim's Podcast

Things are about to change. Rumblings across the interwebs foreshadow the coming of changes for Longview the Blog. Don't panic, Dear Reader. Change cometh, like all things. (In related news, I've been blogging here for nearly a year. Wow.)

Things around here will pretty much stay the same (I'll still be posting regular reviews), but as of tomorrow, Longview will now a) operate under a new name, and b) host a movie podcast that's headed up by me, my dad, and a mystery host.

This has been in planning for some time, and it's the product of three things: a whim, the discovery that my computer houses a cheap microphone, and the fact that we already love to talk movies at length.

Since this is now the internet home of The Pilgrim's Podcast, my dad, Allan Long, (he prefers "The Patriarch") is now a guest contributor, and he'll post his thoughts on movies here from time to time. For a foretaste of that, check out his blog, What's He That Wishes So?

As for the mystery host, you'll just have to wait.

We recorded our first episode last night, and we're really excited about getting it out in the world (any tech tips would be highly appreciated). At the moment, I'm working on post-production stuff, finishing the theme music, etc. We're not sure when it'll be finished, but I'm hoping for sometime this week.

The plan is to make this a weekly deal. We'll let you know what the film is so you can watch it, or join in with any livetweets we may do.

The movie? We decided to start with some light family fare. The Godfather: Part I. (I. Am. Kidding. Don't watch it with the kids.) By the way, you can catch my livetweet of that movie here.

And it's up! Check it out here.

Hannah Long

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 5 - Review

My review of last week's episode

Apparently the only way Gracepoint's inhabitants have of dealing with their anger is to grab people by their jackets and shake them around. See Mark Solano vs. Paul Coates, and Paul Coates vs. Raymond Connolly.

But is there anybody out there that wasn't cheering when Owen Burke got knocked silly by the Wrath of Nick Nolte? And as for me, I think Emmett Carver ought to have been a bit harder on everybody's favorite psychic.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Best of September/October 2014

I really ought to choose A Room with a View, but I loved Midnight Run. I have no good excuses for that. Am I living in denial? Maybe. My review.

I've heard about The Godfather my whole life. And yes, it's as good as they say. A tragedy cum mafia thriller, it can be shockingly dark at times, but it's shot with extraordinary beauty, and acted with amazing finesse. My livetweet review.

Inspector George Gently is one of the grittier British crime shows that form a staple of our detective diet, but for the most part, it earns its drama. Martin Shaw brings the perfect mix of street smarts and baritone gravitas to the lead part. This isn't his first foray into investigation, but it has proved the most enduring, beginning in 2007 and filming a new season now. Lee Ingleby is his sidekick, the irrepressible John Bacchus, and while he can prove tedious at times, he adds a welcome dash of uncertainty to the plodding companion role.

Inspector Lewis is one of the old reliables, cranking out three more episodes every year or two. Still, this scarcity ensures fairly constant quality. This season was no different, and it's always a pleasure to return to the dreaming spires and bloody libraries of Oxford.

My reviews: Entry Wounds, The Lions of Nemea, Beyond Good and Evil.

Hannah Long

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 4 - Review

My review of episode 3

Last week, I was about to abandon ship. Happily, episode 4 is beginning to renew my interest. Part of the attraction is a small shift in Anna Gunn's character. The writer's attempt to give her clever dialogue has so far come off as cheesy and forced, but somehow, the bad puns in this episode lent her some awkward charm (and dove-tailed nicely when she hilariously tried to invite Carver for dinner). I don't think this was intended, and it doesn't entirely work, but the suggestion that her stupid attempts at comebacks stem from awkwardness rather than acerbity makes her more likable. Also - less whining is good.

