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Becket Review


Essential
Oscar trivia hounds probably know that Peter O'Toole is one of only four actors to receive Best Actor nods for playing the same character in two different films (we'll leave it to you and the Internet to figure out the other three). The first of these was for playing King Henry II in 1964's Becket. (The second would come when he reprised the role four years later in The Lion in Winter.) And while his performance is Oscar-worthy, it is only part of what makes the film a delectable slice of English history.

It's the mid-12th century and Normans have controlled England and its resident Saxons for two generations. The latest Norman leader, Henry II, has employed a Saxon, Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) to be his unofficial right-hand man. When he decides to make the title official, appointing Becket as chancellor, it only makes the already jealous Norman nobles and clergy angrier. When he goes even further and decides to quell an unruly church by appointing Becket as archbishop, it seems the nobles and clergy might revolt, but Henry finds that it is Becket, suddenly torn between his duty to King as chancellor and to God as archbishop, from whom he has the most to fear.

Continue reading: Becket Review

Richard III Review


OK
Laurence Olivier's Richard III is one of the stagiest versions of Shakespeare you'll find on film, and it's also his least faithful work, chopping and editing the Bard's play willy-nilly. I'm no Shakespeare expert, but even I can spot the hatchet work here. (For the uninitated, Richard III follows the waning days of the War of the Roses, with Richard III (Olivier) taking on big brother Edward (Cedric Hardwicke) in a bid for the throne. Deception, murder, and betrayal rule the day until the outcome is decided.)

The undortunate side effect of the faithfulness is that Richard III has a real Masterpiece Theatre quality that you just can't shake. Olivier plops the camera down at one end of the room and lets scenes take place in wide shots, unmolested. Long scenes are certainly forgivable, but the end result is that this rendition of the story looks far more like a play than a movie. It isn't until the second half of the film when we really get out of the castle, and thank God we do. But unfortunately, even these scenes aren't exactly thrill rides. The landscapes chosen are barren and void of majesty. Sword fights are genteel affairs with no distinguishable choreography. Why ride an army out to battle if you're not going to use them?

Continue reading: Richard III Review

Richard III Review


OK
Laurence Olivier's Richard III is one of the stagiest versions of Shakespeare you'll find on film, and it's also his least faithful work, chopping and editing the Bard's play willy-nilly. I'm no Shakespeare expert, but even I can spot the hatchet work here. (For the uninitated, Richard III follows the waning days of the War of the Roses, with Richard III (Olivier) taking on big brother Edward (Cedric Hardwicke) in a bid for the throne. Deception, murder, and betrayal rule the day until the outcome is decided.)

The undortunate side effect of the faithfulness is that Richard III has a real Masterpiece Theatre quality that you just can't shake. Olivier plops the camera down at one end of the room and lets scenes take place in wide shots, unmolested. Long scenes are certainly forgivable, but the end result is that this rendition of the story looks far more like a play than a movie. It isn't until the second half of the film when we really get out of the castle, and thank God we do. But unfortunately, even these scenes aren't exactly thrill rides. The landscapes chosen are barren and void of majesty. Sword fights are genteel affairs with no distinguishable choreography. Why ride an army out to battle if you're not going to use them?

Continue reading: Richard III Review

Lust for Life Review


OK
Workmanlike and dutifully impressed with everything about Vincent Van Gogh, Vincente Minelli's Lust for Life is really more a Lust for Kirk Douglas, with Kirk trying his best to embody the tortured painter. Much is made of the whole ear-lopping incident along with Van Gogh's friendship with Gauguin, but Lust comes off too much like a linear history and less a movie full of character and mystique. It's all very pretty for a 1950s production, but little of it bears the energy it promises in its title.

Cleopatra (1963) Review


Weak
It is virtually impossible to separate Cleopatra the movie from Cleopatra the spectacle -- and that's because they are truly and rarely intertwined.

A legend of Hollywood, the 1963 production of Cleopatra has so much curiosity surrounding it I hardly know where to start. It was budgeted at $2 million and eventually cost (up to) $44 million to produce -- close to $300 million in today's dollars. Liz Taylor almost died during the filming and was given a tracheotomy to keep her alive. The production was forced to move from Rome to London and back to Rome again. Two of its stars fell in love (Taylor and Burton) on the set, ruining both of their marriages. 20th Century Fox essentially went bankrupt, leading to the ousting of its chief. The first director was fired after burning $7 million with nothing to show for it. The second director (Mankiewicz) was fired during editing, only to be rehired when no one else could finish the picture. Taylor threw up the first time she saw the finished product. Producer Walter Wanger never worked in Hollywood again. And the original six-hour epic was cut to a little over three.

Continue reading: Cleopatra (1963) Review

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum Review


OK
My personal hero Zero Mostel is not as his best here in the adaptation of the inexplicably popular stage play, the only musical comedy to come out of ancient Rome. The action centers on Mostel's slave Pseudolus and his relationship with Michael Crawford's wealthy teen Hero. Pseudolus wants to be free, Hero wants the hand of the concubine next door. A plot is hatched, and many tunes are belted out. Unfortunately, most of Stephen Sondheim's best songs must have been left in Venice, so if you can sit through junk like "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," you should be able to make it to A Funny Thing's funnier moments. Buster Keaton's final performance.
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