30 Day Film Challenge Day 9 – A Film With Your Favorite Actor (Male)

Film Nerd’s Choice: To Kill a Mockingbird

Review:

Director: Robert Mulligan

Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall

Synopsis: A classic adaptation of Harper Lee’s well recognised novel.    Atticus Finch is a Depression era Southern lawyer given the task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking and abusing Mayella Ewell, a white girl.   Atticus knows that Robinson is innocent, and has all the evidence to prove this is the case.    Can he convince a jury to take the word of a black man over that of a white one???   The story is told through the eyes of Atticus’ children, “Scout” and “Jem”.

Gregory Peck is an absolute powerhouse of an actor, with a charm and charisma all of his own.   He makes both a dashing Captain of the high seas (Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N.), as well as a dastardly revenge-addled whaler (Moby Dick).   But Atticus Finch is perhaps the most significant role for which he will be remembered, and rightly so.

Peck’s performance is almost a direct transition of a character from a book leaping off the page and onto the screen.   Atticus is an upstanding, non-boastful citizen despite having many talents for which he can rightly claim credit.   He believes in justice and the legal system, and above all nis a good father to his children, trying to lead by example rather than subdue with discipline.   Peck gives a quiet, measured performance, resulting in an explosion of energy when we finally see him in the court room.   When he is front and centre, all the remaining cast seems to disappear.   The performance is mesmerising, and reaches a crescendo with the inspiring closing address.

In addition to power though, the script, like the original book, leaves some space for deeper reflection.   The events in the children’s lives parallel the main themes of acceptance of every human being, regardless of skin colour or level of social aptitude.    Duvall’s role in this film was his debut feature film role.   It is short, but played for impact, which it certainly has.    I will say there are elements of the novel missing which I miss, including the “Mrs. Dubose” side story, for those familiar with the text, but overall this is a faithful adaptation that has as much impact on-screen as it did on paper.   Even if the rest of the film were not so successful, Peck’s performance alone is worth any rental or purchase fee.

5 stars out of 5

 

To Kill a Mockingbird on IMDB

To Kill a Mockingbird on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi88P7KfaMA&feature=related]

 

100th post!!

This blog is not yet a year old, and here I am able to celebrate 100 posts (keep in mind, this only includes blog entries, and not separate pages dedicated to special events).   As such, I am reflecting back on what has been written and what has been achieved.   It is very clear that our most popular entries are reports on conventions, such as Armageddon and Supanova.   These reports will keep coming, with Urban Fantasist visiting Brisbane Supanova right now, and Fourth Verse attending the Melbourne equivalent next week.   I will kick their butts to make sure they get their reports up in good time.   I imagine both those contributors will also attend Sydney Supanova, which will also be attended by myself and Bride of Film Nerd.

Less viewed have been the film reviews to date, except for really niche films and TV films such as the Hornblower.   New releases also tend to get a higher rate of hits.   This is not surprising given the sheer multitude of movie reviewers there are out there.   I am not deterred, having a real passion for film review, and this is an element that will never be absent from this blog.   However I will start reviewing seasons of television series (I am currently marathoning both Doctor Who and Smallville), to increase the amount of output of stuff that it is harder to find reviewed elsewhere.   I am also considering adding a few other elements (action figures, video game reviews), so keep tuned.

While I get my act together though, I notice a few franchises in which only one film has been reviewed to date (Toy Story, Narnia, Iron Man, and the Millennium trilogy all spring to mind).   So while I am unable to afford much cinema going at the moment, these films will also be a short-term focus.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome, and I look forward to Revenge of the Film Nerds celebrating 200 posts!!

Cheers,

Film Nerd.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, Max Pirkis, Billy Boyd

Synopsis: The year is 1805, as we follow the adventures of Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Crowe) and his 28 gun vessel, the H.M.S. Surprise.   Over the course of tis particular mission, the Surprise is hunting the French frigate Acheron. Problem is, the Acheron proves a more able predator, with a new stronger hull which also grants it speed, in addition to having more guns.   This mission takes Aubrey and his crew through many of the conditions of see life, from gales to being becalmed, through battles of superstition with authority, and even battles between friends, as sacrifices are made in the name of the service.