The other thing is, this is the first time Gracepoint has dramatically stepped out of Broadchurch's shadow. In this installment, Carver and Ellie spend most of their time simultaneously investigating the suspicious backpacker (a new character) and following up on Chloe's cocaine source (this subplot meandered off in the original show).  In other suspicious news, the Creepy Woman With Dog has taken up killing chickens and staring at empty chairs. She also has some sort of connection to Vince.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Godfather - Livetweet Review

So...I did this the other day.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Inspector Lewis - Beyond Good and Evil - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: The Lions of Nemea

Need a MacGuffin to inject drama into your season finale? Add a serial killer with a grudge against your hero!

Let's face it, the story is pretty clichéd, but psychopaths have a way of upping the tension in any story, and it's no different in Beyond Good and Evil.

Graham Lawrie, a Scotsman with a rictus of a face, has been in prison for thirteen years. A newly minted Inspector Robbie Lewis put him away in 2001 for allegedly murdering three policeman with a hammer. Now, fresh evidence has cast the verdict into question, and another murder with an identical method adds further force to Lawrie's appeal.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 3 - Review

My review of last week's episode

Why are the British so much better at TV than us? Why didn't this show cast Olivia Colman? Why is this priest so creepy? Why are we supposed to hate Emmett Carver even though he's right? Why am I even doing this to myself anymore?

There are many unanswered questions in this episode.

It turns out that Mark Solano was not, in fact, with his plumber friend Vince, but having an affair with Gemma Fisher. And now Beth knows, which predicts further turmoil.

Anna Gunn hates Carver. Emmett Carver hates everybody, especially people who smile and shave and have good manners, but we also know now that his mysterious ailment is very serious - which excuses his rudeness just a bit.

But he can't give up work because he's a man on a mission, and he's given his word, and this is all penance. 'Tis but a flesh wound!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Inspector Lewis - Lions of Nemea - Episode Review

Murder in Oxford! Panic in the streets!

Well, British panic—which means we’re suitably upset about the whole thing but couldn’t we hush it up quietly?

This Lewis episode brings us back to the heart of England’s deadliest city when Rose Anderson, a graduate in classics, is found stabbed to death alongside a canal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Inspector Lewis - Entry Wounds - Episode Review

Sidekick promotion has always proved somewhat of a stickler for long-running detective shows. There’s some reshuffling of authority, which can often produce manufactured drama. In Morse the transition was rocky, as an ailing Morse had so little confidence in his sergeant’s abilities that he shadowed him incognito, much to Lewis’s dismay.

This time around, Superintendent Innocent has recruited a retired Robbie Lewis as back-up for newly promoted D.I. Hathaway. Hathaway is not too hip on this idea, and does his usual Brooding number. Unsurprisingly, we only get half a glimpse of his motivations, something involving doubts and faith and insecurity, probably, and also some trip to a church in Spain, and now he’s in a bad mood and nobody knows why, even him. Is this just me? It’s what makes the character interesting, but also frustrating—he is just sort of a vague intelligence without reality. Morse, on the other hand, was constantly displaying tangible flaws, and his existential ponderings had real weight because of it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 2 - Review

My review of last week's episode.

Okay, the priest did it. My dad fingered the killer in the first episode of Broadchurch, and he has already cast judgment on Gracepoint.

If this is true, I will be very, very unable to express my feelings politely on this family blog.

It’s not really a spoiler to say that the priest was not the killer in Broadchurch. Instead, he provided the “moral compass” when everyone else’s had broken. Yes, he had a token motive, but just as an excuse to, in a key scene, bring him into conflict with the cynical, disillusioned Alec Hardy—now Emmett Carver. He was central to the hope that stood against the fragmentation of distrust and suspicion that threatened to destroy his community.

In this story, I predict that Reverend Paul Coates at least has a history with Beth Solano, which means his kindness to her has an ulterior motive. This annoys me to no end. I can’t complain too much about flawed priests (after all, I just finished The Power and the Glory), but this shift in dynamic could fatally undermine any efforts to refresh the foundational themes of Broadchurch. And that’s an issue.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gracepoint - Episode 1 - Review

I just had to get this off my chest.

