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Friday, June 7, 2013

Back to 1942; First Knight; Jumanji; The Mikado; Scoop; and Vatel

Back to 1942  2012   144 minutes   In 1942 Henan province was in its third year of drought and almost everyone was close to starvation.  10 million of its 30 million inhabitants started walking in the hope of getting somewhere where there was food.  Meanwhile the Nationalist government was trying to requisition grain from Henan for its army.  The film follows a landlord and his family and a few others from his village to narrate this human disaster.  Time correspondent Theodore White played by Adrien Brody turns up a few times with his camera.  He shows his pictures to Chiang Kai -shek, but is unable to persuade him that it is a real disaster that requires food aid until he gets the story out of China.  Then Chiang allots a modest or perhaps token amount of grain, which we see the speculators siphon off before it ever gets to the people who are starving.  It’s not a pleasant thing to watch, but I’m glad I did.  

First Knight   1995  133 minutes   Just what is the “official version” of the King Arthur tale?  I guess it’s like Cinderella, which has more than 1300 versions.   In this one Arthur played by Sean Connery  ends up dead and Lancelot seems to end up with Guinevere.  Everyone is in this flick.  The country side is beautiful and the sword fighting is first rate.

Jumanji   1995  103  You just can’t go wrong with Robin Williams, especially in a fantasy that has man eating plants growing in the living room and elephants stampeding through the hall.  Kirsten Dunst is there as an early teen but clearly recognizable as Spiderman’s girl friend.  If you find a board game called Jumanji in a wooden box half buried in the sand on the beach, leave it there.

The Mikado   1939  90 minutes   This was bloody awful.  Part of the problem is that films made that long ago sound awful and don’t look much better, but there is also the problem of political correctness.  

Scoop   2006   96 minutes   Scarlett Johansson plays an American journalism student visiting her upper class friend in London.  At a variety show, she volunteers to step into magician Woody Allen’s magic cabinet, where she will seem to disappear.  In the cabinet, she meets the ghost of a famous journalist who was working on a big story about a serial killer when he died of a heart attack.  He persuades Scarlett to pick up on it.  She does and drags Woody along with her.  Together they solve the mystery.  Woody Allen is funny in this one, but some of his annoying routines tend to become annoying.   I think I like him better when he is just writing and directing as he was in Midnight in Paris, my all time favorite Woody Allen film.  The incompetent little Jewish man who talks too much and never stops apologizing is getting tiresome.

Vatel   2000   103 minutes   Thirteen years ago Gerard Depardieu wasn’t as fat and ugly as he is now and maybe not as wacko.  In this film he convincingly plays Vatel, chief steward for a nobleman obliged to entertain Louis XIV for a few days.  The entertainments and excesses are spectacular and not to be missed.  Vatel is so successful that Louis wants to carry him away to Versailles, but Vatel is devoted to his staff and maybe to his lord, who has just given him away as casually as he might present the king with a hunting dog.  He serves himself two or three lobsters and kills himself.

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