Category Archives: Historical Drama

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) movie review

large_5xvdKU9Xlw12ZIH9hyXWIaKJHITIt takes a special story to outlive its first telling, to become timeless. Mockingbird has become just such a story. I read the book by Harper Lee so long ago, I had forgotten that it was so emotionally wrenching. I sobbed through this film, shocked a number of times. to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie-23769-hd-wallpapersI couldn’t believe the depth and youthful innocence that a young Robert Duvall gave his almost voiceless role of Boo Radley. Brilliant. And, I fell in love with Gregory Peck, who called Atticus his greatest role of opening sequence seems to show quintessential childhood – collections in a box, removed and replaced. Scenes from Amelie (2001) and The Fall (2006) echo as token tribute to this film’s classic opening.  d01d7417dd39f99cf956425e92221b4cA child narrator can speak unfettered by adult inclinations toward between-the-lines political double-talk or gaged intentions. Scout tells it like it is. Innocence is allowed a voice that reminds the world to see people as only a child can and to care for all others unconditionally.

Fans for decades have named children after the beloved narrator Scout, her adventurous and caring brother Jem, and even the glowing knight father Atticus.15354956-largeDespite kid show channels’ certain and obvious attempts at making grown-ups, especially parents, look ridiculous, this story gives the child’s perspective but makes the father the hero. This badge he wears with honesty, care, some sense of failure, and deep love.

Atticus is pensive. He cares for the common good. He is flawed and fragile to his kids at first, being older and refusing to shoot a gun. But when the mad dog saunters into town he proves “ol One-Shot” has still got it.47filmboxpicIn a parallel portrayal, the real mad dogs of the town come to commit acts of citizen justice before the courts have a chance to free a black man accused of raping a white woman. Atticus stands alone in moral courage against the growling crowd.6195917717_b94b4fd721_bEven as his Oscar fame faded to a distant echo, Peck remained a father figure to the little actress who played Scout. They always called each other by their character names, and kept in touch. Rare indeed.movies_to_kill_a_mockingbirdEven more rare were the events shaping American history at that time. Martin Luther King Jr. wore the heavy burden of speaking to the world on the same matters of civil importance as found in Lee’s book.  King spoke of Atticus. King’s message was the same as that of Lee’s novel: living breathing human beings should all be given the same right to live and breathe. Timeless truth.



Filed under Classic, Drama, Family friendly, Historical Drama, MUST SEE!

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) movie review

There are no crowds in this story. The whole tale takes place far from the so-called “madding” or potentially crazy-making city crowds. The English countryside does hold a special magic. On a recent visit, I discovered the whipping wind and birdsong of those enchanted rolling hills.Far-From-The-Madding-Crowd-3

The title comes from a poem called “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Gray. It’s a very somber but beautiful dirge of a poem. This film does seem to mirror parts of that poem.

The main character Bathsheba, played by camera-loving Carey Mulligan, is potentially written to parallel her biblical namesake as she seeks freedom and independence while unintentionally wooing and winning the hearts of all of the men in her acquaintance. Each of whom, though masterfully acted by Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen, are rather stark archetypes written with singular life motivations: to win her affections. The first man is all goodness, loyalty, kindness, and perseverance: the Christlike shepherd. The next is all bad: immoral, cruel, impatient, imprudent, evil: the gambling soldier (the Wickham). The third is the obsessive, quiet, brooding, and disappointed wealthy older neighbor.7a7b5547d24f-500x600Far-from-the-Madding-Crowd-Movie-Still-175
Perhaps much of classic literature, like this story by Thomas Hardy, is almost like the Greek dramatic tragedies of old. In drama, there were two faces: happy / sad, good / bad. Audiences today seem require more depth of character. They want the “bad guy” to show heart and to be reachable because they know deep down that we all have “bad guy” tendencies within. We need to know that we are redeemable, no matter how bad. And they want the “good guy” to have internal and external conflicts because they want to be able to relate. It’s not enough for us to watch the stories. We want to live them.
Perhaps the current prevailing culture trend that craves reality has influenced story in this way. Characters today are rarely one sided. Audiences demand an arc: a beginning, middle, end. Even a comic-based hero flick will allow characterization to evolve over the course of the film. Guy fears water. Guy finally dips a toe in. Guy gets pushed into the deep end. Guy meets swimming soul mate. Guy claims water isn’t so bad after all. …Evolution of character.  Sadly, “Madding Crowd” offers only immersion, good guy or bad, sadly a single mask for each character.