Gracepoint would have been a much, much better show if it was set in Appalachia.

David Tennant, an uppity Yankee, arrives in small-town Gracepoint just in time to investigate the murder of Opie Taylor. Assisted by a shocked local sheriff, he must investigate all the inhabitants of this seemingly idyllic town.

I kid. But only a little.

In remaking the amazing British show Broadchurch, it's inevitable that some themes would cross over. The idea of a small town turning on itself. The theme of Christianity and community. There would be no better place to transport this conflict than a small Appalachian town - that symbol of American rural life - complete with a heavy dose of Flannery O'Connor.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Midnight Run - Movie Review

There are movies that teach you to look on life in a whole new way. They unveil to you greater depths of spiritual understanding and impress upon your soul heart-wrenchingly beautiful scenes.

This is not one of those movies.

What it is, however, is a whole lot of fun. In many ways, Midnight Run is an oversized parody of other 80's buddy flicks.

Robert De Niro, in a unique turn, plays John Wesley "Jack" Walsh, a down-on-his-luck, smart-aleck bounty hunter. Charles Grodin is a mild-mannered embezzler, Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas, on the run for breaking bond.

Promised $100,000 if he brings in Mardukas by midnight on Friday, Jack Walsh quickly finds and apprehends him in New York. The Duke's aviaphobia prevents the pair from travelling by plane to Los Angeles, so they take to the road. Of course, everything goes wrong, as they are pursued by another bounty hunter, the FBI, and the mob through a series of madcap adventures.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chariots of Fire - Love Right Through

Affection goes as deep in me as you I think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that's my self.
~Sir Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons

The story goes that when U2 rock guitarist The Edge met Christian author Brennan Manning, he asked him, "Can I glorify God by being the best rock guitarist I can be?" Manning replied, "Absolutely you can. If that’s your calling, you can."

I suspect Eric Liddell would've agreed with Manning. Most everyone knows Liddell as the subject of the 1981 film Chariots of FireWhile the film certainly has its issues (over-use of slow-mo, groan-inducing voice-overs, a conviction of its own self-importance), it remains the best sports movie I have ever seen. Vangelis's score, much-parodied and imitated, is still absolute magic in the film, and the direction, if not astounding, is competent (I enjoyed several impressive long-takes.) I've sorted through half a dozen topics, but what ultimately compels me is the two central characters—and therefore they form the focus of this review.

Friday, September 12, 2014

British Mystery Coming Soon - 2014, 2015

Starting Thursday, October 2, Gracepoint will hit the small screen in America. Folk have been quick to assure us that it will not be a point-by-point remake (at least, after the first two episodes) of the original, superb series Broadchurch - but I'm not entirely convinced. (Update: my review of the first episode.)

 Since my last update list, I've seen a few more things turn up.

Besides more seasons of Foyle's War (complete - here's a brief interview from the elusive Mr. Kitchen), Broadchurch (finished filming), Father Brown (filming), and Sherlock (being written) we have...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Becket - Movie Review

I've been on a history of the British monarchy kick, from Henry V to A Man for All Seasons to Chariots of Fire (hey, Prince of Wales). The royals have long been popular on the silver screen, and Becket is a pillar of the genre, despite numerous inaccuracies and a general spicing-up-of-facts goin' on.

Book-ended by scenes at the tomb of Thomas Becket (b. 1118, d. 1170), the rest of the film is a flashback to his life, from a wild youth, to a career as a statesman, and then his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Central to the drama is the bond between Becket and Henry II, to the point that the film is almost less a biopic than the story of a relationship. Peter O'Toole is at his best here, throwing himself into the dissolute, petulant king with gusto (a role he would reprise in 1968's The Lion in Winter). He nearly steals the show from Richard Burton's gentle, erudite Becket, but if O'Toole provides driving force of the narrative, it is Burton that channels it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Best of July/August 2014

It comes down to the wire between Ernest and Celestine, Becket, and The Dark Knight - three movies that are so wildly different as to make comparison nearly impossible. I'm going to have to go with entertainment value and choose Ernest and Celestine, a slight but lovely tale of friendship, art, and forgiveness. Unusual for the modern children's movie, and despite its palette of light colors, this film has quite a few harsher edges - this world isn't one without pain and death, though it treats them with a comic spin.