A review by Film Nerd.

Having previously covered the entire Hornblower franchise in reviews, when I approached this film I feared covering similar ground in commentary.   Rewatching the film though, I was reminded of the many differences that existed in this film compared to the latter franchise, even where similarities are apparent.

I am personally unfamiliar with the Patrick O’Brien Master and Commander books, of which The Far Side of the World is one of many.   The tone is overall very different to Hornblower.   Where Hornblower is a brilliant tactician who works his way up through the ranks mainly on this attribute, Aubrey is very much your fighting man, just as successful despite his different approach.   Also unlike Hornblower, he grew up in the service from a young age, to the point where “there is enough of his own blood soaked into the hull of the Surprise for him to consider it a relation”.   As such, it leads to a much different, a much more visceral viewing experience.

It is a role that Crowe was meant to play.   He does have a very commanding on-screen presence, and he is at home making hard decisions at the helm as he is cracking low brow jokes with his crew when dining in his quarters.   His motivations are unequivocal, any promise he makes being subject to the requirements of the service.   This fact is further verified by the influences on him from serving with the venerable Lord Nelson on two occasions, including the Battle of the Nile.   Of course, this dog-headed approach to his command does bring him to lock horns with his best friend, the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Bettany).   This is particularly apparent when naturalist Maturin’s desires to catalogue new species in the Galapagos is continually deferred as new information about the position of the Acheron comes to light.   I must note though, it is quite amusing that Bettany should move on from this to the other famous naturalist to visit the Galapagos at a later date (Charles Darwin in Creation).

So dramatically, there is a lot going on, and the lead cast are brilliant, more than able to the task.   The trouble is, however, that for those that are not already fans of the genre, there is very little of a way in , and as such the target audience is immediately limited.   Also, despite the fact I do consider myself part of that target audience, the amount going on at times overwhelmed me as a viewer, and I perhaps would have appreciated events to be stretched over more than a single film.   That said, Weir is a veritable cinema master for drama, and perhaps this boggling effect was his goal, trying to make the audience not only observe, but to feel the hardships of this lifestyle.   The entire lack of a female on-screen in this film however does not exactly make it a date film, so be warned.

3 stars out of 5

 

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on IMDB

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFeCVCKYo4Y&feature=related]

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Raoul Walsh

Cast: Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty, James Robertson Justice, Denis O’Dea

Synopsis: Captain Hornblower, in command of the H.M.S. Lydia, is on a secret mission to provide support for a Spanish rebel, making no contact with land for eight months.   After turning over a captured Spanish ship of the line to the self-styled “El Supremo”, Hornblower is informed Spanish is once again an English ally, and as such he must recapture the recently turned over vessel.   On his trip back to England, he is charged with transporting Lady Barbara Wellesley, sister of the Duke of Wellington, back home, as she attempts to flee the Yellow Fever that is rife in Portugal.

 

A review by Film Nerd.

Made well before the recent series starring Ioan Gruffudd, this 1951 film has the charm that only films of that era seem to have.   Despite the fact that this is another British icon here played by an American, the simple gravitas of any Peck performance makes this a very small quibble.   The fact is that Peck was a generation defining actor, and his portrayal of Hornblower is absolutely superb.   Despite having many different performance traits to how Gruffudd played the role, there is actually a physical similarity between the two actors, making it very plausible that we are watching the same character after a further 15 years at sea.

As mentioned in my review for “Loyalty” and “Duty”, that feature left off with just enough lead up information to let this film flow somewhat directly on.   Hornblower has been married for that fifteen years, creating another level of tension as he starts to develop feelings for Lady Barbara.   The great man cannot be entirely blamed though…Mayo is absolutely radiant in the role.   Their relationship is one that grows from taciturn acceptance of the situation, to being forced into each others company in such away that they cannot help admire each other as human beings.   Hornblower’s marriage is not the only obstacle though.   Lady Barbara is due to be married herself on her return to England, to Hornblower’s superior, Rear Admiral Leighton (O’Dea).

