Movie of the Day: THE LION IN WINTER (1968)


Eleanor: I adored you. I still do.
Henry II: Of all the lies you’ve told, that is the most terrible.
Eleanor: I know. That’s why I’ve saved it up until now.

—LION IN WINTER, 1968

 

lioninwinter3

These lines from 1968’s THE LION IN WINTER, delivered by two of the greatest actors of all time, at the height of their powers, Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole… is a small sampling of why this remains arguably one of the best films of all time… and without argument, one of my favorite films. Here closing in on the 50th anniversary of this film, I thought the time was right to revisit it.

Written by James Goldman, the older Brother of legendary writer William Goldman, THE LION IN WINTER would be James Goldman’s first produced work, and incontrovertibly his best.

James would never match the scope or longevity or popularity or prolific nature of his Brother’s career and output. William’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, MARATHON MAN, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, MAGIC, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS all films deserving of their acclaim, and films any lover of cinema should watch often and repeatedly, and in comparison James Goldman only lasting mark, would be the first thing he ever did… THE LION IN WINTER.

I call it a draw.

That’s how brilliant a script, and brilliant a film, that single film, THE LION IN WINTER, would be, and is. A theatrical sensation, that would go on to birth a film, even greater than the play.

It is an example of all the stars aligning, to create this marvel of a movie.

In 1969 the film would garner three Academy Awards, and sweep the Golden Globes nabbing the 4 most coveted awards. All in all it would win awards for Actress, screenplay, score, actor, director, and picture. It was a filmic juggernaut, and here in 2016, looking at the almost 50 years of best picture films awarded since, I’m hard pressed to think of a single one that is as good as TLIW, and none come to mind, that better it.

But perhaps there is a cost for such perfection, some alchemic cost, that would have to be paid in the careers of the makers of the film.

 

lioninwinter

A great script, arguably it is the best script ever written in the English language, by a first time screenwriter, James Goldman, who would do only a few other feature screenplays after it, and none nearing the impact and import of TLIW. The script was so great he earned an Academy Award for it, for what amounted to his first time at bat.  A staggering achievement. Which makes his virtual disappearance from the scene… curious. Did he say everything he had in him to say? it’s possible, it happens. Or for some reason was work simply not offered to him, post TLIW.

A young, brash new director (and largely untested, making the jump from acclaimed editor, to the Director’s chair), Anthony Harvey, itching to push the width and breadth of cinema. He did a MASTERFUL job on this film, was nominated for an Academy Award for it, in what was only his 2nd film as director. But like James Goldman would be unable to leverage that Academy Award spotlight, into future opportunities.

He would go on to do only  a handful of features after this, and none of them would posses the scope or brilliance or lasting accolades as THE LION IN WINTER. It would overshadow the rest of his career. Which sometimes is the price of creating something truly great.

That said cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, editor John Bloom, and composer  John Barry , as well as the principal actors would all go on to have stellar careers. Though without argument from me, you want to see the best performances of Peter OToole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Timothy Dalton or Jane Merrow (exquisite as Alais) you’ll find them in this film.

They rise to the language. We all do.

If you haven’t seen THE LION IN WINTER, you haven’t seen cinema, as it can be… when all the gods are kind. And if you have seen it, it is a film that rewards, and like a missed relative, engenders revisits.

See it via DVD here (with wonderful and essential Director’s commentary):

The Lion in Winter

And hopefully there will be a Blu-Ray Disc on the horizon in the next year or two, to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary!

 

 

lioninwinter2

 

 

 

Director, a cast of veterans and young hungry unknowns who ALL would end up doing the best work of their lives, in this film, score, editing…. all aligning to produce one of the best films of all time.

It is essential viewing.

There is seldom a day in the years since first seeing that movie, probably 15 or 20 years ago, that some line from that film doesn’t pass through my head. Like the best of all writing, it indelibly marks us and shapes us, and leaves its impression on us.

It has done so with me.

Prince Richard: [the sons – in the dungeon – think they hear Henry approach] He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.

Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool… as if the way one fell down mattered.

Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

—THE LION IN WINTER, a script that would make even Shakespeare envious.

Advertisements

DVD / BLU-RAY Review: THE WOLFMAN (2010)


Lawrence Talbot: Are you expecting a war?

Singh: A Sikh is a warrior of God. He must always arm himself against evil.


or


Sir John Talbot: You’ve done terrible things, Lawrence. Terrible Things.

The quotes come from the 2010 Joe Johnston film, WOLFMAN. I was a huge fan of this film when it hit the theaters a couple years ago, see my original review here, and have been meaning to pick up the unrated Blu-ray Director’s Cut for sometime.

I own very few Blu-Rays, I find on a whole it to be only a marginal quality difference to DVD, and all other things being equal, I’m unwilling to shell out more for a Blu-Ray

The exceptions being a movie deserving of the extensive and elaborate special features and dissection/discussion that a Blu-Ray can bring to bear.

I find the WOLFMAN to be one such film. Unlike many I was a huge fan of the film in the theaters, and I’m happy to say the Blu-Ray experience, with the Director’s Cut, only solidifies my enjoyment and praise for this film.

I won’t get into specifics of the film except to say the additional 15 or so minutes of the Unrated Director’s cut helps to make more cohesive and strong a film that did suffer from unevenness and feeling rushed. Particularly Benicio Del Toro’s unfairly maligned portrayal, is expanded and fleshed out, as well as his relationship with his father played by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

They both, in my opinion did well in the theatrical version, and shine in the Unrated Director’s Cut. And all the parts are likewise… raised.


Lawrence Talbot: Why did she do it?

Sir John Talbot: She struggled with life, as we all do. She lost.

The only minor qualm in the Unrated version is, it is less subtle in terms of the villain, for this reason it may be more prudent to see the theatrical version first, then graduate to the Unrated version.

But that minor issue aside, in every other way the Unrated version makes more compelling an already very good film. I’d go so far to say the Unrated version makes it a great film, particularly if you take into account the wealth of extra features.

Now picture wise, the WOLFMAN Blu-Ray is a negligible improvement over DVD, owing much to how it was shot, it’s a muddy, subdued, grainy type of film that does not play to the strengths of Blu-RAy.

But the extra features, interviews with Rick Baker, etc., and some nifty new interactive features makes this well written, beautifully filmed, wonderfully directed, masterfully edited (really effective jump scares, that no matter how many times I see the film… stay scary. That takes talent!) and well performed Horror/Monster film… a fun addition to anyone’s library.

Grade: Recommended! B+.

The Wolfman (Two-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

TOP 15 FAVORITE DVD Commentaries! Part 3 of 3!

Completing (Yay! Finally!!) the list of 15 favorite DVD commentaries!! Here are selections 11-15.

THE LION IN WINTER- A seminal film, the finest performances of all involved and commentary by the director, Anthony Harvey. The Lion in Winter

T-MEN/RAW DEAL- Not a commentary per se, the excellent 2 part DARK REFLECTIONS audio/video essay by mystery writer Max Allen Collins is a must listen as it examines two of the best films by the legendary team of director Anthony Mann and Director of Photography John Alton. Very, very informative covering film noir, Dick Tracy, Eisner’s Spirit and more.Anthony Mann Film Noir Double Feature: Raw Deal/T-Men

DESCENT- 2 director commentaries, one with cast, one with crew. The crew commentary is more than a bit bland, the cast commentary is definitely more lively with a bunch of giggling, possibly tipsy, actresses, and it takes a bit to determine who is who, but still an enjoyable insight into this fantastic film. The Descent (Original Unrated Widescreen Edition)

SEVEN- no less than 4 great commentaries to choose from! Seven (New Line Platinum Series)-this is the only version that has all four commentaries

KING OF NEW YORK- great commentary by maverick director Abel Ferrara.King of New York (Special Edition)

Well that’s it! The wrap up of the 15 Favorite Commentaries!! The links to previous sections are below, and feel free to suggest your own favorite commentary!

Thanks for viewing and if you like this post, take the time to give a ‘like’ and also take the time to purchase using the links provided.

Thanks!:)!

Here’s Part I!

Here’s Part II!

THE WOLFMAN 2010 Movie Review or Primal Ids That Howl Again!

2010 with less than a month and a half under its belt is gearing up to be a very good movie year, with films like AVATAR and BOOK OF ELI and even SHERLOCK HOLMES being early standouts. Having just returned from my latest flick THE WOLFMAN, I can happily report that the trend of good flicks continues.

Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, THE WOLFMAN has had a troubled production history. Losing its initial director, numerous delays and reshoots, seldom is such shenanigans a good portent for a film.

However the preview I found FANTASTIC. Along with the earlier WATCHMEN and OBSESSED, it was a preview that had me very excited about seeing the film. WATCHMEN while impressive, was not without some real flaws in pacing and denouement, so it failed to live up to the greatness of its preview, OBSESSED managed to be every bit as good as its preview, and THE WOLF MAN I’m happy to say… also did not disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. To put not too fine a point on it, I thought it was pretty darn great.

I’m a huge fan of the original Universal Monster movies in general, and the Wolfman in particular holds a pretty iconic place with me. But I think that is more for what the film was in terms of theme, than how the film was in practice.

It’s more notable for its historic place of being one of the early takes on the wolf man legend, brought to screen. However, I don’t think it is a great film in the way THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE INVISIBLE MAN are great films. Those films are as enjoyable today, as they were when they were made 80 years ago… and that is the hallmark of a masterpiece.

The same can not be said for other Universal films, such as the WOLFMAN. While a good film, the original creaks a bit, and shows and feels its age, and is kind of… long in the tooth if you forgive the pun. It is not as dated, or (forgive the sacrilege) boring as Browning’s Dracula, but it is far from the greatness of James Whales’ best films.

So while no clamorer for remakes, I think if you were to choose a Universal property to remake, the WOLF MAN was a fantastic decision. A property, suitably iconic to make promoting it easy, yet a film that didn’t quite hit it out the park, and leaves room for improvement or reinterpretation. So your new film doesn’t suffer in comparison, as every attempt at remaking a masterpiece ultimately does (examples being KING KONG, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, INVISIBLE MAN, PSYCHO).

So this 2010 version of THE WOLF MAN manages to do what few remakes are capable of, it surpasses the original. From a power house cast, to an inventive script (Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Seven returning to screen-writing after a hiatus of almost a decade), to beautiful cinematography and capable direction, to some astounding special effects, to a real romantic heart to the film.

And yet Benecio Del Toro manages to channel some of the hound dog look, and pathos that Lon Chaney Jr brought to the role, while having a much greater range as an actor than Chaney Jr.

Chaney Jr wasn’t his father, his skills were limited at best, but the tortured haunted character of Lionel Talbot seemed to play to those skills, and perhaps more to the point, played to who Chaney Jr actually was. To the shadowed nature of his life.

Benecio Del Toro, makes the role of Lyle Talbot his own, while keeping much of the nature of Chaney’s performance. And Sir Anthony Hopkins, delivers yet another, in a career filled of brilliant performances. There’s not many actors living or dead who can improve on any role worn by the great Claude Rains. But the script allows Hopkin’s character to be fresh and new, and ultimately create a very different, and more iconic take on the role of Talbot’s father.

With the film fresh in my mind, it is just so much to like about it, and applaud about it. The cast, the script, the special effects, the action, and combining all that, the core of the film, the transformation scenes… finally a CGI transformation scene (liberally assisted by Rick Baker’s makeup and Prosthetic wizardry) that I feel stands up to the seminal scenes, from THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (without argument the two greatest werewolf movies of all time).

This new THE WOLFMAN is not quite up there with those films, but isn’t too far off. It hits largely right notes. That said it is not perfect. There is a definite sense of the film, pacing wise, being slightly awkward; always very close to going off the track, possibly a sense of the troubled production just kept at bay.

I think the editors on this deserve to take some bows (particularly the uncredited editor of Mark Goldblatt) because you can sense the cuts that just manage to keep the film on the right side of the tracks. But there are moments when you feel the wheels lift precariously.

But the freight train that is THE WOLF MAN holds, and arrives at an enjoyable conclusion. All in all a recommended film, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing in the theater more than once, and one I’ll definitely purchase when available. Rating: B+.