A 2 1/2 hour film set in a silent monastery, Into Great Silence (Die Große Stilleis of those movies that really, really ought to be boring, but isn't. It's about silent people, not silence. The rain still patters on the rooftop, feet echo in the dusky hallways, wind whistles in the eaves, ponderous bells mark out the pace with solemn, inevitable regularity. The seasons change. We come to know the faces of these men, so anachronistically pious and dedicated. We come to see their thoughtful faith and sacrificial, unassuming love. It's a transcendent experience. Steven Greydanus's review.

I probably shouldn't admit it, but I'm a sucker for sitcoms about elderly British people being mean to one another. Like Last of the Summer Wine or To the Manor Born, As Time Goes By makes the most of we're-getting-old humor, but has slightly more gravitas when handling the characters. It isn't afraid of earnestness, and amidst all the whimsicality and sex jokes (not too crass, m'dear, we're British) come intervals of calm sincerity. Also: Judi Dench (ever-elegant) and Geoffrey Palmer (ever-jowly) are terrific. Watch here.

Agatha Christie's Poirot is over. My childhood goes with it. For those wondering (all two of you), I have not yet been able to bring myself to review Curtain. Mix of a) didn't like it as much as I wanted to, b) I haven't watched it again and c) I think I'm in denial. I'm currently nursing myself back to health watching the earliest episodes/David Suchet interviews (always a pleasant experience). Reviews: Elephants Can Remember. The Big Four. Dead Man's Folly. The Labours of Hercules.

Hannah Long

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Mirror - Zerkalo - (1975) - Movie Review

It’s much easier to respect Andrei Tarkovsky than it is to like him. My first introduction to his filmography was Stalker, a vaguely Soviet-period sci-fi philosophical road movie about three men and their journey into a mystical, Area 51-esque underworld called The Zone. The Mirror, on the other hand, mostly keeps its feet firmly on the ground. A semi-autobiographical story, it has a strong sense of historical place (Soviet Russia in the 40’s, 60’s and 70’s).  It feels like the more accessible of the two films, despite its complex, abstract nature, and it is a strange but chillingly beautiful movie.

The friend with whom I saw the film said it came into being because Tarkovsky was trying to exorcise his recurring dreams (he was successful.) It’s true, the story feels like a vast, puzzling experience of catharsis, though relief is mingled with the bittersweet dissatisfaction of loss.

The main character is Alexei “Alyosha”, a thinly veiled representation of Tarkovsky himself. Many of Alexei’s problems stem from his troubled past, and he (or the camera, at least) goes back to several periods in his life, attempting to untangle memory from truth. Tarkovsky’s tracking shots, moving slowly through the doors of a house, have an entrancing quality, drawing us into a world which feels four-dimensional, beckoning us inside a fully-realized, tangible space.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Labours of Hercules - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Elephants Can Remember.

It's practically a fact of nature that if you're cooped up with a number of people in a house in the snow, someone will be dead by the end of the weekend. If a small rotund Belgian man is there, you might as well call up friends (after calling your family solicitor) and say goodbye.

