Kingdom of Heaven

September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

This review contains serious SPOILERS…on the other hand, considering that this has been touted as the movie nobody is seeing, you may not care…

A young blacksmith named Balian turns out (much to his surprise) to be the son of a baron in the Holy Land, and joins Dad to go on crusade.

So, since I have become addicted to Fametracker, I’ll sum up the assets and liabilities of this movie:

Assets Liabilities
  • Really, really beautiful filmmaking.
  • Really, really dull scriptwriting.
  • Incredible attention to detail, costumes, armor and arms, cinematography.
  • Except for the guy who thought that having blood and/or mud flung at the camera would make it more realistic…after the eighth or ninth time, that kind of got old…
  • Liam Neeson
  • Liam Neeson NEVER TAKES HIS SHIRT OFF. sigh.
  • Orlando Bloom, who is okay looking and tries real hard to act.
  • Orlando Bloom, who is so perfectly pretty he’s kind of bland and doesn’t have a lot of range of emotion. Oh, and his character is a blacksmith and just happens to know how to read and write and has the manners and knowledge to fit right in with the nobility? In the MIDDLE AGES? hah.
  • Eva Green, who played Sybilla, Baldwin’s sister and later Queen of Jerusalem, and was awfully fetching.
  • Sybilla, who was portrayed as a freedom-loving 90s sort of gal, who went where she wanted, slept with a guy she wasn’t married to, and followed him to France in the end…totally unbelieveable. Not only was even a strong woman (and that Sybilla was) incredibly confined in that place and time, unable to go anywhere without being surrounded by her ladies and knights, but even after the fall of Jerusalem, she was still queen of a sizeable chunk of the Holy Land…why would she leave that (even if she were allowed to, matrimonial prize that she was) to be a blacksmith’s wife in France?
  • Jeremy Irons
  • Jeremy Irons is NEVER a liability.
  • The battle scenes, wow!
  • They SKIPPED RIGHT OVER the Battle of Hattin, the major conflict in this war! This was the battle where the Christians stupidly marched out of their well-defended city in the heat of day in full armor with very little water…and were dropping like flies even before the battle. This is the battle that basically lost the sizeable chunk of the Holy Land that the Christians had had for a hundred years…after that, it was all over but the shouting. And they show the buildup…and then all of a sudden it’s OVER and THAT’S IT? sheesh. Although I will award extra points for the (completely unexplained but accurate) scene of Saladin’s cavalry riding in circles deliberately raising dust to make things even worse for the Christians. It felt like they filmed a lot more of this battle but then had to cut it.
  • Many key historical figures like Reynald de Chatillon, Guy de Lusignan and King Baldwin (and did anyone notice Edward Norton under that silver mask? Yes, Baldwin really was a leper.) were right on the money.
  • Many characters (the major ones) were totally unbelieveable. This was the middle ages, and the Christians didn’t even like each other much, much less anyone else…it was kind of wierd to hear them spouting stuff about everyone living in peace together…
  • They got a whole lot of the historical events right- the infighting between the Templars and the other knights, the leadup to the disastrous (for the Christians) and stupidly fought Battle of Hattin, the loss of the True Cross to the Muslims, the fallout in Saladin’s tent afterwards, the battle for Jerusalem, and the fact that everyone in the city was freed by Saladin without having to convert.
  • For some reason they left out one salient detail: the people of Jerusalem weren’t just freed, they were RANSOMED, which was a perfectly normal thing to do at the time. Saladin set a price for men, women, children and slaves, and each person who was freed had to be paid for. The city treasury was emptied, Sybilla hocked her jewels, and a whole lot of folks gave up all their cash to help out…but a sizeable number of the poorest residents were sold off into slavery when their ransom was not paid. And the Bishop of Jerusalem slunk out the back gate with his own money and all the church plate he could lay his hands on…

The reality police showed up after the movie. We saw it, and (as is his wont) Mr. Otter (aka Historian-on-a-Stick, the man who quibbles about buttons in Civil War movies and shoulder insignia in just about EVERY war movie) turned to me and asked how I liked it. I started in on some of the stuff I wrote up above, and his jaw dropped, and his eyes got big, and he said, I didn’t know any of that! I had no idea you knew so much about this! and he was VERY IMPRESSED.

What universe did we shift to where I knew more about an historical event than Mr Otter? It’ll probably never happen again…but it was fun while it lasted.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Roy Horniman

The eighth in line to a dukedom decides to accelerate the inheritance process…

This is one of the Ealing Studios comedies, and (in my opinion) the best. The wannabe heir takes out everyone who stands in his way (and this is not a spoiler, as the viewer finds this out at the start of the movie.)