Though the romance is what many would remember most from the film, it is also intelligent to have a strong focus on action when they are apart.   When the sea battles rage, we have splinters flying everywhere, full masts and spars falling to deck, and Hornblower, always in control and in command.   The effects have dated, absolutely, but they are still very effective.   There is also space in the film to examine how Hornblower interacts with his crew.   Fittingly, the mutual respect between Lt. Bush (Beatty) and his captain are on display.    Even more so, one able seaman is selected to show Hornblower’s respect for all men under his command.    The man selected for this role is Quist (Justice), who is quite bitter against his Captain until Hornblower singled him out for a task, to which he exclaims in wonder “He know’s my name!”

The film may not have the depth or focus on detail that the Gruffudd series had, but what it lacks there it gains in the romanticism of this piece, representing the sea as a fickle mistress, who will treat you right if you understand her.   It is in every respect Peck’s film, amazing given that Erroll Flynn had originally been earmarked for the role.   This is a film from the classic era of Hollywood, and should be enjoyed as such.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

 

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on IMDB

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer

Horatio Hornblower: “Loyalty” and “Duty” – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Paul McGann, Lorcan Cranitch, Julia Sawalha, Tony Haygarth, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Greg Wise, Christian Coulson, Ron Cook, Jonathan Coy

Synopsis: Hornblower is languishing on a Lieutenant’s half-pay during peace with France, the peace having been declared before his promotion to Commander could be confirmed by the admiralty.   In his cheap lodgings, he has won the heart of his landlady’s daughter.   He come across Lieutenant Bush at this time, just as Admiral Pellew gives Hornblower a secret mission to France, promoting him to Commander in the process.   He takes command of the Hotspur, bringing Bush along as his First Lieutenant.

A review by Film Nerd.

As with the last two-part story, I have opted to review these two television movies together, even though the two-story arc is less well-defined then in the last case.   What connects the two is Hornblower’s relationship with Maria Mason (Julia Sawalha, previously seen in the TV series Press Gang, and as Lydia in the BBC’s definitive Pride and Prejudice miniseries).   He meets her when he is languishing on half-pay, barely able to make his rent.   It is a relationship the defines Hornblower in the next few books of the series, a bond forged more out of obligation than affection.   Sadly, given the demise of the series, the relationship was not explored further than this point.

In showing the fleet during peace time, the success of the franchise is once again apparent in shedding light onto the concerns of officers serving in His Majesty’s navy in this time period.   We soon get back into the real action though, with Hornblower getting a command, much due to the good graces of Admiral Pellew.   The joy of these current stories are getting to delve into Hornblower’s loyalty to both superior and inferior officer’s, as we finally get to also see his relationship with Lieutenant Bush in full bloom.

And yet, I still haven’t even got around to any of the missions Hornblower is sent on here, which is really half the fun.   Suffice it to say that the peace does not last long, and we get action on the high seas galore, with traitor’s in our favourite Commander’s own crew that come back to haunt us, cowardly midshipmen (former young Tom Riddle, Coulson), an uneasy alliance with a French Royalist Major (Wise), and also being stuck right in the middle of major international political intrigue.

This is certainly the series at its peak, with Hornblower finally in command, and perhaps the saddest point for it to end.   It is fortunate we have the Gregory Peck film to follow this up for, even though it is based 15 years after the point here observed, it is just enough of a stepping stone to keep the storyline somewhat continuous.

4.5 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on Rotten Tomatoes

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEEUDLr9uUw]

Horatio Hornblower: “Mutiny” and “Retribution” – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, David Warner, Nicholas Jones, Paul McGann, Jamie Bamber, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder

Synopsis: In this two-part story, Hornblower is Third Lieutenant on the H.M.S. Renown, under the command of Captain James Sawyer, a national hero and one of Nelson’s Own.   This is not the good news one would hope though.  It soon becomes evident that Sawyer has paid the price for his heroism, and has gone quite mad, proving a danger to himself, and the ship.   Unfortunately, the ship’s doctor refuses to declare him unfit for command.   As such, and attempt by his lieutenants to take control of the vessel will result in a court martial for mutiny.

A review by FilmNerd.