Complete with the requisite creaks in the night, the latest Poirot episode, The Labours of Hercules, must have been extremely difficult to adapt. The original consisted of a dozen quirky, loosely related short-stories, which culminated in a night-club called Hell (really). The adaptation picks a few of the best elements and combines them into a charming but bittersweet tale that feels unique in all the Poirot canon. We have German psychology, a dastardly serial killer, eccentric, hilarious foreigners, gorgeous vistas in a setting reminiscent of Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, and the return of our favorite femme fatale, Countess Vera Rossakoff (and if you don't know who that is - SHAME - watch The Double Clue.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My 5 Favorite Con-Men

Regular readers here will know that I'm more than a little obsessed with British detectives. So now, for a change of pace, let's get to know my favorite British con-men. There are a few conditions—con-men are not criminals of the vulgar sort. No, indeed; these dashing figures eschew unsophisticated fisticuffs, and make do with intelligence and witty repartee. For this reason I would not nominate Moriarty (his weapon is strategy, a general of the underworld), though I would almost nominate Saruman (disqualified because his witty repartee stems from an enchantment.)

Also, they must be loads of fun. Let's start with the most fun of them all...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Elephants Can Remember - Review

My review of last week's episode: Dead Man's Folly

A couple, General and Mrs. Ravenscroft, walk along the white cliffs of Dover, arm-in-arm. The dog runs ahead, barking happily. They smile at one another. A few seconds later, a shot rings out, and the two lie dead.

Thus kicks off the climactic season of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, running circa 1989. Despite an added storyline involving murder by hydrotherapy (a psychiatric treatment in which the patient is blasted with scalding then freezing water), this episode is not as uniformly dark as Murder on the Orient Express, the intense conclusion to the previous season.

Ariadne Oliver’s appearance adds a good element of humor. Her slapdash, jovial demeanor is the perfect foil to Poirot’s fastidious world-weariness (which has become a little old—dude, one smile won’t hurt.) During the reception for her Crime Novelist of the Year award, Mrs. Oliver is cornered by the formidable Mrs. Burton-Cox, a mother with an ax to grind. Does she remember her goddaughter, Celia Ravenscroft? Yes, well, what she wants to know is did General Ravenscroft kill his wife, or did Margaret Ravenscroft kill her husband?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Peck on the Cheek (Kannathil Muthamittal) - Movie Review

When I approach foreign films, I always try my best to shelve cultural criticisms and accept it on its own terms. To some extent this is impossible, though it's much easier with European films than Asian ones. I have enough of an American need for emotionalism to feel like Russian characters are more like walking, talking existential crises than actual human beings. Indian films, on the other hand, indulge so deeply in sentimentality that I find it next to impossible to attach any real value to their emotion. Does this mean I can’t appreciate Russian or Indian films? No (for instance, I quite liked Kin-Dza-Dza!) but makes it harder. A Peck on the Cheek is difficult to review, just because it's so far outside my preferences and familiarity, but though my standards of measure may be Western, I have no others, and they are what I use.

Amudha is a precocious, petite, Sri Lankan version of Ferris Bueller, from hating her teacher, to delivering an introductory, breaking-the-fourth-wall monologue and being the center of a huge musical number. Everything is about Amudha; she's the heroine and she knows it.

But the film isn't really about Amudha (or it shouldn't be); it's much bigger than her blissful childhood. After an opening, introducing a pair of star-crossed lovers (her real parents) in a war-zone, we slip entirely into Amudha's world, which has all the cheesiness and extravagance of a Disney cartoon. Still, the introduction remains as a solemn reminder that there are things happening outside this children's story, and unlike Ferris Bueller, Amudha will eventually have to engage with this.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Dead Man's Folly - Review

My review of last week's episode: The Big Four

Like most TV shows throughout the last decades, Agatha Christie's Poirot has become progressively darker, but Dead Man's Folly is a welcome return to a simpler age (similar to The Big Four, which I had not seen when I first saw this episode). Yes, a simpler age with murder, adultery, and other deadly sins, but they're all mercifully off-screen, and I'll have no qualms in watching this with my younger siblings. (True enough, I love the Suchet adaptation of Orient Express, but it's nice to have something lighter once again.)
With summer in the air, wealthy squire Sir George Stubbs and his fragile, childlike wife Hattie plan a grand fête for their Devonshire neighbors to celebrate their recent acquisition of Nasse House. Fancy dress, fortune telling, and a coconut shy are all scheduled, as well as a murder hunt designed by mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. But Mrs Oliver is convinced something is amiss, and asks Hercule Poirot to attend the festivities as a means to put her mind at rest.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Big Four - Episode Review

