Thursday, October 27, 2011

Secretariat -- 2010

Rated: PG

Diane Lane
John Malkovich
Amanda Michalka
Graham McTavish
Kevin Connolly
Drew Roy
James Cromwell
Nelsan Ellis 
Fred Dalton Thomson
Dylan Walsh

When Lydia told me this was a good film my first thought was, "Another horse racing movie?" I have watched a few of those: Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, both My Friend Flicka's, National Velvet, The Man From Snowy River, The Horse Whisperer, Hildalgo, Danny, All the Pretty Horses, quite a few Roy Rogers and other old westerns. The main horse in the movie always wins in some way. I thought I'd seen enough.

But I was wrong. Today, I decided to bite the bullet so I could write home and tell my sisters that I'd watched Secretariat. From the first minute of the movie, I was into the story. Have I ever mentioned how much I love movies set in the 1960's? :-) This is indeed a horse movie but you cannot help but admire the characters in this story. The strength. The sheer will to do what was right, even if those closest to you don't agree with it.

When Penny Chenery received the phone call of her mother's death, she had no idea how much her life was about to change. When she and her family (husband and four children) arrived at the farm for the funeral, she finds the house crowded with well wishers. She tearfully reunites with her brother, friends and neighbors and with Mrs. Ham. The latter is her father's old secretary who is now taking care of her employer as his mind deteriorates from Dementia. Mrs. Ham sends her back to her father's office, where he now sits alone. As Penny talks to him, memories begin presenting themselves to her. Happy memories of better days when she was a child and her father's mind was sound. Reveling in her love for horses and a desire to know everything, he had taught her what he knew about horses and the horse breeding business.

At the funeral, a few people who were very influential in her father's life spoke to her and she was heartened that there were still some friends on whom she could count on. The next day, she came face to face with the trainer. She had heard some rumors and had done some searching. She discovered that the man had tried to pull off a fast one on her dad. She told him what she knew and fired him. When her brother found out, he was incensed. He wanted to sell the farm and he knew they wouldn't get a good price unless they had a good training program. To his dismay, Penny told him that she didn't want to sell, insisting that she would see to the farm. So began the years of many airplane flights back and forth from "home" to "back home" to the farm in Virginia.

Her father had made two smart choices when it came to horses. One: he had known that there is just as much value in a good mare as in the stallion, therefore had invested in mares. Secondly, he had made a deal with Ogden Phipps. Mr. Phipps' best stallion stallion Bold Ruler was bred to two of the Chenery's best mares Something Royal and Hasty Matilda. When it came time for the mares to foal, the two owners would flip a coin to see who got which colt. Bold Ruler was a fast horse but he did not hold up over long distances. Because of Hasty Matilda's young age, she seemed like the better choice. But Penny had done her homework once again and had discovered that Something Royal's bloodlines bore the heritage of stamina and endurance. So when it came time to flip the coin, she was pleased when Ogden Phipps chose the foal of Hasty Matilda.

So was born to Meadow Farms the horse Secretariat, Big Red to those who loved him, who would one day... well, I don't want to give it away! But this movie is about Penny Chenery and her horse as much as it is about Secretariat's rise to fame. Because without Penny stubbornness, willingness to endure hardship and her gentle but "hard as nails" personality, the world would have never been inspired by this story of greatness.

What I Liked:
1: The story was well told and ran smoothly. It was very believable.
2: The acting was great. I really felt like I knew the characters.
3: They didn't change the story too much for the original. I appreciate a film mostly based on fact.
4: Penny's strength was amazing but even more amazing, she never lost her femininity. People would mistake her femininity for weakness and she would set them right.
5: You appreciate the hardships she goes through to follow the dream she had for her family, the farm and Big Red. You sympathize with her tears and hurt. You laugh with her. You get angry with her. You feel despair with her.
6: Lucien was so, so adorable. I laughed so hard. John Malkovich is always so strange and brilliant.
7: The humor was quite well done.  