I have made the decision to review these movies together as they do cover a single story, and it made sense to do it this way rather than to go over repeat ground.   The viewer’s curiosity is immediately ripened, finding Hornblower under lock and key, then receiving a visit from Admiral Pellew.    Their discussion reveals Hornblower is there for mutiny, and Pellew is one of the senior officers presiding over his trial.   From this point on, the story is told in flashback, with intercuts to the present day showing the progress of the trial.   What we observe is quite an unwinnable situation for the officers of the Renown.

Suffice it to say, it is an interesting story.   “Mutiny” covers the events leading up to the Lieutenants taking control of the vessel, showing progressively Sawyer’s state of madness.   The difficulty being that despite his deranged mind, Sawyer can appear calm and reasonable on the surface, an obstacle which could prove disastrous when a court martial would inevitably be held.   “Retribution” proceeds to then cover the story of the actions of the lieutenants in command, as they try to at least fulfil the mission given to the Renown, partially in the hope it will reflect favourably on them at trial.   I will admit the ending sways wildly from the end of the story written by C.S. Forester, and in my mind not in a good way, and this is where the story loses half a star.

Aside from the plot though, these films are an exhibit of stellar acting.   Gruffudd and Lindsay are well established and comfortable in their characters now.   Warner, a veteran of more than one Star Trek appearance is terrifyingly convincing as Sawyer.   Jones is the ineffectual First Lieutenant Buckland, and Bamber is back as Fourth Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, in what is perhaps his finest performance of the series.   Perhaps the most important role to be cast though, was that of Second Lieutenant William Bush, a character that becomes very significant later in the series.   It is a role that requires a taciturn, hard-to-like nature initially, with Sawyer picking him out as a favourite early.   This appearance is slowly dropped however, to reveal he is a man of great integrity, who will always consult his honour and his duty in his actions.   To play this role we have the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.    Though I did not know he was Doctor Who when I first saw this, he is an actor of great talent, and suits Bush perfectly.

Aside from my disappointment with the ending, this is otherwise the perfect Hornblower adventure, making the pity greater that only one more two-part story was shot after this.

4.5 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny on Rotten Tomatoes

Horatio Hornblower: Retribution on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Retribution on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable


Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Antony Sher, John Shrapnel, Samuel West, Jamie Bamber, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Jonathan Coy, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: The Indefatigable is dispensed to transport French Royalist troops (the Frogs of the title) on a mission to hope to inspire the citizens of France to rebel against the new regime.   This action is to be supported by British Army troops (the Lobsters), and Hornblower is lucky enough to be the liaison between the two factions.   This is an episode where we truly learn the mathematics of defeat, however, given that dispatches containing details of this plan have been intercepted by the enemy, yet Captain Pellew is ordered to proceed regardless.

A review by Film Nerd.

This was the last television movie in the original run of Hornblower stories, and it is a fitting end for this stage.   Four more films were subsequently made, divided into two two-part stories.   Unfortunately, that marked the end of the series, the producers deeming it to expensive to make any more.   Fortunately, where that last film ends off fittingly merges well with the Gregory Peck film Captain Horatio Hornblower.

As for this story, it asks more from the cast than previously, with particularly a wide emotional arc required from Gruffudd, and he delivers.   We see the diplomat we are so familiar with from now commissioned Lieutenant Hornblower.   He has to deal with both the Army officers on board led by the initially abrasive, yet eventually clearly fair and level-headed Major Edrington (West), and their French comrade Colonel Moncoutant (Sher), who is much less fair and eventually quite tyrannical.   As such, the audiences observes Hornblower in a state of moral outrage, and with time even despair.

This is not a one horse show though, with Lindsay’s Captain Pellew torn by a duty he has been given which can only end in defeat.   We get an insight into the pressures on a master and commander of one of His Majesty’s vessels, and clearly it is not all smooth sailing.   Credit should also be given to the supporting players.  It is to Sher’s credit that I cannot help but seeth when I see him, and Bamber stats showing some of his eventual Lee “Apollo” Adama as Kennedy starts to become a more efficient Acting Lieutenant.   Finally,Ship’s Master Bowles is given a slightly larger role in this, his last appearance, and he does the surname proud.