And so it begins. The gang is officially together again for the first time in thirteen years (though also the last, for Japp and Ms. Lemon.) Unfortunately, it’s only for a few scenes in this eccentric but enjoyable addition to the Poirot series. The Big Four was Agatha Christie’s attempt at a conspiracy thriller, mixed among the usual Poirot body-in-the-library cases. She couldn’t quite leave that format behind, and her conspiracy conveniently takes the shape of multiple murders in country houses. Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard’s adaptation is at its strongest when it is focusing on these quirky, clever episodes.

Because of the relative insignificance of the terrorism (especially in light of our own age), it’s a little hard to build up a conspiracy thriller feel around the mysterious Big Four gang. Gatiss and Hallard give it a good try, but like Christie, can’t quite shake off the limitations of Poirot’s format.

It’s 1939. World War II is brewing, and a group called the Peace Party has formed to foster good faith between nations. It is led by an American millionaire (isn’t is always), Abe Ryland, and a French scientist, Madame Olivier. But beneath their veneer of benevolence, lurks a more sinister purpose—or so claims Tysoe, a journalist and conspiracy theorist, played a bit blandly by Tom Brooke (you may remember him from Sherlock and Foyle’s War.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Trailers - Hobbit, Mockingjay - Part 1, The Maze Runner

I was not a huge fan of The Hunger Games novels, but Catching Fire had enough spark (ha), talent, and fine scripting that I was won over. It combined good visuals with a perfectly paced storyline, headed up by the ever-charismatic Jennifer Lawrence. Two great teasers have come out (my favorite is the creepy political commercial), and here's more of the same:

As for The Hobbit...well, I try and suspend my hopes. They've improved marginally as we go along (my reviews of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), but still manage to completely miss the heart of the book: that this is a story about a hobbit, not a war, or a tragic, sexy dwarf hero, or an epic battle between good and evil. The world would be a better place if we remembered that. But, this trailer's kind of cool. I'm a sucker for visuals, and if there's anything Peter Jackson can do, it's visuals:

Lastly we have The Maze Runner, based on the young adult novel of the same name. I wasn't impressed with the book, and I doubt I'll like the movie. Action, neat premise, survival stuff, great. But characters? Not a one.

Hannah Long

Waking Ned Devine - Movie Review

Ireland, as a subject in fiction, lies in the curious hinterlands between fantasy and reality. While the gritty, ugly violence in the North remains a present memory, Éire cannot quite shake off her aura of romance. Even in the bleak urban setting of films like Into the West, a hint of the mystical remains.

Waking Ned Devine embraces the magic side of Ireland, perhaps to too great an extent, forgetting to ground itself in a harsher reality. Yet even in its absurdest moments, the talent and charm of the cast anchor the story, lending just a touch of gravitas to what is ultimately the tale of leprechauns stealing gold.

Our chief leprechaun is the irrepressible Jackie O'Shea, played with panache and roguish delight by Ian Bannen. His best friend, and every bit his equal, is lanky, timid Michael O'Sullivan (the great David Kelly). They live in Tullymore (Tulaigh Mhór), an idyllic coastal village with 52 inhabitants. When Jackie and Michael deduce that a local has won the lottery, they concoct a string of harebrained devices to identify and ingratiate themselves to the “lucky sod.” It takes a while to discover that he is, in fact, elderly fisherman Ned Devine, who promptly after realizing his win, died from the shock of it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Babette's Feast - Movie Review

I like food. There, I’ve said it. In a society obsessed with either parceling out each meager calorie or splurging on sugary, prepackaged excess, Babette’s Feast is a delight of measured restraint, bounty, and artistry. Wait, am I talking about food anymore?

