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Historical/Period Piece

Robin Hood

dir: Ridley Scott
[img_assist|nid=1308|title=It's grim up North, and especially in Russell's head|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=275]
Give it a rest, Russell, honestly.

And you too, Ridley. Stop pretending you’re all prestigious men of quality deserving awards and kudos. You’re both hacks and you know it.

And now you’ve taken a much beloved myth about some woodsy guy sticking it to The Man, and you've turned it into a grim Braveheart clone. For shame, gentlemen.

A few years ago, I remember reading a headline somewhere scrawled onto the tubes of the internets saying that Russell Crowe would be playing Robin Hood. My first and only thought was, “That’s boring, stop being so boring.”

And then I thought no more of it, until months later I read another buzzy story saying that the flick was going to be called Nottingham, and it would star Crowe in the main role, but that the clever hook would be that Crowe would be playing both the Sherriff of Nottingham, Robin’s classical antagonist, and Robin Hood as well. I don’t mean as twins or clones or anything, just that the role and script as envisaged had the Sherriff masquerading as his own fabricated enemy. Upon reading that I remember thinking, “That actually sounds a bit interesting, I wonder how they’ll pull it off.”

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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

dir: Peter Weir
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It is no wonder that the film hasn't set the box office alight. It's not a conventional film, with a conventional story and a 5 part structure. There's no love interest, revenge motivation, excessive one-liners, hyperkinetic coke binges in the editing sweet and no saccharine Hollywood ending. There is also little for people who are not anal retentive history buffs or at least fans of movies set in the Age of Sail (being the Napoleonic Wars between France and England et al) to be kept entertained by ultimately in this film.

It is satisfying for me, but then I'm one of the few reviewers that has actually read every one of the 20 Aubrey - Maturin novels written by Patrick O' Brian. And even then the film is satisfying more on an intellectual level than on the visceral / emotional level. Which is a damn shame.

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Russian Ark

(Russkiy kovcheg)
[img_assist|nid=1053|title=Have you enjoyed the balls this season? Whose balls have you enjoyed the most?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=304]
dir: Aleksandr Sokurov

Usually when people are ambivalent about something they say "I'm in two minds about this". In the case of this film I am in fifteen minds about it.

Reading reviews of this film from the serious chin-stroking film reviewers over the last few months, I was lead to believe that this film is one of the single greatest contributions to cinema in the last 100 years. It only recently received cinematic release here in Australia, and I was eager to see it on the big screen instead of
waiting another month or so to see it on DVD.

Much has been made of both the achievement in cinema this film represents and the artistic conceptual realisation that the film maker strives for. Essentially the achievement is an entire film made without edits. It is one continuous shot, unedited and incredibly well choreographed behind the scenes, with hundreds of extras having to be doing the right thing at the right time. Apparently it took them three attempts to get it right, which must have been quite frustrating for all concerned.

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New World, The

dir: Terrence Malick
[img_assist|nid=895|title=Who dares call Pocahontas jailbait?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=270|height=400]
Terrence Malick has a rightly earned reputation as a guy who doesn’t like to rush anything. His films, known for their beautiful scenery, leisurely pacing and lack of dialogue, are too few and far between for his isolated, sweaty fans.

The New World is his take on the first, tentative steps the Old World (European pilgrims) took towards its settlement and extermination of the people of the New World (Native Americans). Whilst much of it is historically based, it’s hard not to see everything as allegorical as well. Though she is never named, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) and her fate could just as easily represent the fate of the tribal nations that would come to be exterminated by disease, genocide and booze at the hands of Manifest Destiny.

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Memoirs of a Geisha

dir: Rob Marshall
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I guess this was a highly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling book. To my eye, for the last five years, upon riding and enjoying the many virtues of public transport, if a fellow passenger wasn’t reading a Harry Potter book, or one of Dan Brown’s magnum opuses, they usually held a white book with a vivid set of red lips on the cover.

As something of a fan of Japanese history and culture (read: a pretentious dilettante), curiousity killed and skinned my cat about the whole production. So I endeavoured to read the book before seeing the film. Because it’s nice, occasionally, to have an informed opinion on something.

The book, to my surprise, was not, actually, the memoirs of a geisha. It was a purely fictional story written by an American guy, Arthur Golden, who researched a heap about the life and times of the geisha, and who probably doesn’t look that good in a kimono. So that was my first let down.

Then, as I read, I realised the story was essentially a Japanese version of Pretty Woman, that cinematic classic of the Golden Age of Hollywood. That was my second.

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Hidden Blade, The

(Kakushi ken oni no tsume)
dir: Yoji Yamada
[img_assist|nid=954|title=The 'hidden' blade is not the one to look out for|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=428]
Just like in The Twilight Samurai, this film follows the adventures of a samurai on the absolute lowest rank samurai can be on without falling off the feudal ladder. Just like in The Twilight Samurai, the noble and impoverished main character is vulnerable to the machinations of those more powerful than him within his clan, who compel him to do something he doesn’t want to do. And just like in The Twilight Samurai he is loved by and loves a woman he cannot be with because of some tenuous, noble, self-sacrificing reason.

But don’t let that give you the impression that it’s a rip-off of Twilight Samurai. Oh, heaven forfend such a perception on your part.

Truth is, though they have many similar elements, right down to the main character being too busy and noble to clean and repair their own kimonos, they are significantly different stories. Regardless of the sheer multitude of similarities.

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Girl With the Pearl Earring

dir: Peter Webber
[img_assist|nid=1001|title=Girl. Earring. Do the math|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=419|height=600]
The camera loves Scarlett Johansson’s face, there is no doubt of that. So much attention, so many shots amount to little more than the camera going into close-up to let her acting play out on the canvass of her face. Her lips and eyes get to do most of the acting. Having little opportunity to speak, true to her role as a poor 17th Century maid working for rich folks in the city of Delft, in the Netherlands, most of her work has to be purely from body language and the little dialogue she’s entitled to. Most of the time she is trying to speak, but because of who she is, where she is, that access to her own ‘voice’ is devastatingly rare. Her struggle to speak rarely countermands her ingrained idea of her ‘place’. More overtly she is specifically told by the lady of the house to only speak when spoken to.

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Gangs of New York

dir: Martin Scorsese
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History is replete with examples of grand folly. Times where people were inspired by big ideas that outstripped their ability, their budget or the laws of physics and failed spectacularly in ways so tragically overblown that they have become the stuff of legend, despite being remembered, perhaps incorrectly as time stumbles inexorably forward.

As an example, how about the plans of Arthur Paul Pedrick, who came up with a scheme to irrigate the Sahara by flinging giant snowballs from Antarctica using catapults? Or Howard Hughes’ ‘Spruce Goose’, the biggest, goofiest model aeroplane ever constructed, with its seventeen separate engines and its wingspan exceeding that of a football field by 20 metres, and possessing enough cabin space to carry two railroad carriages side by side? Perhaps someone should have told Hughes that railroad carriages already had a way of being moved around. It might have saved him some cash. And time. Lots and lots of time. And glue, probably.

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My Father's Glory & My Mother's Castle (La Gloire de mon pere, Le Chateau de ma mere)

dir: Yves Robert
[img_assist|nid=1087|title=Knickerbockers and pinafores akimbo|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=351|height=510]In
1990

These two films are really one big film, in the same way that Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources are really one long film. In common with those other flicks, these are also set in the same area of France, being Provence. More intimately, they also share the same author, being Marcel Pagnol.

In this instance, these movies are based on Pagnol’s own life in the early part of the 20th century, in Marseilles and the hills nearby. As such, since real life rarely has the dramatic consistency and neatness of well-written drama, these flicks have a very different dynamic to the masterpieces that start with Jean de Florette. They share the same lush visuals, having been filmed in the same region, but completely different stories, themes, ideas and resolutions.

In some ways, enjoyable ways, My Father’s Glory is one of the truly most bourgeois films ever committed to celluloid. It focuses on the low-key meanderings of a family from 1900 onwards, seen through the eyes of the eldest son Marcel (Julien Ciamaca). That shouldn’t be seen as a criticism, just a description of the time, the place and the family involved.

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Leopard, The (Il Gattopardo)

dir: Luchino Visconti
[img_assist|nid=1092|title=Like a painting from one of the masters|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=337|height=446]
1963

The Leopard, based on the novel of the same name by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, is a beautiful, languid film that slavishly follows the source material so as to not miss a single scintillating second of Sicilian magic. Only a Marxist director who was an aristocrat himself could so painstakingly reconstruct such a story about the decline of the aristocracy in Italy after the Risorgimento of the 1860s. So a classic story about the death of a way of life, of an entire people, becomes a classic film in the hands of the right director.

The acclaimed Italian director made plenty of other films, some as good and some worse (The Damned comes to mind), but few are as magnificent as The Leopard. The title itself comes from the coat of arms of the Prince Fabrizio di Salina’s prestigious and illustrious family. In the film he is played by Burt Lancaster, that most Italian of movie stars.

Oh, wait a second, he’s not Italian. How can he play a Sicilian aristocrat in that case? With great difficulty, perhaps?

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