Bright Star

Biopics can be a tricky thing to pull off; too many times, the film can feel like it’s just telling you the highlights of a person’s life without actually giving you a real idea of who that person is (case in point: “Walk the Line”). That doesn’t mean films like that are irredeemably awful (again, “Walk the Line”), but it does mean they lack the spark that makes them great.

Well, along comes Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” a pseudo-biopic of John Keats (Ben Whishaw); I say pseudo because while it does feature Keats as the male lead, it’s really the story of his lady love, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

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I’m going to start this review with a bit of geek rant; feel free to skip ahead if you can’t stomach it. I won’t judge you.

I’ve said before in this blog and elsewhere that Laura Roslin is my favorite character on the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica.” A lot of that comes down to the fact that I’ve been a Mary McDonnell fan for years, so it wasn’t a big leap for me.

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“The Passion of Joan of Arc” DVD

I’m not really going to review “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928); it’s an ok film I guess, but I thought it was pretty boring, mostly because of the Maria Falconetti’s (Joan) monotone performance. If you’re an obsessive Joan of Arc fan, then by all means seek it out, although I suspect there are better avenues for that (mainly, just reading the trial transcripts) than sitting through this movie.

But, I do need to give a shout-out to the Criterion Collection’s DVD of “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” because they did a great service by the film.

See, it’s a silent film, and I do mean totally SILENT. I’ve seen a fair amount of silent films over the years, and while there is no dialogue, the score serves to keep things moving and focus the audience’s attention. But “The Passion of Joan of Arc” comes to us with no score; apparently, the director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, never settled on a score and with the film being lost for years, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he had.

In their infinite wisdom, the Criterion crew added an optional score to the DVD called “Voices of Light.” Now, being the sometime film purist as I am, I initially chose to watch the silent version so I could fully experience the director’s vision. I held out for a good 90 seconds before I switched over.

“Voices of Light” was inspired by the film, and for the most part matches the action. It’s a choir singing and the vocals are occasionally distracting from the action on screen, but, if you have to watch the film,  it’s worth it. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is only 82 minutes long, and I don’t think I could have watched the whole thing without some sound.

Thanks a bunch Criterion crew! Keep ’em coming!

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Written by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Joseph Delteil

Maria Falconetti’s (Joan)


“Frost/Nixon” began life as a powerful, thought-provoking play about a historic battle of wills between a lightweight journalist and disgraced former president. Fortunately, it’s also a pretty good movie.

Most of the film is setup, which irks a little, but context matters, so the first 45 minutes or so is spent on setting up the scene. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a journalist struggling for credibility and comes up with the idea of a series of interviews with Pres. Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), who left the office of the president after the Watergate scandal.
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Thoughts on “The Hours”

In honor of Virginia Woolf and her difficult but occasionally rewarding style, I’m not going to write a review of Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” based on Michael Cunningham’s novel, which drew inspiration from Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway”.

And much like the Woolf’s novel (and that opening paragraph), the movie is layered and at times frustrating. So this time around, I’m just going to write some thoughts down that will hopefully all gel together at the end.

Woolf would be so proud.

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Oh, the genius in madness. Such a statement can be said about “Fitzcarraldo” the movie, Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) the character, or the director, Werner Herzog, himself.

“Fitzcarraldo” is about a man with an obsessive love of opera, specially the tenor Enrico Caruso; here is a man who traveled 1,200 miles through the jungle in two days just to hear the Great Caruso sing for five minutes. And out of this obsession comes a need to share, to educate the plebeians, to make them love as he loves. His plan: Build an opera palace in the heart of the jungle, a setting so perfect that Caruso will have to attend.

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Another day, another biopic.

In many ways, biopics are all alike; an interesting figure’s life, failures and triumphs all, is paraded on screen for two hours or so; usually the lead actor or actress is given the chance to shine and is more often than not rewarded for his or her efforts. At the same time, the movie is more or less a checklist of important moments in a famous person’s life and the ‘bigger picture’ of the life is lost. Sure, we can’t really know a person, or what they’re thinking, or their motivations, but biopics try anyway and more often than not, they fail.

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The Cat’s Meow

Imagine a millionaire so powerful, so influential and so controlling that he could murder a romantic rival in a jealous rage … and get away with it.

Thanks to Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow,” you don’t have to imagine it, it’s up on screen. The millionaire in question is one William Randolph Hearst (“Citizen Kane” to you), newspaper mogul, and the victim … well, part of the fun is trying to figure who dies.

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