Unlike the previous instalment which I bemoaned for pacing issues, and a lot of good elements not adding up, thankfully this film does not suffer the same fate.   There is a lot of action keeping proceedings moving, and as there are many fronts of battle to be observed, the claustrophobia of the prison environment is well behind us.   It is little wonder the series progressed from here, just as it is little wonder Pellew was written into the subsequent stories, despite his presence not being so prominent in the corresponding books.   Quite simply, this made for television movie rocks.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable

Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Cherie Lunghi, Christopher Fulford, Jamie Mamber, Jonathan Coy, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: Still awaiting the results of his examination for Lieutenant, Acting Lieutenant Hornblower begins this chapter with a daring capture of a French ship.   He is given order to return it to London, while also carrying a passenger, the Duchess of Wharfdale (Lunghi).   Unfortunately, in a thick fog Hornblower inadvertently sails into the centre of the Spanish Fleet, which has now become allied with France.

The franchise continues to move from strength to strength, however this particular episode has never been a favourite of mine.   There is nothing necessarily wrong with what is put on-screen.   As usual, Gruffudd and co put on the usual dazzling performance, the  guest actors add spark and something fresh, and what is observed to occur is very plausible within the context of the series, in short, it manages to do what it attempts to successfully.

And yet, every time I watch this instalment, I can’t help but feel bored.   I guess as well I hate seeing characters I like in defeat, and the vast majority of the time here, we see Hornblower as prisoner to the Spanish.   He is spending his time planning escape, as is his duty, but this is complicated by discovering Archie Kennedy (Bamber), who was his fellow midshipman on the Indy in The Even Chance, is also trapped in the same prison, yet half the man he was.   In addition, he has an insubordinate midshipman (Fulford) who is incapable of grasping the complexity of what Hornblower is trying to achieve.   This is not aided by the fact that the officer leading the Spanish garrison at the prison has permitted Hornblower daily walks with the Duchess, who has as yet not managed transport home from Spain,   So of course upstart midshipman Hunter takes this to mean Hornblower is having too much fun to escape.

Ok, so writing it down like that makes it sound exciting, yet something does just not gel.   The pacing lags at times, but thankfully when action does occur, or major plot twists revealed, it does act somewhat to compensate for these issues.   All in all, this is not a bad Hornblower episode, yet it is far from my favourite as well.

3 stars (out of a possible 5)
Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Denis Lawson, Ian McNeice, Andrew Tiernan, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: Hornblower is now an acting lieutenant, under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew, on H.M.S. Indefatigable.   His examination to become a commissioned lieutenant looms, yet he still has some lessons to learn, such as how to handle the morale of men on prolonged rations, only to have these concerns compounded by the threat of plague.

A review by Film Nerd.

The Hornblower series moves from strength to strength with this instalment, and I am not just biased by the fact that these first four television movies feature the magnificently named character of Master Bowles (MacLachlan).   No, rather we see the growing confidence and talent of young Horatio Hornblower, promoted now to the role of acting lieutenant, not surprising given his exploits as shown previously.

Yet the sea has many more challenges to present both our hero, as well as to us the audience.   We learn further of the hardships of life at sea.   When a vital supply ship is destroyed en route to the “Indy”, the men are forced onto prolonged rations to preserve the ship’s stores.   Hornblower first must learn that at times like these you do not try to restrain the high spirits of the crew, no matter how much their noise may distract from a person’s ability to study.

Which brings me to another major challenge facing Hornblower.   For his commission to be accepted, he must first pass his examination for lieutenant (as in the title above).   To avoid confusion, this episode has also has a separate title overseas, yet I choose not to use this title as it gives away a large chunk of the action of the finale.   Ironically, I have also discovered this was also the case for the chapter I reviewed previously.    Anyway, Hornblower desperately wishes to be ready to receive his commission, however he is continuously distracted.   Of course, it does not help when a diplomatic trade mission comes across the plague, leaving Hornblower in command of a quarantine ship for 3 weeks.

The casting is once again superb.   Gruffudd at this stage is really getting comfortable with the role, and his performance is nothing if not captivating.   Lindsay really own’s the character of Pellew, and encapsulates exactly what one would wish from a leader of men.   The support cast all perform their roles well, yet they do diminish somewhat in the power of this leading pair.

I say of this film what I said when I first saw it many years ago… Love it!   Bring on the next one!!

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable.