By: Reaper Rick
Welcome once again to Reaper Rick’s Movie Reviews. This issue I review some Award winning flicks, as well as some which won nothing.
I am sure most movie lovers know that the 2010 Oscar for Best Picture went to “The King’s Speech.” Among other Oscars, this movie also won Best Director and Best Actor awards, which garnered a rare Triple Play in Hollywood award annals. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter star in this story of the man who would become King George VI in 1930’s England.
Second in line for the English Throne, ‘Bertie’ as he was called by family members, developed a terrible stutter as a child, but as a royal prince was occasionally called upon as he grew older to give public speeches to large crowds of people—a task he dreaded, and because of his stutter the prince (Firth) proved to be a miserable speaker. When numerous doctors fail to cure Bertie of this stutter, his wife (Carter) turns to an obscure speech therapist (Rush) in an attempt to rid the future king of his impediment. Rush has a somewhat unique and rather unorthodox manner of therapy and at first Bertie is totally against any further treatment, especially the informal and unusual type which Rush thrusts upon him. Not only does Rush insist on seemingly ridiculous physical and oral exercises the prince must do on a daily basis, he also tries to discover what brought on this stutter in the first place, something which Bertie refuses—at first—to delve into.
However, when the exercises and training appear to actually show some progress, Bertie gives in and works with Rush energetically, for a while, but the informal attitude Rush uses with the future king puts Bertie off and he eventually stops the treatment. When King George V (Bertie’s father) dies, the older brother Edward is named king, but before his coronation Edward abdicates the throne for his love of a commoner (a twice divorced American), a woman whom if he were king he could not marry. Thus Bertie, as next in line, has the role of King of England thrust upon him—a position he does not want and due to his stutter and resulting inferiority complex, feels he is not capable of living up to. In desperation, he returns to Rush in a final attempt to gain control of his stutter, and thus hopefully, his life.
Not only is this movie an excellent, sometimes heartfelt drama, it also contains delightful moments of humor and gives a rare insight into how the royal family conducted itself during a time of internal stress and international crisis, as Hitler was just beginning his attempt to take over the world during the time Bertie was to become King George VI. On a side note, Bertie was the father of the current Queen Elizabeth II.
“The King’s Speech” has a wonderful cast, a compelling story line, and is a marvelous historical drama. While this may not be a movie everyone will necessarily enjoy viewing—it might be a bit ‘dry’ for some (films produced in England sometimes are)—I personally enjoyed it immensely, so give this award-winning film Four Howls of Pleasure , and highly recommend it.
Natalie Portman’s 2010 portrayal of an obsessed dancer in “Black Swan” won her a Best Actress Oscar. This movie also starred Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Wiona Ryder. Do not let the fact that this film deals with Ballet in any way keep you from viewing it. Yes, it does indeed focus on the ballet Swan Lake, but that is a mere cover for the actual plot of this film. “Black Swan” is a terrifying and horror-filled psychological thriller which will keep you guessing throughout the film.
Portman plays a ballerina, and like most people who decide to take up this profession, she is totally obsessed with dance, to the point of ignoring almost all other aspects of her life. To make matters worse—for her—she is trying out for the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake.
For those of us who are not Ballet aficionados, this tale is about two swans—one white and pure, the other black and evil—but they are in reality the same creature. Portman dances the role of the white swan perfectly, but her teacher, who is also directing the ballet, feels she does not possess a dark enough nature to be the Black Swan, and one person must dance both parts. Frustrated and paranoid that another dancer will steal the role from her, Portman pushes herself relentlessly to embody the Black Swan.
Portman’s mother (Barbara Hershey) is an obsessive, over-protective woman who gave up a promising ballet career of her own to raise this, her only child, and is now reduced to living vicariously through her daughter’s triumphs on the stage. Not surprisingly, all of this pressure causes Portman to develop some nervous and destructive habits. She tends to scratch herself repeatedly, apparently without even realizing it (often while asleep) to the point of drawing blood, and the pressure mounts when she is unexpectedly chosen to dance the lead role in Swan Lake.
Now even more paranoid, Portman feels her alternate, or stand in (Mila Kunis), is trying to steal the lead role away from her, and begins to have horrifying hallucinations. Portman has no time for friends or relationships, so when Mila offers her friendship Natalie is immediately suspicious, but since her mother insists she cannot take time away from training to go out with Mila, Portman takes off with her new ‘friend’ just to spite her mother. In a bar, Mila spikes Portman’s drink—just so she can loosen up and have some fun—and they end up back at Portman’s place, where they engage in some lovemaking, possibly the first sex Natalie’s character has ever participated in. Or was this merely a hallucination as well?
With opening night of the ballet looming, Portman pushes even harder to become the Black Swan, and her hallucinations grow so intense that she can no longer separate reality from fantasy.