An even more sorrowful story is that the feminist turn in this film also proves less than a win for either side of that pendulum. Bathsheba is offered two pianos and protection but refuses, being a strong-minded and capable independent woman. Then she falls for the unbridled one who offers youthful thrill and sexual awakening. Always chaste and being chased until she caves for the bad boy. Grease lightning on repeat.
This film haunts somehow, though. Each beautiful character, though simple, is simultaneously stunning and in no way superficial.
Perhaps this story is like an impressionist’s canvas. Up close, it’s simple, harsh, childlike brush strokes. Then, step back and weep at its complexity.far-from-the-madding-crowd-mulligan

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Filed under Chick Flick/ Rom Com, Drama, Historical Drama

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) movie review

breakfast-at-tiffanys-237x300Audrey had a way with people. She wooed them. She still does. For instance, audiences everywhere still believe this a sweet film with tender moments. It’s not. It’s odd and torturous, full of shocking secrets, prostitution, escort services, fear of rape, mob connections, and a man-eater gold-digger culture to rival most shows today. It’s also inappropriately racist considering Mickey Rooney’s character.audrey-as-holly-in-sleep-mask_with-cat-on-backSet in the well-sauced sixties, nightlife loving New York model shows a Sunday afternoon side, singing on the fire escapes and befriends a young and beautiful escort George Peppard.tumblr_mq71b4a2iH1r5yygpo1_500Henry Mancini wrote the famous song “Moon River” for this film. Studios weren’t going to let Audrey sing it because of her whispey vocals, but Mancini stood up and said if she didn’t sing it they wouldn’t get to use it.
Yet, there is something about their day of firsts, her voice in his head inspiring him to write, her mysterious backstory, the day trips to SingSing and the public library.
In Funny Face, Audrey tours Paris and transforms from bookish to bombshell.Breakfast-at-Tiffanys_Audrey-Hepburn_black-hat-bandRoman Holiday sweeps is up into Gregory Peck’s arms for a guided tour of Rome taking Hepburn from Princess to tourist in a day.
And Breakfast at Tiffany’s travels NYC in a Pretty Woman story for the ages demanding the exclusivity of love despite all insecurities.

Perhaps there is a moral to this classic tale.


Filed under Classic, Drama, Historical Drama

MR. HOLMES (2015) movie review

1425493080204Sir Ian McKellen, versatile and vibrant, spins a good yarn. He becomes his characters, or perhaps they become him. No longer the man behind the Magneto mask or the old grey beard of Gandalf, McKellen is an aged Sherlock Holmes.
In search of a medicinal cure for the aging mind, he has one crime left to solve, and it isn’t the one he’s pursuing. He retires to the seaside along the white cliffs of Dover and finds there a small boy wonder, a fan of Holmes, who may be the key to opening Sherlock’s memory banks and subsequently, his heart.
rs_560x415-150304172941-1024.ian-mckellen-holmesCharming and enchanting. Heartwarming and thought-provoking. It’s a mystery to solve inside the resolve of lovely dear and true friendships.

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Filed under Drama, Historical Drama

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) movie review

 The 1998 Best Picture nominee ÒSaving Private RyanÓ will be screened as the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesÕ ÒGreat To Be NominatedÓ series on Monday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater.   Pictured here: Tom Hanks in a scene from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, 1998.

To be honest, I was jaded by the bandwagoning over this film. The mob mentality followed flag-waving mutual love for Saving Private Ryan from the moment it exploded onto the big screen. So, I skipped it. Too many older male teachers looked at me and said, “Earn this” as if it meant they’d nearly died to help me get my degree. I’ve seen that last few minutes in clips in so many classes and so many sermons, I assumed that everyone must be romancing the ideals of war somehow. I didn’t see American Sniper for the same reason. I didn’t want to somehow promote war by enjoying it.

