His Girl Friday

  • Title:  His Girl Friday
  • Director:  Howard Hawks
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  Columbia Pictures
  • Genre:  Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“There’s nobody else on The Paper who can write!”  — Walter Burns

“All they’ve been doing is lying, all they’ve been doing is writing lies, Why don’t they listen to me?”  — Molly

“There are 365 days in a year one can get married, How many times – you got a murderer locked up in a desk?”  — Walter

His Girl Friday” is based on the play, “The Front Page“, but whereas in the original play the reporter was a man – in this version, he’s a she, — and therein lies the fun.  Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) goes to her old stomping grounds, the Morning Post, to officially resign and tell her ex-husband, Walter, that she’s going to get married again, to an insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy).  Walter, still in love with Hildy, but even more, in need of her talent as a writer, does everything he can to stop this, including get poor Bruce thrown in jail three times.

Meanwhile, a convicted murderer is going to be hanged the next day.  Walter and his paper have maintained the man’s innocence, and tried to get a reprieve for him.  Walter manages to get Hildy to go and interview the condemned man.  Hildy does, and when she’s out of the room one of the other hardened “newspapermen” read her story and remark on the quality of the writing.  But Hildy, angered at yet another of Walter’s jokes on Bruce, rips up the story.  She swears, yet again, to quit.  Then Earl Williams, the convicted man, escapes.  Hildy, like all the other reporters, starts covering the story, and really gets caught up in it when first Williams, then his girlfriend, Molly, show up in the press room.  Hildy calls Walter over to the courthouse, and they are trying to decide what to do.  The sheriff, police, and mayor show up.  Williams is found in the roll-top desk, Hildy and Walter are arrested.  Then a process-server arrives from the governor — for the second time that night he tries to deliver the governor’s reprieve for the convicted man.  Hildy and Walter are freed.  Walter convinces Hildy to marry him.  Hildy also realizes that she is:  “a newspaperman”;  as the story has fired her blood, and the dream of marriage to a dull insurance salesman and a boring life in Albany is just that – a pipe dream, not her at all.

His Girl Friday” is a great film — it’s funny, and the main plot of a manhunt for a escaped felon is still relevant today.  The film is known for it’s incredibly fast, overlapping dialog, which it does have, and it definitely adds to the warp drive feel of the film.  Grant and Russell have great chemistry together, and the audience knows from their first scene together that Hildy belongs with Walter – not plain vanilla Bruce. But the film is also interesting in that it’s very much a woman’s liberation film.  Hildy, a woman, is successfully making her way in a career that is still, seventy years later, traditionally held by men, thus the use of the term “newspaperman” throughout the film rather than reporter or journalist, though those terms pop-up as well.  And though Hildy talks about giving up her career for marriage, family, children, etc — in the end she chooses something very novel for the 1940s – to have both, her career, and her marriage.  Because Walter would expect her to work right alongside him, just as she had done before, and Hildy’s realized that what she really wants is to have both.

It should be noted that the popular 1980s romantic detective series, Moonlighting and Remington Steele, were referencing “His Girl Friday” in particular, with their use of fast paced, over-lapping dialog, and both a strong man and a strong woman in a adversarial romantic comedy.  That is, Hildy, wasn’t exactly going to sit around and wait for “her prince” to come to her — or even to go out searching for a man, but she was capable of  being happy with both a man who loved her and a career.

Recommendation:  See it!  You simply must!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Raiders of  the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones)

Highlander

  • Title:  Highlander
  • Director:  Russell Mulcahy
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  Republic Pictures
  • Genre:  Action, Romance
  • Cast:  Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen 
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC (DVD is 10th Anniversary Ed. – Director’s Cut)
  • Soundtrack:  Queen

This is a review of the first Highlander film, not the subsequent ones (which were pretty awful) or the TV series (which wasn’t bad, but I personally didn’t like the lead).  It’s a real pity the sequels were such a mess – because the original film is seriously an excellent film.  The cast is excellent, though Lambert’s accent is a tad distracting at times.  The filming is beautiful – especially in the scenes in Scotland.  The film is built on layers of contrast — even the romances contrast with each other.  And, the intercutting between Connor MacLeod’s past and his present is extremely well done and keeps the audience interested, by using short vignettes to build up the characters.  And the sword fighting is excellent as well.

Highlander drops you in to the middle of the action,  trusting the audience enough to stay with the film long enough to understand what’s going on.  Russell Nash attends a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden, then ends up in the parking garage having a sword fight with a guy who I swear looks like the Equalizer — dark suit, glasses, even semi-grey hair.  Nash wins his sword fight, cutting off the guy’s head and uttering the catch phrase of the film, “There can be only one!”  He then hides his sword and leaves, but gets caught by the police.  He’s released because the cops don’t have enough to hold him on.

However, during the wrestling match, Nash has dreams, or as we learn, memories… of his life in the Scottish Highlands as Connor MacLeod of the Clan McLeod.  Over the course of  the film, we see flashbacks to his life in Scotland that explain what’s going on.  His clan are to fight the Frasers, but on the field of battle no one will fight Connor and they even run away.  Unbeknownest to Conner — a mysterious Black Knight has paid the Fraser’s to fight anyone but Conner.  The Knight intends to kill Conner. However, he is mortally wounded and his cousin fends off the Black Knight.  Conner’s taken back to his village to die, but he recovers.  His girlfriend becomes convinced he has “the devil in him”, and stirs up trouble in the village against Conner.  He’s banished.  He ends up at a small sheep farm, where he meets Heather, falls in love with her, and marries her.

While living on the sheep farm, he meets Ramirez (Connery), another Immortal, like Conner and the Black Knight.  Ramirez takes Conner under his wing, teaches him how to fight, and about their ways.  He knows that some are Immortal, but doesn’t know why.  He knows that wounds that would kill a normal man, drowning, etc, will not kill an Immortal — the only method of killing one is by decapitation. He knows they cannot have children.  And he advises not falling in love — because he was devastated when his own third wife, a Japanese princess, died.  He also tells Conner that the Black Knight is the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), the oldest and strongest of the Immortals from the steppes of  Russia (think Ghangis Khan).  He also tells Conner that when only a few are left, The Gathering will take place, the last Immortals will be forced to fight and There Can Be Only One.  The last remaining Immortal will win The Prize.

Back in the “present” (the 1980s) the New York police are confused and befuddled by the sudden rash of beheadings.  An old friend of Conner’s shows up – but is killed by the Kurgan.  An woman who’s an expert in ancient swords, and works in forensics for the New York police, starts investigating both Russell Nash and one of the beheadings because the forensics of the sword used show it to be extraordinary — folded 200 times, yet made in 600 B.C.

We learn more about Nash/MacLeod’s life past and present — he does fall in love with Heather, marry her, and live with her until she dies.  The Kurgan also kills Ramirez — and Connor inherits his Katana. When Heather dies, he buries her under his MacLeod Claymore, and leaves, taking the Katana.  In the present, we meet Nash’s secretary, Rachel, who he had rescued when she was a child, during World War II — she knows all his secrets.

Nash and Brenda have a brief hot and steamy romance, and the Kurgan kidnaps her.  The climatic final sword fight between MacLeod and the Kurgan is on a rooftop by a bright red neon sign reading, “Silvercup”.  MacLeod wins – and discovers the prize is mortality, the ability to have children — and total knowledge of what everyone in the world is thinking.  The total knowledge thing is a bit scary, though a closing remembrance of Ramirez reminds MacLeod to use his gift wisely.

But the film is filmed beautifully — and filled with contrasts.  There’s the natural wide-open beauty of Scotland, verses the dirty and claustrophobic feel of modern day New York.  Most of the scenes in Scotland take place in the day as well; whereas the scenes in New York are mostly at night.  There’s the two romances — Conner’s original love, Heather, is sweet and kind and they have a life-long love.  His relationship with Brenda is more an animal attraction that quickly progresses to the hot and steamy side. However, they do seem to still be together at the end of the film.  And then there’s Rachel, who almost seems to mother Nash, though she knows exactly who and what he is.  Conner and Kurgan contrast as well — Kurgan is cruel, mean, and disgusting and only wants The Prize for whatever power it may bring him.  Conner seems to be honest and forthright, who will only use The Prize to help humanity.

And the sword fighting, both the fights and the various characters practicing their moves at various points, or Ramirez teaching Conner, are well realized.  Even watching Kurgan put together his multi-pieced broadsword and practice his moves is enjoyable to watch.

Overall, an excellent, enjoyable film, highly recommended.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  His Girl Friday

Henry V

  • Title:  Henry V
  • Director:  Kenneth Branagh
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  MGM (DVD release)
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Christian Bale, Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Richard Easton, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, John Sessions, Emma Thompson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Oh, for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the brightest heart of invention.”  — Chorus
 
“No King of England if not King of France.”  — Henry V
 
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V
 
“And upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry, and St. George.”  — Henry V

Branagh does a very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, and brings it to life on the screen wonderfully.  The film features an excellent cast.  When watching Shakespeare, either live, or a television or film presentation, I’m always almost distracted by the famous quotes and Henry V is no exception, which goes to show just what an excellent writer Shakespeare really was.

But Henry V is also a history play, meant to instruct the Elizabethan audience on their history, with a favorable nod toward the Tudor line.  The film opens with Henry’s advisors explaining to him that he has a just claim to the throne of France, through the female line, though France is claiming Sallic law — that is, Royal descent through the male line only.  The French Delphin arrives, bearing the message the King has refused Henry’s claim — and an insulting present.  This pushes Henry into the decision he was leaning towards:  he will invade France and pursue his claim militarily.

Henry and company are next in Southampton.  Henry is asking his advisors how to deal with a man who has broken the law.  They advise harshly.  However, the audience knows these advisors are conspiring against Henry and are actually in the employ of France.  Henry gives the man accused a light sentence, then he has the three conspirators arrested. They are accused of High Treason. Henry, points out that since they did not advise mercy for a lesser crime, he will show no mercy to them.

The English army heads to France, and into a battle.  Henry himself  leads the charge, with rousing words of bravery on horseback, “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V. They take the castle, but Henry advises his men, they are not to harrass the villagers.  Nothing is to be taken, but paid for.  The French people are not to be harrassed.  Henry even orders the execution of one of his own men who was caught stealing from a church, though the man is an old friend and advisor.

Finally, the English army reaches Avincourt.  They are cold, wet, tired, and sick.  On the eve of battle, it is plain they are out-numbered five to one.  Henry takes another advisor’s cloak and wanders through the British camp, getting a feel for how his soldiers really feel about the king.  Some support the king, others, fear they are on a fool’s errand and the king will only get himself captured and need to be ransomed. Henry swears this will not happen, though he is also worried by the long odds.  The next day, Henry gives the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”) and the English charge into battle.  The battle is extremely well-filmed, showing both chaos and violence, and historic tactics.  Again, Henry leads his own men into battle.  The English archers fire thousands of arrows into the French army, killing hundreds of men and boys.

At the end, though it looks like the English have one, Henry is unsure.  The French envoy arrives and tells him that he has won the day.  Later there is an accounting — the French have lost 8000 men, including over 500 newly named knights.  The English, about five named men, and an additional twenty-five.  Henry gives credit to God for fighting for them.

Henry then goes to the French king.  Among his terms, the crown of France and the king’s daughter – Katherine.  The French king gives all to Henry.  Henry, after some courting of Katharine is to marry her. The film shows the two as the new king and queen.  However, Chorus reminds the audience that Henry’s son is not the man his father was, and he will lose France.

The courting scene between Henry (Kenneth Branagh) and Katharine (Emma Thompson) is wonderful, and the sparks fly — though she speaks only French, and he really only speaks English.  He tries speaking in French to her, but only succeeds in making her laugh.  Still, the chemistry is palatable.

Christian Bale is extremely young (like eight) in this, playing one of the boy pages, who sets off the flight of arrows at Agincourt, and is also killed. But he’s recognizable — and it’s surprising to see him.  The cast is filled with excellent British talent:  Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, John Sessions, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed and Judi Dench, as well as, of course, Branagh and Thompson.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Highlander

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Director:  Mike Newell
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Tennant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dark and difficult times lay ahead, soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.  But remember this – you have friends here, you’re not alone.”  — Professor Dumbledore

With Goblet of Fire, the Harry Potter series take a turn for the darker, and the new director, Mike Newell, doesn’t shoot the film and its environment the way his predecessors did.  Rather than giving us lovely, beautiful shots and placing the characters in them perfectly – Newell concentrates on showing us close-ups of the characters’ faces.  Not as interesting an approach to watch, but, on the other hand, it does add to the emotional feel of the film.

This is the first Harry Potter film to have a very episodic feel to it.  We see a brief, almost prologue, at the Quiddich World Cup, which is broken up by a show of force by the Death Eaters, the first and second Tri-Wizarding Tournament tasks, the Yule Ball, and the final task and Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. Each episode is well realized and told, but of course details from the book are lost, as they have been for all of the Harry Potter films.

Still, it is a very good movie, and a good adaptation of the novel.  The Wizarding World is again expanded and Harry goes with Ron and his family to the Quiddich World Cup; then at Hogwarts, exchange students from Drumstrang and Madam Beaux Batons Academy come to Hogwarts for the Tri-Wizarding Tournament.  It’s interesting to note that apparently Drumstrang is a boys school and Beaux Batons a girls school.  Only Hogwarts, of the three Wizarding Schools, appears to be co-ed.  A champion is to be chosen from each school, but he or she must be seventeen or older. Yet, not only is Hogwarts represented by Cedric Diggory, but also by Harry.  This causes Harry some problems, as even Ron is jealous and angry.  However, Ron and Harry work out their differences after Ron sees the danger Harry is in during the first task of challenging a dragon.  During the second task, Harry comes in last as he’s determined to rescue all the kidnapped people (Ron, Hermione, Cho, and Fleur’s younger sister).  Cedric and Krum save their “treasures” and Harry rescues Ron and Fleur’s sister.  His bravery and determination, however, earn him extra points for moral fibre, and he ends up in second place behind Cedric.

The third task is a maze, with the Tri-Wizarding Cup hidden somewhere inside.  After spooky challenges, Harry and Cedric take the Cup at the same time.  But it’s a portkey, transporting them to the graveyard where Tom Riddle’s parents are buried.  Cedric is killed.  Wormtail performs an incantation which brings back Voldemort.  Harry and Voldemort duel, but their wands become locked.  Harry escapes, bringing Cedric back and sobbing.

In a sober end-of-year lecture, Dumbledore informs all the Hogwarts students that Cedric was killed by Voldemort, who’s back.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Henry V

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Director:  Alfonso Cuaron
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Julie Christie, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Dawn French, Robert Hardy, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of  times.” — Professor Dumbledore

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite Harry Potter book, and so far it still remains my favorite Harry Potter movie. The book opens up the Wizarding World even more by introducing the Wizard town of Hogsmeade just outside of  Hogwarts. The movie doesn’t spend as much time in Hogsmeade, I would have liked to see more, but it’s still an important part of the plot. The danger and sense of  evil is also much stronger in this film.

The director has changed, but the film is still beautifully shot, just gorgeous, especially the way quick-acting frost is used to visually signify the appearance of a Dementor.  This film also introduces a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (later revealed to be a werewolf), whom I really, really liked.  And we find out about Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black, who’s accused of betraying Lily and James Potter to Voldemort and causing their deaths.

However (spoiler alert!), the core of the film is the discovery that Sirius wasn’t guilty of killing Peter Pettigrew, and it was Pettigrew who actually betrayed the Potters to Voldemort.  Still, Sirius has spent all that time in Azkaban, the Wizard prison, and only escapes at the beginning of this film.  Even at the end, he’s on the run for his life, because no one will believe Harry, Ron, and Hermione that he’s innocent.

Also, this film is the only one with time travel.  Hermione over-loads herself with a triple load of classes, and uses a time turner to attend classes held at the same time.  She and Harry are able to use the time turner to save Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, and Sirius.  Harry also conjures a Patronus for the first time, saving himself and Sirius from the Dementors.  (It’s cool – we see the scene from Harry I and Harry II’s perspective).

This film is also the last time the look and feel of the Harry Potter films is still innocent and young.  After this, the films get progressively darker (as do the novels they are based on).  Highly, highly recommended for children eight and up.  Later films are better for the over-thirteen crowd.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of  Fire

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Harris, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I fashioned a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would fear to speak when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Tom Riddle
“Albus Dumbledore is the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Harry Potter
“Albus Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me.”  — Tom Riddle
“He’ll never be gone, not so long as those that remain are loyal to him.”  — Harry Potter

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are – it is our choices.”  — Professor Dumbledore

Chamber of Secrets” previously was my least favorite of the first four Harry Potter films, but upon re-watching it today, I actually enjoyed it very much.  Like, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, also directed by Chris Columbus, this film has a sense of whimsy, and is beautifully shot.  The film begins with Harry looking at the photo album containing pictures of his parents, given to him at the end of the previous film.  However, it also opens up the world that Harry is learning about, the “Wizarding World”, by bringing us to Ron’s home and to the frightening Knockturn Alley  (I love the wordplay in that almost as much as “Diagon Alley”).  However, besides a good mystery (e.g. What is the Chamber of Secrets?  Where is it?  What’s hiddened there and who opened it?) that is better than the one in the first film – there’s more of a sense of danger.  Students are being attacked, including Hermione.  Ron’s own sister is kidnapped – though the book goes into greater detail of how Riddle uses his diary to en-trance Ginny into doing his bidding.

Still, another successful, enjoyable, and fun movie appropriate for all ages.  The young actors playing the students are all quite brilliant; and the established British actors playing the teachers bring gravitas to the film.  Kenneth Branagh appears in this one as Gildroy (as in gilded) Lockheart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher — and a man who’s all talk and bluster with no skill at all.  I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Warwick Davis, Julie Walters, Zoë Wanamaker
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This boy will be famous.  There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name.” — Professor McConagall

“You’re the boy who lived.”  — Hagrid

“I can teach you how to bewitch the mind, and ensnare the senses.  I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death.”  — Professor Snape

Harry Potter is beautifully shot, with an excellent young and at the time of this film, largely unknown cast  — for the children.  But the film is also rounded out by a who’s who of talented British actors.  However, this first film also has a sense of whimsy that the later, darker films lack.  Not every detail or scene from JK Rowling’s novel is in the film, but the film still is a wonderful adaptation of the story.  And it’s just beautifully, beautifully shot.  Hogwart’s Express is wonderful, and looks just as it should.  The boat ride across the lake is beautiful.  And there’s a lovely scene of Harry walking by himself in the courtyard to fly Hedwig, his owl, in winter, surrounded by snow that, again, is just lovely.

The Sorceror’s Stone introduces the world of Harry Potter – Harry, his friends, the rules of magic, and the teachers at Hogwarts.  In this fantasy series, one must have a talent for magic – that is, witches and wizards are born, not made (and parents can be witches and wizards or non-witches, called muggles). But, just being born with the talent for witchcraft doesn’t mean young witches and wizards know what they are doing — thus they must be taught how to use their gifts wisely.  It also involves the noted alchemist, Nicholas Flamel, who developed the Sorceror’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the original British novel, though it was changed for the US novel as well) which grants immortality.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione, discover how to be students at Hogwarts, have various adventures (a fight against a troll, exploring the Dark Forest, and a series of tests when they confront Lord Voldemort).  Most of the vignettes from the novel are in film, though some are shorter.

One thing I loved about the Harry Potter novels, especially the early ones, is they show Harry enjoying and being excited by school — and not simply because he’s suddenly discovered he’s a wizard.  For the first time in his life, this young orphan is happy and has real friends – something sorely missing from his life when he lives with his aunt, uncle, and spoiled, bullying cousin.  But Hermione, a natural student, also loves school.  The novels, actually, get more into her characterization — showing how her fears of being behind because she’s muggle-born cause her to almost over-compensate.  And Ron, from a large, loving, yet poor wizarding family, has his own issues.  All will be explored more in depth in later books/films in the series.  The school itself is drawn from the traditional English boarding school. However, to me, especially reading the books, it reminded me of college.  I had to keep reminding myself  just how young Harry is meant to be (He’s only 11 here).

Recommendation:  See it!  Especially good for children eight and up
Rating: 5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets