Cinema Reviews

by Bobby Matherne

Movies we watched this past month:

Hits (watch as soon as you can):

“The Return of the King”

The best movie I’ve ever seen, all-time, and I started going to movies in 1945 so I’ve watched a lot of movies from all periods on the large and small screen. It is the best of the trilogy. We had watched the first two episodes of the trilogy when they came out and had acquired the extended DVD versions of those two. We watched The Fellowship of the Ring one night, the The Two Towers the next night, and then we were pumped and ready for the grand finale on the big screen at the AMC Palace nearby. When Sam talks about the girl he’d like to marry, we remembered her from the beginning of the first movie serving tables in the pub. This is not a trilogy, by the way, and this is important for moviegoers to understand. Tolkien wrote one large book entitled “The Lord of the Rings” which his publishers broke into three books and gave the name to each part. It is a trilogy in name — it is one story, one epic, broken into three parts for convenience. Thus it behooves every viewer to watch all three movies in sequence to gain the best understanding of “The Lord of the Rings.” These three movies with their immense popularity are sure to bring an understanding of spirituality at a deep level that is much needed in this new millennium where we face many of the trials and tribulations that the peoples of Middle Earth did, and we will need a Frodo from time to time to arise and unselfishly lead us to safety.

“The Shipping News”

HEADLINES: “Inksetter from Poughkeepsie makes Headlines in Newfoundland” “Dweebie Reporter Buys Boat, Re-enacts Childhood Drowning” “Yacht Owner Loses his Head” “Resurrection in the Glenn” “House Blown Away, Reveals New Found Land” “Great Movie Rises from DVD”


With Nicholas Cage Squared, Meryl Streep Stripped, and Chris Cooper Toothless. How does a writer adapt a book about orchids for a movie? That’s Charlie Kaufman’s job. His other job is helping his twin brother, Don (also Cage), write a screen play about a guy with multiple personalities who deconstructs his victims because that’s what Charlie said facetiously to his brother when asked how a serial murder might kill his victims. What’s amazing is that the screenplay that Charlie writes is about a real book, “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, and the screenplay that Charlie writes during the course of the movie is this movie, “Adaptation.” Wrap your mind around this one.

“Master and Commander”

An excellent sea flick. Crowe is marvelous as the Commander of the Surprise whose eponymous name reveals an iterative plot element. Their orders are to seek and destroy the French frigate Archeron, and their prey meets them by emerging from its hiding place in a fog bank and blasting a cannonade that nearly devastates the Surprise, the first of many surprises. One surprise for me was Del pointing out to me in the middle of the movie that the excellent actor playing the ship’s doctor also played Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale”. “Oh,” I said, “I didn’t recognize him with clothes on.” Every actor on this film starred — from Commander to Doctor to Cabin Boy. Catch this on the big screen before anyone gives away any of the plot elements or you won’t be surprised.

“Word of Honor”

Don Johnson as a Vietnamese Veteran, who as a young lieutenant was faced with a horrendous challenge while on a patrol trying to get help for his injured men. They enter a compound with a neutral hospital and get ambushed by the Viet Cong. During a fire fight one of his men gets hit in the throat and can only be saved by immediate medical attention. They enter the hospital and force the doctors to finally work on the dying man, who dies on the table. A massacre of the entire staff and patients of the hospital ensues and the hospital is torched. A cover story was created and Johnson gives his word of honor to his men. Later in the movie, during a trial, Johnson gives an impassioned speech during which he says, “My word of honor does not require my silence.” and you must agree as you watch Johnson finally tell the whole story while preserving his word of honor. A gripping movie as good as “A Few Good Men” — and a performance by Don Johnson every bit as good as Jack Nicholson as the enraged Marine in that movie. Made for TNT, but available for the world. A “Watch-as-soon-as-you-can Hit” by my word of honor.

Misses (avoid at all costs):

“The Barefoot Contessa”

This was another movie I only recall from early 1950s posters at the Saenger theater, but had never seen it, so popped it into my Netflix queue. It came in the same day as “The Countess from Hong Kong” and thus belongs in the same category of how Hollywood could turn gold into dross in a scant hour and a half. This movie wasted the talents of Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart. Rosanno Brazzi was saving all of his for “South Pacific” apparently where he did as much singing as Ava did dancing in this one. All the really hot dance numbers at the beginning showed only audience reaction. Would have really helped the film to have found a body double for Ava who could have danced those on screen so we could see what they were ogling from the cocktail tables. Don’t waste your time on this one.

“The Countess from Hong Kong”

I ordered this one to finally get to hear how “This Is My Song” by Charlie Chaplin was incorporated into the movie. Bottom line: it was the only good thing about the movie. Talents wasted in this one: Sophie Loren (who kept most of her clothes on), Marlon Brando (who talked in a normal voice and would have better kept him mouth shut), Charlie Chaplin (whose music and directing skills were wasted on an insipid plot and script). It deserved a Titanic ending: sinking the entire cast and crew in frozen Atlantic waters. Unfortunately, it went on and on and on and on . . . .

Your call on these next movies; your taste may differ, but I liked them:

“The Pianist”

A guided tour through WWII Warsaw, Poland which explains in graphic detail why Poland is the most pro-American of all the Western European countries today – why they of all the large continental countries have troops stationed in Iraq in support of Iraq’s freedom from a cruel regime. They know cruel only too well. The pianist knew cruel only too well. He survived to play again, actually touching the keys of the piano playing out loud again, after the Russians rolled into Warsaw finally and changed Poland from a German-occupation to a Russian-occupation. The pianist, Spielmann, whose name means, “Play-man”, lived on to play until 2000. A remarkable man and a remarkable movie which takes a hard look at hard times in Warsaw.

“The Fisher King”

A movie Del and I had seen previously, but not really watched. As we watched this time around we kept experiencing wonderful moments that neither of us remembered from our first viewing years ago, such as the dinner date at the Chinese restaurant. If you think you’ve already seen it some time back, watch it again on DVD. You, like us, may be surprised at the sheer, exuberant joy that infuses this at times lugubrious and dark film.

“Absence of Malice”

With Paul Newman and Sally Field. When Sally breaks a news story about an investigation of Michael Gallagher (Newman), the stuff really hits the fan. Gallagher decides to let the stuff splatter upon the perpetrators of the investigation in a one-man sting operation that works to perfection. Innocent victims of federal investigations everywhere should take heart and learn lessons from what Gallagher was able to do. “We are all smart people in here,” he says at a key point. Some were too smart and lost their jobs. Fine acting jobs all around support an excellent script.

"Blade Runner"

I liked the original name of Philip K. Dick's story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" It asks many very interesting questions, such as the one the "Electric Sheep" asks Harrison Ford, the eponymous blade runner, "Have you taken your own test?" What test? The test he gives to decide whether a person is human or an android. If they flunk, they get a big "F" -- they are Fragged immediately without getting to pass GO or collecting $200. Ruger Hauer never played a finer role, in my estimation, than in this movie as the desperate android who chases Harrison to the brink and then saves him.

See Bobby Matherne's website for many more movie and book reviews: www.doyletics.com; Bobby also has a Monthly Newsletter