Things to Know:
1: Brief mild language.
2: Watch out for the very strong lady. She is inspiring and ladies might find themselves emulating her.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mary Poppins -- 1964

Mary Poppins 
Rated G

I was talking to a student the other day about some music and Mary Poppins came up in our conversation. My student beamed at the mention of  the name, then admitted that she had never seen the movie. Why is Mary Poppins so magical? Why do people automatically smile when they hear of her? I was very young when I first saw Mary Poppins. Imagine a little girl at her Grandma's house (my family didn't own a t.v.), sitting on the floor, looking up at the screen, mesmerized by the magic of the story, lovely Mary Poppins, handsome jolly Bert, stern Mr Banks, flustered Mrs. Banks and the two rascals Jane and Michael. That was me. Now imagine many years, and miles, later: a young woman is curled up on the couch in her new home watching Mary Poppins. The music still makes me want to dance with the chimney sweeps, Mr. Banks is annoying, Julie Andrews is gorgeous, the jokes are corny, Dick van Dyke is a handsome devil and the children are little rascals. Oh yes! No matter where we are, who we are, what we are: The magic lives on in our hearts.

Jane and Michael Banks have gone through no less than six nannies in four months. When their parents and their hired help discover the departure of the latest -- Katie Nanna, everyone is irate. Poor Jane and Michael are sent upstairs to be dressed for bed while their father decides that his wife simply does not possess wisdom when it comes to assessing character. He dictates an advertisement to the Times requesting someone who is strict, stern and who will mold his children into obedience. He is the head of his home and his home will be punctual, wife dutifully submissive and children models of good behavior.

But the children have also decided their parents might not know what they need either so they write a list and, trembling, give it to their father. The list requests the services of a fun, caring nanny who will be their friend. Mr. Banks sees it as nonsense, tears it up and throws it in the fire place. What he doesn't see are the pieces of paper swirling up the chimney until the last one has disappeared from view.

Not many hours later, they are just finishing their breakfast when Ellen the maid announces there are two dozen stern and strict looking nannies waiting outside. Mr. Banks replies that he said interviews would begin at 8 o' clock and he will begin at 8 o' clock, not a minute sooner. As the children dolefully watch from their nursery window upstairs, they notice the wind seems to have come up. In fact, it comes up so quickly that the poor black clad, stern and strict nannies seem to be getting blown off their feet, umbrellas catching in the wind... until there is not a single one left.

Then, they see her. She is also dressed in black, also with an umbrella, also carrying a bag. But there is one difference, she floats in from the sky and lands neatly on their doorstep. When she raps on the door, it is exactly 8 o' clock. She says her name is Mary Poppins and she can fill the specifications dictated in the advertisement. She holds up a paper which looks like it has been ripped up and put back together again. and begins reading the children's advertisement, word for word. 

Mr. Banks, for once, is at a loss for words.

What I Liked

1: The story in this movie is dramatic and exaggerated but in doing so, the script writers cover a lot of ground. We all know people like Mr. Banks and Mrs. Banks. Perhaps we are Jane or Michael... or Ellen. Maybe we're even Mary Poppins. I appreciate how much I could relate to this story.

2: It is very clear why Mrs. Banks chooses to be a suffragette. It is because of what happens at home. Mr. Banks does not treat her or any woman as an equal. She is his wife, not his friend. She is to be there for him, submissively telling him that he is right in all things. In the end, we see the difference in their relationship. She is his beloved and someone he confides in. The change in her is beautiful.

3: Mary Poppins fights dirty. Lol! But she really does! I appreciate how she and Bert worke together to help Mr. Banks realize what he is doing to his life and family.

4: Bert and Mary Poppins have a big of unrequited romance going on here. I know P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins books) didn't want it but, hey, on screen chemistry between Dick van Dyke and Mary Poppins totally happened. Flirtation, meaningful looks and tenderness just oozes off of them while they're on their date in the chalk drawing. :-) I really appreciated that they didn't even hold hands (except in the most decorous way).

5: The music and dancing in this film is amazing. Hands down, one of the best musicals ever created. All of the songs catch your attention. Usually there is at least one dud song in a musical (Oklahoma has about 10 of them) and I was listening for it closely. There were none. And I mean, not a single one. All of them had my heart and feet pitter-pattering.

6: The acting was very good. Facial expressions, tone, lines... it was all excellent. 

7: Even after 47 years, Mary Poppins is still a very popular film. I had to search long and hard for the copy of the movie I now own. Like The Sound of Music or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it never comes down in price. All ages appreciate the story, the music, the acting and the filmography. All see the treasure of the films made in the Golden Era.