I claimed this excuse: films are a passion, an escape, a joy for me. I’d rather rewatch a lovely story on DVD than be shocked or potentially harmed by the vicarious experience of torture. I live the movies I watch. I don’t sleep well for weeks after watching a horror movie. As a young girl, I knew was going to be the next meal of the T-rex after Jurassic Park. And my feet will never forget the sensation of trying on the glass slippers for the first time. I feel invincible after action movies, and so very thoughtful after solved crime dramas. I sob through too many films, even the happy bits. Somehow I feel that movies are made for me, about me. I learn, live by, quote, and internalize the messages of films. Filmmakers are teachers, like it or not. They persuade, preach, and perpetuate ideas that they too believe in. Perhaps I am the type of audience they make movies for. I care.

Spielberg called in the troops for this one. Every face under an Allied helmet seemed notable, famous, yet somehow fitting in this quintessential war flick. The actors vying for these roles must have known that Spielberg was making history…from history. Spielberg manages to give enough pause-to-breathe time as well as changes in scenery to make the journey on the shores and fields of France during WWII manageable, though I admit I had to mute and close my eyes many times just to stomach the horrors of war, even from my living room’s comfy chair.

The brilliance of Spielberg’s Private Ryan is that it seeks to tell the story from the inside and refuses the omniscient narration of wide angles. It’s a human interest story in POV, point of view. The audience is as surprised as the soldiers are when under fire. We suffer as they do. I watched it today for my friend Dan who served in Iraq. Dan is one of the kindest, most peaceful men I know. He loves his Bible and his wife, and he has always been a good friend to me. He has never talked about war, but it felt like he was there in this film. We were there together in the fox holes and behind barricades.2762_5

Just as the opening hook of the film “The Hurt Locker” shows a likable Guy Pierce calmly discussing basic human desires like food and sex, so Spielberg set audiences up to  care about and relate to characters. We invest in them and in the film. If they want to live, we don’t want them to die. If the characters are cruel or insensitive, unrelatable or cold, audiences will often feel nothing. Heroes in film can also be too perfect to be likable, but it’s not the case with Hanks’s Captain character who is far from Christ-like. He makes bad calls and gut decisions. In front of the men, he seems callous, task-driven, even unfriendly at times. He refuses to offer personal information and keeps a kill count. But, something in him is reluctant, sorrowful, duty-bound. He leads, but from within as a do-er, a comrade, a man who misses home. Yet, we all know that he is willing to lay his life down for the mission. He is almost thrown by the concept in the line (and poster’s tagline) “This mission is a man.” In this way, he becomes the everyman. We know that we are flawed. We make bad calls and worry about the mission and the people we may bring down with us. We are Miller. We are Ryan. We were there on the battlefield with the men who died for us.

So today as I write this, on Memorial Day, when we who did not have to fight for freedom are called upon to remember those who did, I watched this film and thought it was beautiful.  Gut wrenching, devastating, tragic, and awful, but true and real and necessary.

Admittedly moved, I left the movie on as it replayed.

The scene I may have liked most is the moment before the climax battle when Hanks finds a coffee machine and tries to make a cup while the men lounge in the sun listening to an Edith Piaf record. The interpreter tells the men what she is singing, calling the lyrics quite melancholy as they speak of a love she’ll never have.


I was reminded of a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet after Romeo finds out of a battle that his cousin fought that morning:

Oh me, what fray was here? Why then o brawling love, o loving hate, o anything of nothing first create, o heavy lightness, serious vanity, misshapen chaos of well seeming forms. Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, still waking sleep, that is not what this is!”

Shakespeare’s Romeo, like Piaf, discusses the oxymoronic nature of love that hurts, of love unrequited. But I would apply this speech to war in that it too dwells in both realms. They fought and died for love, killed for love. For love of life, of freedom, of family, of a world unbroken by tyranny. And for that they died. None of us can earn that. Earn life, love, freedom. That’s the beauty and irony of the Cross of Christ as well. He died to give life. He earned it so we wouldn’t have to.


Filed under Drama, Historical Drama, War

WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) movie review


Who is the woman in gold? She is an emblem. She was a woman who loved. She bears a powerful curse and a blessing. Untouchable and coveted.

