28 April 2012

Dickens, Quatro.

And a Few New Charles Dickens Analyses!
By Kristin Battestella

Why? Because Chuck’s Bicentennial knows no bounds!

Great Expectations (2011) – This most recent 3 part television production is lead by an unrecognizably wonderful, almost ghostly Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), a totally glorious David Suchet (Poirot), the perfectly pompous Mark Addy (Game of Thrones), and a quite menacing Ray Winstone (Beowulf). Young stars Oscar Kennedy and Izzy Meikle-Small (Never Let Me Go) are also endearing in the first hour and up to challenge of the mature cast in bringing these quintessential Dickensian characters to life.  The ironies of high and low in comparison with wealth and circumstances are in absolute form here- far, far better in style, transition to the screen, and audience joy than contemporary wastes like the 1998 update featuring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.  The bleak but vivid locations indoors and out are fittingly depressing- the murky bogs, the hauntingly cobwebbed Havisham House, candlelit ambiance, and early 19th wispy décor and costumes.  While it is nice to see him as the lovely good guy Herbert Pocket for a change, I’m also getting a bit tired of seeing Dickens’ descendant Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) in everything, I must say. Likewise, he’s not my favorite Pip and Douglas Booth (Worried About the Boy) is perhaps a little too pretty, wooden, and dry, but he nevertheless carries the sympathy and arrogance needed for Pip’s twists and turns. Vanessa Kelly (Labyrinth) is also somewhat snotty, but that is Estella’s very allure.  People are indeed still playing revenge with each other’s hearts and fortunes, after all.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Dickens’ final incomplete tale seems to have garnered new attention with recent stage and literary off shoots- even if it is perhaps impossible to conclude this murder and romance plot befittingly of Our Man Charlie. However, this fine 2012 television attempt has the proper mood lighting and cinematography, a shadowy Victorian underbelly style, and a few twisted villainous personas for good measure. The cast- including properly pissy Tazmin Merchant (The Tudors), stuffy and fun Ian McNiece (Rome, Doctor Who), and a creepy freaky Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) - does solid as always in these imported PBS/Masterpiece period projects.  There are some intriguingly modern suggestions from Dickens, with opium-addicted choirmaster Jasper and his lecherous looks upon young ladies easily garnering a shudder or two. Even with such thematic darkness, screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes adds darker complexities and contemporary suspense designs, and the approach simply isn’t as taut or interwoven as work straight from The Man Himself. The conclusion here takes what seems to be a fairly easy way out- the 21st century twist rather than Victorian happenstance, justice, and irony. Fortunately, the very unfinished circumstances that can hinder any Drood adaptation also make this one a worthy witness for any Dickensian fan or scholarly seminar.  

The Old Curiosity Shop (2007) – The picture here is very dark and perhaps tough to see and subtitles will be a must, but the decrepit streets and candle light look Dickensian perfection. Derek Jacobi (Little Dorrit) shines again as the good-natured but always financially ill grandfather against the wicked and nasty Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Quilp, and Zoe Wanamaker (Harry Potter, David Copperfield) adds much needed levity for this very bleak implication of death being the only way to escape debt’s extremes. Sophie Vavasseur (Northanger Abbey) as Nell is immediately likeable thanks to her would be beauty amid the low and salacious- but the endearing built-in Dickens innocence and similarities to other tales of wealthy woe can seem tiring or laid on too thick. After all, the PBS producers here also brought us the aforementioned Great Expectations, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Bleak House.  Perhaps the brooding is slow and obvious or expected if you binge so much Dickens material at once, but by gosh, living in a society where one’s aptitude is determined by his or her- or worse another’s- financial power really sucks.  Not only can we completely relate, but it is also seriously upsetting to see the way people can still be bought and sold with the same ease and cruelty today. The short 90 minutes here feels a little too quick compared to other miniseries heavies, but this swift debt debate fits well for a secondary education Dickens introduction.  Not that I haven’t given you enough Dickensian media from which to choose!