And the best part: Alec Guinness plays ALL EIGHT of the members of the family, of various ages and sexes. Brilliantly. And in fact, those of us who know him from his later films will not recognize him as a young man as easily as when he is playing someone old. But you can always recognize his voice.

And speaking of his later roles, in one scene, the young murderer is having dinner with an elderly relative (both Alec Guinness)…and the elderly relative says something, and I paused the movie and we both looked at each other in shock and said, He didn’t say, “I believe the Force is with you”, did he? and laughed like idiots that we had both heard and then said it simultaneously. We rewound it…what was actually said was, I believe the PORT is with you, a phrase which in polite British society means, You’re hogging all the alcohol, pass it over here!

But it says a lot about our background and what we most identify Sir Alec with that we both mis-heard the same thing…

This is an utterly charming, funny and wonderful movie. Beautifully made, with excellent actors besides the Ubiquitous Guinness. Well worth seeing.

Although there is one not-so-happy period piece that does not sit well in our modern times: toward the end, he recites the old Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Mo rhyme…actually using the N word in it, and once more in referring to the rhyme. Yowch. That’s not a word one expects to hear casually dropped in a light comedic movie…shows how far we’ve come since 1949, I guess. Don’t let it deter you, this is a WONDERFUL movie.


September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

From the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling

I remember reading and liking this book very much as a young otter, but I couldn’t give you a plot point to save my life, so I have no idea how closely the movie follows the book. Gotta reread it, I guess…

But this is a good movie, although sort of mired in the late 40s-early 50s design (let’s put the orange stripes, red dots and purple plaid TOGETHER!) sensibilities…technicolor was here, and it was happ’nin’.

Errol Flynn stars as the Indian Mahbub Ali, who is a spy for the British in the Great Game, the mixture of politics and espionage that took place in India and Afghanistan during the 1800s, with the British and the Russians jockeying for power and land.

The kid who is caught up in this is played by (a very young) Dean Stockwell, and Flynn (in his post-honey era) is actually good.

Although there is the scene where Kim is sent to a British boys’ school in India to learn all that Euro stuff he needs to know, and is having trouble adjusting, and you see him over and over again doing things that are Not Done, and a wise mentor says to him, “We don’t do that at St. Xavier’s”. They did this so many times in a row that we were in hysterics making up rude occasions for using this phrase.

But otherwise…it’s a good movie. Well paced, good action scenes, actual plot development, fun to watch.

Kill Bill

September 28, 2012

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Revenge, plain and simple…or not so simple.

Well. I have to say, we chez otter were MIGHTY disappointed in these two movies.

Now, let me start by assuring you all that we are fans of Quentin “Ain’t I a bad boy?” Tarantino’s oeuvre…we loved Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Til Dawn, Jackie Brown…we think his filmmaking/directing/writing is mighty fine.

We also like Uma Thurman very very much…beautiful as well as interesting looking (although of course too thin, but who listens to me?), a good actress, and very believeable in action scenes. It was a joy to see David Carradine doing another big movie as well, I always liked him. The rest of the cast were good for their roles…it was fun watching Daryl Hannah being evil.

And the plot wasn’t bad…Mr. Otter was ready to pack it in after the first part, although by the end of it (and especially given the very ending of it) I did want to see where it was going…I mean, it was obvious, but I thought it would be worth the ride.

And there was a WHOLE lot of action, if the over-the-top martial arts stuff floats your boat. I don’t mind a little of it, but this was almost four hours of nearly nonstop action, um…yeah. Well, it was certainly fast and busy, and well choreographed…but truthfully, after a while, it all looks the same.

And the biggest problem with this pair o’ flicks: they reference a style of film that simply does not appeal to either Mr. Otter or myself. Sure, I caught the musical references to Ennio Morricone’s wonderful spaghetti western scores, and there were times when it was obvious that the scene was directly quoting another movie, but overall, we were unimpressed.

Now, it seems to me that referencing other works is perfectly ok and a way to add multiple layers and depth to any movie. But (like sequels) it has to be done in such a way that those who do not know the thing you are so cleverly referring to can still enjoy it without feeling like they’re at a party and they wore the wrong clothes…you don’t want people who are paying major bucks to see your work to feel left out of the fun.

This is a failing of many Stephen King books, several of which are not a part of that doggone Dark Tower series, but then after plowing through a billion pages of furious prose the reader finds out that the big denouement…is about an event that takes place in those other books. Ultimately unsatisfying, and a cheap shot by the creator of the work. </rant>

Well. Anyway. If you like martial arts movies and that kind of thing, you’ll probably like these…we found them to be more like cotton candy, pretty but when we got right down to it, there was not much there.


September 28, 2012

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CinemaSins       Movie Reviews

From the graphic novel of the same name by Mark Millar

Young wannabe superheroes take the law into their own hands.