Not really. On a number of levels, this leisurely film is very unusual. There’s a long period of set-up, as we learn about Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Filippa (Bodil Kjer), the beautiful daughters of a strict minister who lives on the coast of Jutland in Denmark (they’re named after Martin Luther and Philip Melanchton, if that tells you anything.)

We follow them as they are courted by a soldier and an opera singer, two wayward but sincere outsiders, wooed by the women's kindness and beauty. Ultimately, both sisters reject these men in their devotion to a simple life, lending this first act a feeling of regret and memory.

These memories spring up once again many years later when one of the erstwhile suitors sends Babette (Stephane Audran, Brideshead Revisited), a French refugee, to shelter with the two elderly sisters. Uncertain at first (after all, having a servant is an indulgence), Martine and Filippa grow to love Babette, who lends her cooking skills to their ministry. All of this is much welcomed by the congregation, who happily exchange gruel for thick, savory porridge.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our Mutual Friend (1998) - Review

“I was just playing a part.”

G.K. Chesterton once said that Charles Dickens was the poet of the fog. Nowhere is it more evident than in Our Mutual Friend, a massive, rambling tale of money, and murder amid the murky mists of the Thames. 

It's about honesty, and true love. But also, it's mostly about stalkers (there are seven). And not only dudes obsessed with beautiful women, but greedy rogues tracking down any embarrassing secrets in the lives of rich public figures, or jealous rivals shadowing their opponents.

Dickens was already fascinated by the idea that we cannot really know what goes on inside the hearts of our fellow men, and Our Mutual Friend further complicates this theme by incorporating the devious facades of high society and its occupants. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unbroken - Trailer

I'm sure you've all heard about the late Louis Zamperini in the last week...the Olympic runner, the WWII POW, the Christian missionary.

What you may not know is that his life story has been adapted into an upcoming movie, written by the Coen brothers, directed by Angelina Jolie. The cast is pretty obscure, but I've seen Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, and Luke Treadaway, supporting actors, in British films before (because this is me, remember.) Hopefully the Coens will save this from being a standard, rather dull inspirational film.

 Here's the trailer:

Hannah Long

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings - Trailer

With Son of God and Noah behind us, it seemed like our requisite number of annual Hollywood Bible-themed epics had passed, but lo and behold, along comes Exodus: Gods and Kings.

I'm wowed by the spectacle (looks like what Noah wanted to be) - but I'm skeptical about the storytelling. On the other hand, I'm a long-time Christian Bale fan, and I've enjoyed Joel Edgerton as well. My favorite adaptation of the Moses story will probably always be The Prince of Egypt, frankly. Yes, the animated musical. Incidentally, Prince also has my favorite on-screen representation of God as well, so take that, insipid hippie protagonist of Son of God.

Hannah Long

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bernie - Movie Review

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
― Flannery O'Connor

Based on a true story, Bernie is the tale of an assistant funeral director (Jack Black) who quickly, through charm and philanthropy, works his way into the heart of a small town. When he befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a cold-hearted heiress who the town hates just as much as it loves him, little does he realize how much he's risking. Marjorie becomes more and more controlling, and Bernie, sweetheart that he is, can't tell her no, even when she's driving him crazy. Eventually, something's gotta snap. And it does.

This movie is like a primer on Life in the South. Shot in a drama/documentary format, it interviews elderly church-women (DLOL's - dearliddleol'ladies), cheerful, foul-mouthed farmers, and matter-of-fact store-owners.

If you've lived in the south, you know all these people. In fact, the overall effect is so realistic that I was never sure which were actors and which were the real townspeople of Carthage, TX (it turns out there was a mix.) And it's clear-eyed enough to show the town in its beauty, but also its fallibility, given that this is a black comedy about crime and public opinion.