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During the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, there was a scene in which all of the Pirate Lords raised their flags, and they were very interesting to look at, too. A friend of my at the local museum thought that he recognised some of the flags. I was just doing a quick search and found the following:

  • Captain Chavitalle, Lord of the Mediterranean Sea, has a flag almost identical to that of Stede Bonne, the Gentleman Pirate
  • Captain Villaneuva of Spain, Lord of the Adriatic Sea, has the flag of that scurrilous slimy sacreligious scoundrel Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard.
  • Barbossa’s flag is that of John “Calico Jack” Rackham. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were part of his crew.
  • Jack Sparrow’s flag is similar to Henry Avery‘s, but without the sparrow. I guess you could find sparrows near Avery’s (sorry).
  • Gentleman Jocard’s flag is based on one of the flags of the notorious scourge and most eminently successful pirate, Black Bart.

If anyone could chase down Mistress Ching’s and Sao Feng’s original flag origins, I’d appreciate it.

Good luck, Mateys!

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Ma-ma

Last night I saw this new movie, based upon a novel by the great crime and mystery writer P.D. James. I came away moved, disturbed, and somewhat in awe. There was a lot to think about, and strong feeling were stirred and still need to be shaken out. Finally, this movie should be shortlisted for at least a few Oscars (and no, I’m not going to say which ones).

I don’t want to give too much away, and I personally think that many of the reviews I checked after watching Children of Men did just that. Here are a few comments that shouldn’t interfere with appreciating the movie.

P.D. James usually write mysteries and thrillers, and her characterization and dialogue are particularly noteworthy; of course, as a premiere mystery writer she is also good at plot elements, flow and suspense. In Children of Men she has shifted track significantly; the novel is science fiction of the near future, in which all women have become sterile, and the last child was born before 2010. It is “now” 2027, the world has gone to hell, and most people have lost hope for the future. As is usual in these situations, they don’t react well. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is a man who used to be politically active but who has lost all hope. He is then asked by an old friend to try and get someone out of Britain…

I’m not going to give any more details, but I will say that it moved me as strongly as, or more strongly than, movies like Schindler’s List or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is not to be taken likely, and parts are searing in their intensity; but it is great on more than one level. When I get up the courage, I’m going to see it again.

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Here’s an article from The Scientist. It discusses, among other things, the science of Jill Masterson’s body paint murder in Goldfinger, and of the poisonous orchids in Moonraker. More disturbing is the mention in this article of a chemical that is a more practical way to kill human beings en mass. It is called ricin, is fatal in fairly small doses (a few milligrams or less) , can be spread easily in aerosol form, and has no known antidote. It comes from castor-oil plants.

I wish they hadn’t been so explicit about it; but then again I never really liked castor oil.

P.S. I checked that infallible source of information, Wikipedia, and it says that ricin isn’t that bad compared to things like Anthrax and Botulinum, so belligerent countries or organisations with the technology would go for the latter substances. However, it is twice as deadly as Cobra venom, is easy to process from castor beans, and there is no known antidote, making it risky and also attractive to lower tech belligerents.

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Last night I went to see Casino Royale, at the recommendation of a friend. She wrote a glowing and insightful review of the movie. Given that, I’ll just cover some other aspects.

I didn’t recognise Daniel Craig by name, but after looking him up I realised that I had seen him a number of times. The first movie was Sharpe’s Eagle, when he was 25 and starting his movie career (from 16 he had been involved in theatre, first with the National Youth Theatre in London, then after a few false starts he entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Barbican in 1988). He played a very creditable nasty named Lt. Berry, and died with credit and a curse on his lips. Then he played Adam West opposite Angelina Jolie (poor sod) in the first Lara Croft movie (some of my female friend loved his “nude” scene). Then he did a fairly good job with Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition. Finally, I saw him do a really good performance in the excellent movie Munich.