My Thoughts

I discovered that the Mary Poppins had her beginnings in the book world. The world first heard of her existence when P. L. Travers (1899 - 1996) published Mary Poppins in 1934. In the book, she is "stern, vain and usually cross but has a magical touch..." The reminder of the series spanned 7 books and years 1935 - 1988.

The books became widely popular. So popular in fact, that in 1938 Walt Disney tried to purchase the film rights from P. L. Travers. She told him to go away. She did not think a film would do justice to her story and definitely didn't want it to be animated. But Walt Disney was a patient and persistent man. Finally, in 1961 he succeeded and began the process of making the magical film that was we all know. Guess what? There is a the tiniest bit of animation threaded into it... and guess what again? The world of Bert's art has always been my favorite part of the movie. :-) Rest assured, P. L. Travers demanded and got script approval rights. (Fortunately for us some things, such as flirtatious looks between Mary Poppins and Bert, didn't require a script...)

Imagine a world without the talents and creativity expressed in the film (1964), the books (1938 - 1988) and the Broadway production (2004). I am thankful for people like P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke who allowed their creativity and talents to make the world a better place for everyone who knows of them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hanna -- 2011


Directed  by: Joe Wright

There weren’t many brilliant films produced this year. All season, Jesse and I have waited for the story that would capture our attention. There were only a couple that made us step back and say, “That was amazing.” Hanna was one of them.

It is Finland in the late Fall. The snow is thick on the ground and filtering down through the trees. We see a lone reindeer foraging for moss or whatever he can find. Then we see Hanna. Her pale face is wrapped against the cold. All we see are her eyes, wary, watchful, calm. For an instant, she is there, another instant, gone. The deer raises its head and smells the air. Suddenly, Hanna steps from behind her cover and her arrow flies true. The animal leaps into the air and runs, trying to escape its fate and the agony ripping at him from his insides.
Hannah follows swiftly, silently; her lithe body just a shadow through the snow as she keeps on his trail. Her aim had been good so it is not long before she has caught him. She circles his body, now lying helplessly in an open meadow, his eyes dully following her movements. She pulls out a gun, aims and remarks quietly, “I just missed your heart.”

Her hands and arms are soon bloody as she guts the carcass and makes ready for bringing the meat back home. The daylight will soon be waning and in the bitter cold of the year’s lateness, she does not want to be caught away from home in the dusk.
“You’re dead.” 
The male voice comes calmly from behind her, no hint of rebuke, just fact. Hanna leaps to her feet and spins around, knife slashing at the figure. He easily overcomes her and lands  her on her back. He turns and leaves her, lying spread eagle beside the reindeer carcass.
Hanna has been trained for one purpose alone: assassin. Since the age of two years, she has been stretched beyond her endurance, taught fighting and self preservation skills. Being an assassin is like breathing for Hanna. But it isn't enough. She wants the outside world. She longs for the sights, people and music. Not only that. Now, at the age of 16 she deems herself ready for her first assignment. 
So, let the games begin. It is a fight to the death. 
What I liked:
1: The story was told well. There is mystery, action and well developed characters.
2: The filming was very stylized. The uniqueness was a tribute to Hanna’s character and her life.
3: There was an interesting reference to God and spirituality that leaves the viewer asking questions about their own beliefs.
4: There was realism to the tale. Erik tried to prepare Hanna for the outside world. He was partly victorious. But he could not fully know or predict what was going to happen, therefore could not prepare her enough. Hanna’s secluded upbringing and inexperienced youth are portrayed very well on screen.
5: This film draws the viewer into it. You feel Hanna’s pain and joy… her exploration and unknowing selfishness. You feel the horror and fear or resigned realizations of the victims. You feel Marissa’s triumph and frustration and puzzlement. You feel the love Erik has for Hanna.

6: The purpose of Hanna is on several levels, I believe. Sometimes, we take forgranted the comforts of our lifestyles. We become trapped in boxes of our own making. We forget there is a bigger world. 

7: I loved the humor. It popped up in the most unexpected places. 

Things To Be Aware Of: 
1: Some language. 
2: One scene of sensuality and implied nudity.
3: Disturbing scenes of violence and worse, scenes of implied violence.