The King’s Speech

     The King’s Speech – “I don’t care how many royal assholes have sat in this chair.”  The King’s Speech was a brilliant surprise.  Expecting a rather stuffy movie, the interaction of the characters was amazing and brilliantly played with numerous comedic moments tied to the drama of the King’s pain.  Colin Firth is incredible as Bertie (aka King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue left you wanting more.  Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth ties everyone together for the story.  The storyline is obvious, but the movie is about relationships.  The relationships of Bertie (King George VI) & Lionel Logue, Bertie & Queen Elizabeth (wife), Bertie & King Edward VIII (brother), and Bertie & Bertie (his inner issues) are all entangled and critical to the movie.  The close ups and facial expressions display the emotions as the lines are stated and you feel the characters more than following the plot.  However, there are numerous subplots throughout the film that will keep you enticed as well.  Rated 95% at Rotten Tomatoes, 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, & winner of 4 Oscars certifies this as a great film

Plot – The plot is that Prince Albert, Duke of York (Firth) is trying to give a speech and is stammering.  His wife Elizabeth (Carter) visits Lionel Logue (Rush) to ask his assistance.  Logue doesn’t recognize her as royalty and is somehwhat rude until he discovers who is the new “student”.  Albert reluctantly goes, but does so for his wife.  Logue challenges him and even breaks royal etiquette calling him by Bertie (his birth name).  He doesn’t believe in Logue until a tactic used shows Albert promise of improvement.  He continues the eccentric treatments.  King George V dies and Albert’s older brother is now King Edward VIII, but he is a playboy and only follows his desires to the dismay of Bertie.  Bertie is more “kingly” and concerned with the Royal responsibilities.  When King Edward VIII falls in love with a divorced American, he must abdicate the thrown.  Bertie is now King George VI.  Bertie is now terrified as he has the mind of a king, but has lost his resolve due to his speech impediment.  However, he continues improving.  But, politics are at work.  As Bertie believes in Logue, his priest determines Logue doesn’t have “credentials”, but King George VI sticks with him after Logue challenges his authority again.  Unfortunately, the world is spiraling toward WWII and King George VI must make probably the most critical speech of his life.  Logue helps him trough and unleashes the King within.

Commentary – From the title, you can guess the story or you will understand it very quickly, but it is the relationships and subplots that keep this movie interesting.  Guy Pearce is excellent as hedonistic King Edward VIII and antagonist to his brother.  The story within the story is told through expressions as much as through the spoken word.  Rush was outstanding and can deliver so much through such a short statement.  In addition, the movie provides a different view of the royal family and even made me question their relevance.  This could be due to my being an American and anti-King anyway, but the humanistic qualities, fears, and even uncaring nature by most of the royal family will likely make you think the same.  Regardless, it’s a brilliant film.  It’s probably more suited for an adult audience as younger viewers might not appreciate the mature story and there is some profanity, but this is one film that should not be missed.

Trivia – Throughout the film, Logue doesn’t let Bertie smoke saying, “sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you”.  Due to increased smoking from the stress of WWII, King George VI died of lung cancer in 1952.  Humerously, the film has an Australian actor (Pearce) playing a Brit, a British actor (Best) playing an American, and an American actor (Ehle) playing an Australian.  Finally, despite Lionel’s insistance that Bertie call him by his first name, Bertie never actually does in the film.

** Just click the images to check out “The King’s Speech” at Amazon.com **


Casablanca

     Casablanca – An iconic film.  One of the reasons that I do this blog is not just to throw my opinions out there, but to also motivate myself (& others) to see the greatest films of the past through the present day.  And, Casablanca is extraordinary.  It was so good that it made me want to go hug & kiss my wife…..much to her annoyance.  Considered as the #2 greatest movie of all time by the American Film Institute (Citizine Kane is #1), has a 97% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 4.5 stars at Amazon.com (the few low ratings were complaints of dvd extras and not about the film), there is no doubt of the legacy of Casablanca.  When I got this movie, I expected a sappy, love story.  After all, it is the #1 love story in the history of cinema, but I was surprised at how excellently the story is told and how it was incorporated into the bigger picture of the movie.  Unlike today’s movies that take months or years to make, in the 1940’s, Hollywood was pumping out movies as fast as possible.  It’s amazing that a film on this level could be made in that environment.