My impression from these was that he was a pretty good character actor, and really good in Munich. But overall I hadn’t thought of him as being special. Casino Royale changed my mind. His acting was very nuanced, subtle, and clever, and all this in an action movie. Vicky mentioned his great control of his expression. I concur wholeheartedly. There was also something about his face and his expressions of emotion that really got to me.

His face is rugged and looks a bit battered, with an almost delicate chin and with large ears. It looks vulnerable and you sometimes feel a sense of yearning peeking through. Then he gets into a struggle or a chase, and through this visage you see his pale blue eyes like lasers, totally focused on attaining his goal, and a ruthless resolve shows though his clenched face. You feel he has been hurt, but by damn nothing is going to stop him. If you’ve ever seen seen the screwed up face of a sensitive little boy who has decided to go for broke, you get the idea. His strength of character, intelligence, and sensitivity shine through the wall he erects to keep others out. He also goes his own way, almost regardless of outside influences.

I think the reason that this wonderful actor is really shining in this movie is the support he gets from the script and the direction. I personally think the direction of this movie is the best of any Bond movie. Even when the cliches from previous movies and the Bond canon show up (not too often), they are treated in new ways and from new perspectives. Every one of the characters have depths and are not stereotypes, and the dialogue was exemplary. Judy Dench has been M in all the Brosnan movies, and was one of the strong points, but in this movie the dialogue and direction bring her to a new level.

The feel of the movie is different. There is a grittiness and a sense of reality that isn’t really evident in the previous Bond movies. A lot of the previous movies feel like post-adolescent carnival rides, where the escapism is so obvious that you can’t really immerse yourself into the flow. There is less of this in Royale. Gadgets, while cool, tend to be realistic for today. There is also a sailboat in this movie that I am still drooling over.

Finally, it has been over thirty years since I read Casino Royale. While I was watching the movie certain scenes and actions were bringing up twinges of memory and a feeling of deja vu. So today I acquired a copy, and have started reading it. I’m really hoping, and am almost certain, that they tried not to diverge too much from the spirit of the book in this movie. This was one of the reasons that I liked the Connery era; the first movies were pretty faithful to the books.

Thanks again, Vicky.

BTW, Craig has been chosen as Lord Asriel in the new movie The Golden Compass. Given the depth and intensity of his performance here, he could do a really good job. However, The Golden Compass is a book with subtlety and a carefully crafted atmosphere. There were also numerous characters with interesting personalities, depths, and often hidden motivations. It will take a very careful touch with direction, script, and casting to bring this one off. However, wild horses aren’t going to keep me away; I really was impressed by the His Dark Materials series by Pullman.

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Recently, a friend gave a nice review of the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale. It seems to be closer to the feel and style of the books. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about his opinion, and as usually happens the talk turned to the best Bond and the best movie. Now this is a purely subjective topic, and to date there are 20 Bond movies, not counting Casino Royale. So to facilitate our “discussion we went to the Wikipedia listing. It had some nice information, and mentioned that many critics thought From Russia with Love or Goldfinger was the best movie (I’m not going to discuss the latest picture, since I didn’t see it). Being fairly intelligent, the article didn’t even bother to mention which was the best Bond actor!

Anyway, today I noticed some numbers on the page, and I thought about how this franchise has been around long enough to look at trends. So I dumped the data into my data analysis package and played with them. I came to some interesting conclusions, which I am prepared to share with you. I already see some eyes glazing over.

Figure 1: First Twenty Movies
First 20 Movies

There’s just a few things to notice about the performance of the movies. First, the sales versus the budgets are wonderful until the Brosnan era (movies 17 to 20); but even then they were grossing 3-4 times the budget. The ratio was best during the Connery era, when Dr. No grossed $60 million for a budget of $1 million. Also, the total sales basically doubled because of Brosnan. Second, the US only accounts for a third or less of the sales; the Bond movies do much better around the world than in the US. Third, from the bottom graph of figure 1, you could get the impression that the US makes the movie break even, while the rest of the world is pure profit.

Figure 2: Sean Connery

connery.jpg

From an investment and profit ratio standpoint, Connery is by far the best. He never goes below 11-1 and his best ratio is 60-1, with Dr. No. He made the most money with Thunderball, second with Goldfinger, and the least with Dr. No. From a capitalistic standpoint, he was the biggest bang for the buck.

Figure 3: Roger Moore

moore.jpg

Moore’s profit ratio started at 23-1 went down to 5-1, but they were still raking in the coin. Ignoring the change in the dollar’s purchasing value, his movies netted about 50% percent more than Connery; including the change would make Connery more profitable than Moore. However, as time went on they were spending more per movie and not doing as well as before, and the Box Office sales were diminishing. The lowest box office was for The Man with the Golden Gun, and the best box office was for Moonraker.

Figure 4: Timothy Dalton

dalton.jpg

Monetarily, Dalton held the line but didn’t improve on Moore’s worst. His profit ratios varied from 4.8 to 3.7, and his net sales were $114-151 million. I have to admit I thought he was closer to the Bond in the books than Moore, but he was not as charismatic as Connery.

Figure 5: Pierce Brosnan

brosnan.jpg

Basically, Brosnan doubled the gross sales at the expense of higher budget costs, but still made more than any of the others. His profit ratios varied from 5.9 to 2.9, but the net sales have varied between $236 and $314 million US. Ever since he was in Remington Steele, people have been talking about him as a possible Bond. In the series he didn’t have the intensity that came out when he matured and got the Goldeneye role.

Bottom line: it’s amazing how well the franchise has done. Even with the worst of the Bonds there is always a solid profit, and with the best it was phenomenal. And for 40 years they’ve been pushing them out at an average of one every second year.

Now for the audience.

Figure 6: Audience and money.

admissiona.jpg

This is probably the one I found most interesting. If you go by popularity, Connery wins by a landslide, Moore at his best is close to Brosnan, but Brosnan is more consistent. When you factor in population increase, it argues even more for the popularity of Connery, especially the earlier movies which were fairly close to the books. Connery’s popularity went down when they started diverging and adding too many gadgets (i.e after Thunderball).

And finally, since the year I was born the approximate price of a ticket has gone up 7 times (actually if you use the American consumer price index calculator it has only gone up 17%)!

Anyway, enough statistics.

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I just saw a DVD that I consider to be one of the best movies I have seen in my life. If I try to describe it I may ruin it for you, or take something away from it. It is definitely a movie that adults and children can watch, though.

If you watch Akeelah and the Bee, I don’t think you will regret it.

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This is an important and moving movie about one of the post-war trials at Nuremberg, the site of massive rallies held by the Nazis during World War II. It followed the trial held for the judges who enforced the discriminatory and rascist laws promulgated before and during the war within the Third Reich. There was one passage from the court decision in the movie that had particular impact on me, and is the single aspect of those hellish times that both fascinates and horrifies me the most. I still can’t fully understant it.

A copy of the speech is at American Rhetoric. The following excerpt regards defendent Janning, who (in the movie) was Minister of Justice in the Third Reich during the war years. This man had the reputation of being a supreme jurist who was recognised and respected around the world, and he was a great student and teacher of the law. For patriotic reasons he tried to work within the system to mitigate the abuses of the administration and other jurists, but in the process condoned unjust decisions and crimes against humanity. His great reputation and prestige gave tacit support to others to commit similar or worse acts.

This is from Justice Haywood’s decision (highlighted text was chosen by me):

Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

-from American Rhetoric

The message is clear. Without a clear sense of morality and justice, and the courage to follow the precepts of both, the best people in the best country in the world can slip into doing unjust and inhumane acts. The end does not justify the means, rather the means will determine the end. It has happened since World War II, and it is still going on.

I strongly recommend watching the movie and studying the court decision.

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