This movie has gotten a lot of flack, mostly because of the clip of Nicolas Cage shooting his movie daughter, which is a pretty disturbing clip when taken out of context…it made me sit up and go, Whoa! when someone (Spider Jerusalem, maybe?) sent it to me.

But the movie, N. Cage aside, is worth seeing. Lots of great action scenes, bad guys you love to hate, excellent special effects, some good dialogue.

I read the graphic novel a long time ago, but as I remember, the movie is pretty faithful to it…I’m going to re-read it before posting this, but that is my memory. And the young actors they have playing the two main characters are excellent.

But Nicolas Cage. Ex-honey Nicolas Cage. Sigh. It’s really sad that in a movie where he essentially plays two roles (one the nebbishy author father and the other the vigilante superhero trainer) the more believeable is the father. He is just no longer convincing as an action hero, and since he can’t act for crap, this kind of puts a damper on his movie career.

Except, of course, it DOESN’T. And that’s sad too.

If you like action movies, especially slightly oddball ones, rent this, it’s good.


September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

The story of the Siege of Khartoum, with Charlton Heston playing Gordon, and Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi (in the same makeup and mannerisms he used in Othello, says Railroad David!)

Amazingly enough, even with these two veteran scenery-chewers involved, this is a pretty darn good movie. The action is consistent, the battle scenes and costumes are good (Mr. Otter, aka Historian-On-A-Stick, had no complaints about the buttons or other small details) and they pretty much stick to the way things actually happened…the only two real deviations from historical fact are that Gordon and the Mahdi never met face to face (esp. as melodramatically as they meet here) and that the last scene, when Gordon is killed on the stairway, is actually taken from a very well-known drawing that appeared in London after the seige, and had no relation to where he actually was when he was killed.

But hey, those are pretty small points…and otherwise, it’s quite fun to watch. Olivier has a wonderful time overacting, as usual, and for once the audience has a good time too (rather than just being embarrassed…”Oh for cryin’ out loud, Larry, could you please just tone it down some?”) and even Heston does a creditable job with a fairly complex character, shifting between insubordination, religious fervor, and sheer self-aggrandizement in turns.

Pop a beer, get a cat on your lap for scritch, and enjoy.

Keys of the Kingdom

September 28, 2012

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From the novel of the same name by A. J. Cronin

The life of a Scottish Catholic priest running a mission in China in the early 1900s.

My library’s book discussion group read this and watched the movie so that we could discuss the two together, and we had quite a good discussion, since there was a major plot point (which was not in the movie) that we disagreed on- I held one opinion, and the rest of the group disagreed with me. Later one of the group said, I went back and reread it, and I think you were right. Otter is happy.

But back to the movie. This was Gregory Peck’s second movie, and he is amazingly young and good looking. The book takes half its length to get him to China, which the movie accomplishes in ten minutes, mostly by cutting out all the character development that makes the book so good. But, given the time constraints, it was actually not badly done, and the story of his life in China is actually what we want to see anyway.

And this was a very good movie- good characters, good settings (considering that it had to have been shot on the back lot, since it was 1944 and NOBODY was going anywhere that wasn’t war-related) and good writing. Watch and enjoy!

Kate and Leopold

September 28, 2012

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A Duke’s son (Hugh Jackman) from the 19th century ends up in modern New York and falls in love with Meg Ryan.

Sigh. When will I ever learn?
Law of the universe: NOTHING with Meg Ryan in it is EVER romantic. Funny, yes, but not romantic.

This was just silly. The two guys, Meg’s Ryan’s actor-wannabe brother, and her ex, Stuart, were pretty good, interesting characters, but Meg and Hugh were just going through the motions.

  1. Not even a scientifically savvy inventor would be able to adjust so well to 21st century New York
  2. He couldn’t possibly marry Meg Ryan in the end when the whole point of him getting married was to save the family finances…

Skip this one. If you want romance rent The Princess Bride or some Jane Austen again.

Kaala Paani

September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

The story of an infamous British-run prison in the Andaman Islands in India, where political prisoners were sent and badly treated.

And how did we end up watching this movie? it all started with The Moth.

I love podcasts. I listen to them in the car, while I’m hiking, whenever I can actually. And my two favorites are NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! and The Moth Podcast.

The Moth is a project that’s been going on for ten or more years, since it started on someone’s porch in Georgia. I download them and listen to five or six or more in a row, and love them. Because what The Moth is, is true stories told in front of a live audience without notes. True meaning people telling stories from their own lives. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they’re just…amazing. But they are all true, and they are all good.

And one day, I was listening to some of these, and I heard Alex Draper’s story, You are a great king. This was a story about a time when he was working as both an actor and a caterer, and got a phone call from an Indian friend who was making a movie and wanted Draper to be in it. And the podcast was about making this movie. And it was so cool and so funny, I played it for Mr. Otter when I got home.

And then we looked at each other and said, we gotta see this movie.

So I went to Netflix and rented Kala Pani.

And it came, and we found the time and started watching it…and it was THE WRONG MOVIE. It was a movie from 1958, and evidently very famous…but it wasn’t the one we wanted to see. Which seemed not to exist.

So I pulled out my reference librarian skills and went looking. And after about half an hour, I found out that it had about four different names depending on which version it was (it’s been released in several language/subtitle combinations) and found a copy on eBay. Cheap. And ordered it.

And it arrived, and a couple of nights ago we watched it.

And we were not disappointed!

As I said, it’s the story of an infamous prison and four years in the life of a doctor who is sent there. There are the obligatory Bollywood musical scenes (when he’s thinking of his life before prison), and the soundtrack often got kind of frivolous, considering the seriousness of the movie.

But the characters (and actors) were good, the context mostly made sense to us, and it was a piece of history that I, for one, know very little about- the beginning of the serious nationalist movement in India. It takes place mostly between 1915-19, and shows how political prisoners were locked up, silenced, and killed by the British, especially the vicious warden in charge of the prison (Draper’s role, which he plays to the hilt) and his sidekick, Mirzakhan (played by the bad guy from the really bad Indiana Jones movie, Temple of Doom (which you will never see reviewed here because I’ll never watch it again, it was unbelievably awful.))

It’s Indian cinema. There were some context I’m sure we were missing, some odd interludes, like the whole ‘deserted island’ thing, some of which I think was meant for comic relief until things got really ugly…and some of the lighthearted flashbacks in the middle of awful stuff happening were kind of jarring.

But overall, it was really good. You can listen to the podcast, which is about 15 minutes long, and we’ll be glad to loan you the movie. It’s worth going out of your way for. Visit The Moth! Subscribe to the Moth Podcast!

K-19: The Widowmaker

September 28, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Well. Hm. So there I was at the Red Cross, in a chair with needles in my arms for two hours…they had this and About A Boy, two of the few on their shelf of videos that I hadn’t seen…so, since I know I can’t see anything sad when I can’t bend my elbows, and I figured anything with Hugh Grant and a kid would have to be a tearjerker, I thought I’d give this a try. Sure, Mr. Otter panned it, but it’s got Harrison Ford, I said to myself, how bad can it be?

Ah well. Mr. Otter was right.

Now, I do like Harrison Ford, and most of the time he qualifies for Serious Honey status in my book, even in something silly like Air Force One…but not here. Not with his amazing disappearing sort-of-eastern-european-but-not-really accent. Not trying to be stern and totalitarian, yet sympathetic, and failing miserably. Not trying to be better looking and hunkier than (whatta bilt) Total Honey Liam Neeson (one scene of him in a tank top, I’ll take what I can get). And especially not when he is taking himself SO SERIOUSLY that he should get a Shatner award for Advanced Scenery Chewing. Sigh.

Neeson is good, as the captain of the sub whose men like and respect him, and who has to deal with Ford coming in and replacing him…but you know, it’s a submarine movie. The only submarine movie that I’ve ever seen that was different from EVERY SINGLE OTHER doggone sub movie ever made was Hunt for Red October, and mostly because the real action WASN’T about life on the sub…there just aren’t a lot of dramatic choices there. At least, not after the first sub movie you see.

Plus I was entirely mislead by the title. I mean, I’m an otter who loves graphic violence…I saw the subtitle, The Widowmaker, and thought, aha! Dead guys everywhere, blood and body parts, just what I need to distract me while I’m donating…it sounded like a major seagoing bloodbath, and I was ready for it.

But no. What a crock! Yes, they say that 10 guys are killed building it, but that doesn’t really count…the total body count after they put to sea? Seven guys. Yup, that’s it. And they just die of radiation sickness. Which they mostly volunteer for to fix the reactor (which is the problem here, a wonky reactor and they’re trying not only to get back alive, but also not to cause WWIII from their reactor going off and setting off their warheads, it being 1961 and everyone standing with fingers poised over buttons…)

And if you really want to be picky, the only guy whose significant other you actually see is not married, so technically she isn’t a widow. Hmph. Where are the truth in advertising laws when you need them?

As Mr. Otter said when I complained about this one, it’s hard to get excited about a movie where the most interesting actor is the nuclear reactor…and as is often the case, he was absolutely right. No wonder Ford was chewing the scenery, hard to compete with good special effects.

If you’re a die-hard sub fan, you’ll have to see it, but don’t expect too much. And make sure you’ve got food and alcohol on hand, it’s OVER TWO HOURS LONG…