The plot is a cynical American, Rick (Humphrey Bogart), runs an upscale bar & gambling house in French controlled Casablanca during WWII.  Refugees from around the world come to Casablanca to depart to America and get away from the war, but they need special papers called “letters of transit” to depart.  Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a petty thief, shows up with “letters of transit” taken from murdered Nazis and has Rick hold them.  However, he is then caught by the police leaving these priceless documents with Rick.  That’s when IIsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s former lover and reason for his bitterness, appears with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).  He’s a fugitive from the Czech Resistance.  The story of Rick & IIsa’s past is revealed and that she still has feelings for him.  But, she’s married and her husband has very important work for the war.  She tries to sway Rick for the letters of transit.  When he refuses, she pulls a gun.  But, she can’t do it.  Laszlo shows up and when talking alone, reveals that he knows Rick’s feelings.  He ask him to use the letters to save her.  Things turn as Laszlo is arrested.  Rick tricks his police friend, Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to get a bigger charge on him with a set up that would make him look good to the Germans.  He agrees.  Laszlo is released and all go to the airport for the escape.  Before the arrest can happen, Rick forces Louis to sign the letters and aid their escape.  Unfortunately, Rick must give up his love again.

The famous quotes and lines are known by everyone as they’ve been repeated and spoofed to ad nauseam.  However, when you see them in the context of the film, they really move you.  An interesting aspect of the film that I was unaware of is displayed in the iconic departure scene.  While Bogart delivers those magic words to melt your heart, the airplane behind them is actually a model with midgets dressed in jump suits acting as flight crews.  To help with the illusion, fog machines were used to cover the area.  They couldn’t afford a real plane, but showing the plane was critical to convey the “finality” of the moment.  So, by utilizing this technique, they delivered one of the greatest Hollywood moments in history.  There are some parts that may appear cheesy by today’s standards, but this movie was much better than I expected.  The acting is good, especially for Bogart who was known for his stiffness.  Claude Rains is outstanding as the corrupt & somewhat creepy police captain, Louis Renault.  And, the filming was excellent using lights, angles, and trickery to carry the mood.  Movies like this are lost on today’s CG generation.  But, you don’t need to miss out on this classic.  Most of the great movies from the past can be obtained easily and reasonably today, so why cheat yourself of the historical movies that made Hollywood famous?

**  Just click the images to check out “Casablanca” at Amazon.com **


Casino

     Casino – Has there ever been a better mafia combo than Robert De Niro & Joe Pesci?  I don’t think so.  Coming off their hit Goodfellas, the formula is recreated in Casino loosely basing this story on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.  With diary style commentary from the main character, you get all the drama of a mafia run casino in the 1970’s.  I have to say, most people seem to claim to have enjoyed Goodfellas more, but I think Casino is actually a better movie.  I think people consider that because the style is essentially a copycat of Goodfellas and that they saw it first, then it must be better.  I think Casino is actually better told.  However, it could be that I just relate better to the late 1970’s.  I have to say, I’m no fan of Sharon Stone, who I find to over-sell her acting, but she is actually quite good in this melodramatic roll.

The plot is that Sam Rothstein (De Niro) is a top Jewish gambler called on by the mob to run the Tangiers casino and bring in the money.  He’s extremely successful and “the bosses” send Nicky Santoro (Pesci), who is a mob enforcer, to protect him and make sure the money’s being sent back.  Nicky quickly becomes a liability pulling unsanctioned robberies and getting in trouble with the Gaming Commission.  Meanwhile, Sam falls in love with Ginger, played by Sharon Stone.  All is well until Sam discovers that Ginger is helping her former boyfriend and con man.  This is where things fall apart.  In addition, Sam makes an enemy of the local commissioner causing his license application to be denied.  To make matters worse, the money being sent “back home” was dimishing causing greater concern of mafia bosses.  The courier is caught ranting by FBI microphones and now everyone’s getting investigated.  Sam kicks Ginger out and she returns causing a big scene for domestic disturbance.  And, she and Nicky start an affair that is against mob rules and could get them both killed.  Now, the bosses think it’s time to clean house and restore order.  Unfortunately for them, the era is coming to an end.

Outstanding acting and story telling make this mafia movie better than Goodfellas.  Initially criticized for excessive violence, it has remained solid by critics and fans alike.  Rotten Tomatoes only has it as 80% by the critics, but the fans have it at 91%.  And, Amazon.com rates it at 4.5 stars.  It is an excellent drama and fun movie to watch, especially if you remember the tacky clothes of the 70’s.  As always, De Niro and Pesci deliver the goods.  If you like mafia movies, this movie is a must have for your collection.

** Just click the images to check out “Casino” at Amazon.com **


Presumed Innocent

     Presumed Innocent – In the late 80’s, early 90’s, Harrison Ford could do no wrong and this movie is another masterpiece by him.  Given a 94% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4 stars at Amazon.com, this is an excellent intellectual drama.  It’s slowly presented and more and more of the story is revealed in pieces to you and teasing you to figure out the crime.  Not to brag, but I usually figure out the murderer in these stories early on, but this one held me to the end.  And, I was surprised by the ending for a change.  In retrospect, you “get it”.  But, while you’re watching it, you seem to argue the facts with yourself.  The movie is based on the best selling novel “Presumed Innocent” by Scott Turow that is considered outstanding.  So, if you prefer reading, you might want to consider the novel.

The plot is that a prosecuting attorney, Carolyn Polhemus, is brutally murdered.  Her co-worker, lover, & boss, Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) is accused of the crime.  The evidence is strong and pointed right at him.  His boss, Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy), even loses faith.  His wife, Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia), has made up with Rusty and sticking by his side.  He hires a trusted detective to help him as there appears to be political intentions by the attorney prosecuting the case.  Rusty hires the best attorney he knows in Sandy Stern, played by Raul Julia.  Bit by bit, the evidence is gathered and presented.  The twists & turns keep you guessing throughout.  You’ll have to watch it to see the surprise ending.

Don’t expect an action flick that is normally attributed to Harrison Ford.  This courtroom drama is more for the brain.  The story is excellent and well developed.  The cast is a “who’s who” of talent from Harrison Ford & Brian Dennehy who were both in countless movie hits such as the Indiana Jones series, The Fugitive, Star Wars with Ford and Cocoon, First Blood, Legal Eagles, & Gladiator with Dennehy just to name a few.  Raul Julia later gained fame as Gomez Adams of the Adams Family movies.  Bonnie Bedelia later starred as Bruce Willis’s wife in the blockbuster Die Hard.

Great movies grab people in different ways.  So, when you’re ready to get away from the over-the-top explosions, comedy, and horror movies and feel like an adult style brain teaser, this is the movie for you.

** Just click the images to check out the movie “Presumed Innocent” as well as the novel at Amazon.com **


Rocky III

     Rocky III – In 1982, the third installment of the Rocky series was unleashed on America.  I have to say, I enjoy this movie the most of all of them.  I am not saying that this is a better “movie” than the original Rocky classic, but this one is more fun.  It is, in my opinion, better than Rocky II and it did better at the box office than Rocky II.  It was only given 60% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but the fans rated it a 75%.  It’s given 4 stars at Amazon as well.  Unfortunately, I think “enjoyment” is sometimes left out when evaluating films by these sites.  This drama has more and better action sequences, but still maintains the level of the drama that you would expect from a Rocky film.  In addition, this movie uses new techniques than the previous movies to get the intensity and story across such as the training sequences of Clubber Lang and his scouting of Rocky.

The plot is excellent with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) now the boxing superstar and fan favorite.  He has successfully defended the title several times and considering retirement.  At a ceremony of a new statue, an up & coming challenger in Clubber Lang (Mr. T) introduces himself.  He’s a vicious challenger on rise to the top and wants the “Champ”.  Rocky accepts the challenge, but Mickey (Burgess Meredith) is against it.  He realizes that Rocky’s forgotten who he was and that the Lang will destroy him.  During a pre-fight altercation, Mickey suffers a heart attack, but pushes Rocky to fight.  Clubber gives him the beating of his life.  Step in….Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who takes Rocky under his wings for the re-match.  But, Rocky’s got issues now.  Never suffering a vicious beating before like Clubber put on him, he must learn a new way to fight and he must find his inner self.  Well, is it the wife, training, or finding that inner soul going to get him back?

This is an excellent film and, as I said, I enjoy this film the most of the entire series.  All of the cast is back keeping the continuity of the story and now add Mr.T as the new enemy with a real mean streak.  Mr. T gives the acting performance of his career.  The structure of the film is better and used some different techniques to tell more of the story without wasting valuable screen time with tiresome dialogue.  The story continues to follow a normal pattern of successful people forgetting where they came from and who they are….and sometimes, “Life” has a way to put you back into your place.  So, you can rise above it or you can wallow in self pity.  Normally, sequels get bad very quickly.  Rocky III is the best sequel of the franchise and, in fact, after Rocky III, you can pretty much put this series to bed.  But, don’t miss Rocky III.  It’s an entertaining movie from start to finish and isn’t that what a great movie is supposed to be?

**  Just click on the images to see “Rocky III” at Amazon.com **


The Wrestler

     The Wrestler – As a kid, I was a huge wrestling fan.  I knew them all and went to the shows.  To me, they were real heroes and bad guys.  I got older and understood it was “fake” or “scripted” and ultimately lost interest.  This 2008 movie absolutely moved me.  I don’t watch wrestling these days, but I still have that part of my childhood in me that has fond memories for these guys.  Even if you are not or were never a wrestling fan, I believe this movie is OUTRAGEOUSLY great and I think you will think so as well.   Do not miss this movie.  Mickey Rourke puts in the performance of a lifetime.

The plot is an aging wrestler from 80’s fame, Robin Ramzinski (aka Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson) played by Mickey Rourke.  He is now past his prime and coping with the reality of his life.  His popularity and fame are gone and he’s trying to survive on the local circuit.  The business is still in him and he struggles with letting it go.  He’s going broke and having to work a part time job at a grocery store just to survive.  After a medical condition effectively ends his career, he has to reconcile his life with family, friends, work, and the fact that he’s now alone in this world.   But, the real world for Randy is harder than the wrestling life that he’s in.

     The movie is shot in almost a documentary style.  The camera work is intentionally rough following Randy from encounter to encounter as we take stock in Randy’s life from the past, present, and future.  This is a subtle, but brilliant way to shoot the movie because you almost feel like you are there.  His one base of comfort lies in a aging stripper Cassidy, played by Marissa Tomei.  Rourke and Tomei are outstanding.  All I can say is that it takes a lot to touch my emotions and this movie was able to get there.  This movie was 10 times better than I expected.

Universally, this movie was critally acclaimed and won numerous awards by various movie groups.  The wrestling industry thought the movie was extremely power and told their story, especially wrestlers that came from that 80’s era.  Obviously, not all wrestlers suffer the same fate, but most were touched by this film as well.

Do not miss this powerful and emotional movie.

** Just click the images to see “The Wrestler” at Amazon.com **


Rocky II

     Rock II – On May 1st, I posted about the movie Rocky, which is one of the greatest movies of all time.  Holy Cow!!!  Did Sylvestor Stallone just out-do his original masterpiece?!!!  Well, no, but he did try.  Normally, the sequel to any great movie is very disappointing, but Rocky II holds up very well to the original.

The plot is essentially taking over where the original Rocky left off and continuing the story into the re-match.  We pick up where Rocky & Apollo are in the hospital.  Apollo is furious that Rocky took him the distance and wants him again.  Rocky’s wife is pregnant with their child and the doctors want Rocky retired after the brutal beating of the first match, but Apollo isn’t taking “no” for an answer.  Rocky ultimately agrees causing conflicts with his wife.  But, this fight is on.  This one, however, is just as brutal as the first fight.  Will Rocky become champion this time?   You’ll have to watch to find out.

This sequel grabs you just as good as the first.  It’s a little more predictable, but extremely enjoyable movie with all the drama and suspense of the original.  I do recommend watching the original Rocky before watching this one to get back into the story and remember where it left off.  Then, get ready for round two.  If you loved the first movie, then you’ll love this one.  After watching these 2 movies, I felt like I had gone 10 rounds emotionally.  Don’t miss this great sequel.

** Just click the image to check out “Rocky II” at Amazon.com **