Gustav Klimt, known as a symbolist painter, studied in Vienna and employed gold leaf in many of his famous paintings and two of my favorites: The Kiss and The Woman in Gold.cn_image_3.size.gustav-kimlt-helen-mirren-woman-in-gold-movie-02

Gustav Klimt’s 1907 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Rights reserved: Neue Galerie New York.

This film, however, is not about the painter Klimt at all. The story moves effortlessly into the dramatic story of the niece of the woman who posed for Klimt’s painting. Her wealthy Austrian family fell prey with the millions of Jews who were stripped of all possessions and forced to flee or fall during the Nazi overthrow in World War II.

This true story allowed the voice of the spunky niece Maria, played perfectly by Helen Mirren, to reluctantly revisit her homeland. The haunts of her lush childhood interlaced with the memories leading up to her wedding and eventually her escape. Her one connection to the aunt who helped to raise her was the painting that once hung in her childhood home.


This film, however, is not necessarily about Maria. Nor is it truly about the painting. Ryan Reynolds plays a young lawyer who took a risk on a start-up and lost. We meet him, downtrodden, looking for work. Maria hires him to help retrieve the beloved painting of her aunt. We, in the audience, need to know that he was willing to take a risk. Despite his growing family, despite impossible odds, he must do this. The film is so much about him. It’s about his personal journey, connecting with his own past, mourning lost loved ones, mourning the holocaust. He fights as so few would, without real financial backing, against an entire country that wants to leave the past behind, forgiven, forgotten. Randol, the lawyer, seeks to prove Maria’s ownership of the painting, and for most of the film, he seems to fight for the wrong reasons. Then he changes. All that Midas touched turned to gold until he lost the only one he loved. Every hero has a tragic flaw, usually hubris. But when they sacrifice themselves for the greater good, they rise up and become what they never could have: a hero.

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Filed under Drama, Historical Drama

EXODUS (2015) movie review

exodus-gods-and-kings-movie-poster-1Exodus has moments of beauty and potential greatness, thoughtful on so many levels. But Bale is no Charlton Heston. Exodus: Gods and Kings lacks the pizzaz and joy of the original Ten Commandments. Prince of Egypt may not have had a doe-eyed Aaron Paul but at least it never diminished the miracles by making Moses the God-whisperer and attempting to explain the plagues scientifically: alligators, so blood, so frogs, so flies, etc.

False beliefs prevail in Biblical films of late. The heroes must be A-listers, never mind the fluctuating accents, as long as they can wield a blade and train the peasants to retaliate. Why would God bother to intervene when Christian Bale or Russell Crowe can lead an army?exodus-gods-and-kings-3

I shouldn’t be surprised that so many renowned directors, like the brilliant, detail-driven Ridley Scott would look to the Greatest Stories Ever Told in the Bible for great screen fodder. To grasp the immortal seems the quest for most Hollywood greats. The gods of myth thought that eternal life is for those who live on in legend. Stories live on, so they must work as conduits…flux capacitors for a new age of inventors who visualize and create widescreen and digital IMAX.

Some also sadly believe that special effects will cover any sub-par plot points or dialogue, or anything that the filmmaker thought too potentially religious. Visual accuracy over biblical. The Pharaoh can look like he grew up in Texas as long as he cuddles with Cobras and paints a mean eyeline.

Egypt is sepia toned, to color the Caucasian cast. And the wilderness a Prometheus blue. The burning bush burst into a less than stunning blue flame.D0ObgKhviA

I’m sorry to say, it’s not the biblical inaccuracies that tanked the multi-million dollar project. It was…boring. Slow and unsteadily paced. It lags so desperately that in the end you almost hope the Red Sea will take them all. But they cross…waist-deep, then the armies drown in a tidal wave.

Many Christians cry and run from theaters over these kinds of oversights. If only the same crowd of movie goers would cry over poorly made films in the B-genre known as Christian films and seek to correct the problem with excellent filmmaking. The Bible will continue to provide a wellspring of stories. The era of Bible-based movies will continue.

So many filmmakers and viewers alike continue the search in a bottomless grave looking for a frozen Savior who they hoped would come to save the world. They have yet to find that He is risen. He is risen indeed.Exodus1

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Filed under Action, Drama, Historical Drama, Skip It