Portman is marvelous in her portrayal of a dancer who above all else desperately seeks perfection, even to the point of dementia. The photography throughout the film is stunning, the music is breathtaking, and this movie will constantly surprise the viewer. Portman definitely deserved her Oscar in this role, and I give “Black Swan” Four and a Half Howls of Pleasure .
“The Tourist” is another movie from 2010 and is a bit of a departure for the two stars, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Depp plays a mild-mannered math teacher on a European vacation to get over his wife’s death, while Jolie is waiting in France for her rich, criminal lover—whom she hasn’t seen in two years—to return for her. Scotland Yard is watching Jolie, since they are sure that eventually she will lead them to her lover, who stole over Four Million Pounds from their government.
Jolie finally receives a note from her lover which tells her to board a specific train, find someone who is the same height and build as he is, and make the cops think this person is him to throw them off the scent. She does as instructed and finds Depp on the train, heading for Venice, Italy. They hang out together for a while, both on the train and then they share a room in Venice, which makes the cops believe that Depp is Jolie’s long-lost lover. Unfortunately, some Russian mobster also mistakes Depp for the crook (also Jolie’s lover) who stole from him, and now the cops and the bad guys are after Johnny.
Depp rather quickly falls in love with Jolie—and why not, as she looks ravishingly beautiful in the many very expensive and very sexy outfits her lover has paid for her to wear—and he tries to protect her, since he thinks she is the one in danger. Johnny, however, is not the swashbuckling hero he appears to be in some of his other movies, and tends to get himself in serious trouble more than once and Jolie is forced to repeatedly rescue him. And, perhaps because Depp is the complete opposite of her missing lover, Jolie eventually falls in love with him, too.
This flick starts out somewhat slow, but builds to several fairly good chase sequences and has some surprising twists to the story—and the ending is one of these pleasant surprises. This is not a great film, but does have some stunning vistas of Venice and has a few humorous touches, as well as some nice suspenseful moments. It is worth a weekend rental, but you don’t need to purchase it for your collection, unless you are a serious Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie fan. Overall I give “The Tourist” Three Howls of Pleasure .
For the final review this issue we will need to take a short trip in the “Way Back” machine to 1976 in order to view a comedy which is so packed with stars you may be blinded by the light. “Murder by Death” is the screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway Play and stars (in no particular order) Peter Falk, Peter Sellers, David Niven, Elsa Lanchester, Alec Guiness, James Coco, Truman Capote, Eileen Brennan, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, and James Cromwell.
This is a spoof of 1940’s detective novels and movies, and has five of the world’s greatest detectives invited to a millionaire’s mansion for dinner and a murder. Everyone is locked in the house until morning and someone is going to die at midnight. Lionel Twain (Capote) challenges the detectives to discover who the killer is before dawn and if they are correct, will win One Million Dollars. The fly in the ointment is that Twain thinks he is a better sleuth than all of the other detectives combined, and has rigged the mansion with deadly traps, extra bodies and secret rooms to throw the detectives off their game. Twain wants them all to fail so he can claim the title of World’s Greatest Detective.
Unfortunately, if you are under fifty years of age you may not even remember, let alone know, those great detectives of the 1940’s unless you happen to be a fan of old mystery movies. But even if you don’t know them for the detectives they portray, watching this amazing cast of characters all together on one screen is worth a viewing, as many of them eventually die within a few years of this production and they never again appear together on the silver screen.
Just so you know who they are, David Niven plays Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles of “The Thin Man” novels and books, while Peter Falk plays Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), also a Hammett creation, Peter Sellers is the inscrutable Charlie Chan, James Coco is Hercule Poirot, and Elsa Lanchester (the “Bride of Frankenstein”) is Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie’s famous female detective. Of course, they all have slightly different names in the movie, such as, Dick Charleston, Sam Diamond, Charles Wang, (Something—I forget his name) Perrier, and Miss Jessica Marbles, but we know who they are supposed to be. And to top off the cast, Alec Guiness plays a blind butler, while Nancy Walker is the deaf and mute cook, and James Cromwell is Perrier’s chauffeur and assistant.
Simon (the writer) attempts to poke fun at the way many of the 1940’s detective novels tricked the reader by throwing in heretofore unknown characters during the final pages of a book, kept pertinent information from the reader until the last possible moment, and generally made it nearly impossible to discover the truth behind any given literary murder. He does this purposely by leaving false clues for the detectives, removing vital characters from the film and basically withholding information from the viewer—but the sleuths figure it all out anyway. Or do they? Can all five great detectives actually be wrong?
This is a fun, funny film, full of sight gags and slapstick comedy, all buoyed up by a cast of stars and characters which may never again be equaled. It is most definitely worth a weekend Netfilx rental and a great popcorn movie, even if you are unsure who it is you are supposed to be watching. For an amazing cast and loads of laughs, I give “Murder by Death” Three and a Half Outrageous Howls of Pleasure .....
And that will do it for me this issue. Get out there and see some Good movies, and I’ll see you next time.