25 April 2012

Spring Horror 2012

Spring Horror Hits and Misses
By Kristin Battestella

Enjoy the spring showers- stay inside and watch horror movies!  New treats to enjoy, remakes to skip, monsters to delight.  What is this sunlight of which you speaketh?


Outcast – I had to wait a while to finally see this new UK thriller starring a perfectly grizzly James Nesbitt (The Hobbit), the powerfully stern James Cosmo (Braveheart), and a totally wickedly wonderful Kate Dickie (Red Road).  Naturally, it will probably be too British in speech and design for some stateside, but the brooding approach and unfolding mystery adds to the creepy. The tight, dark photography is also tough to see at times. However, this askew atmosphere is totally juicy and deceptive when needed.  Full nudity and freaky rituals are always good in horror, too. We know something monstery is happening, but the viewer smartly isn’t told exactly what witchy or magic is at play. This isn’t meant to be a complete scare fest so much as complex thriller, but the unknown element is just as jarring for the audience. This unseen, not knowing villainy is actually better than the usual slice and dice contemporary style.  Despite some potentially annoying Brit teens, the slightly nasty and fine finale will delight Euro horror fans or any lover of the unique, too weird, or just plain different.

Possessed (2000) – Based on actual events, this slightly elusive Showtime telefilm smartly doesn’t fall into Exorcist before Exorcist was Exorcist trappings as so many in this horror niche do. Yes, there are always the same vomit and demon bed ploys, but the fine poltergeist activity and quiet scares here don’t go over the top with modern saucy and jagged photography.  The perfectly damaged, cursing, drinking, needing confessions of his own Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights) carries the focus on introspective brooding with World War II trauma, interdenominational relations and religious politics, segregation, alcoholism, and faith.  The weird Piper Laurie (Carrie), serious Henry Czerny (The Tudors), and charismatic Christopher Plummer (Beginners) also lift the pace when the usual annoying creepy kid events enter in. There’s even some unexpected humor thanks to Dalton’s wit, too.  These are imperfect priests, fallible men struggling against real frights, and there is no need to flash up the compelling argument of good versus evil with excessive tricks or terrors.  The period sixties styles add further dimension as well.  Big and reverent Catholic and cathedral designs, suave cars, pillbox hats, duck and cover cartoons- oh how the stuffy old and strict ways cower in the confrontation with demonic profanity!  I can even forgive the lack of subtitles here thanks to a neat little interview recalling the original events.  This is definitely worth the viewing for exorcism aficionados.


Hard Ride to Hell – There’s little info on this 2010 television movie, but that isn’t too surprising.  The weak script is simply too Ride with the Devil wannabe with a one step forward two steps back mentality. Toss in bikers, beer, weird Spanish connections, and 1928 Old West roots and you end up with immortal cannibals biting necks, oh yes!  Although there are plenty of guts and gore, nudity, fine isolation scares, weird rituals, and sowing the evil seed/rapacious pregnancies; the Babylon and dark religion/immortality plot is just too dang confusing.  It would seem a good premise, but nothing is fulfilled, and the intriguing uses of weapons and fight action do little thanks to over editing and too much intercutting.  The on the go close combat filmmaking and contemporary looks are actually not that bad, nor are Laura Mennell (Alphas), Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) and the bemused and slightly warped Brent Stait (Andromeda). Despite some quality sardonics, jefe Miguel Ferrer (Wow, George Clooney’s cousin is in some low budget stuff!) is wasted on too much exposition. Unfortunately, we fall into token black guy trimmings and cell phone horror schemes, too. Flashbacks muddle things instead of explaining, and a mystical underdeveloped twist finale ruins what was mostly relatively realistic action.  This was kind of bad, but better than expected, and yet could also have been done damn properly. Sigh.


Night of the Demons (2009)- Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie) leads this direct to video remake along with a not looking too good Edward Furlong (Terminator 2) and a brief Jamie Harris (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Simply put, the chicks here are way too old and trying much too hard to be young and hot college cuties, the toss away nudity is nothing to write home about, and the New Orleans location exists in by being mentioned only.  Despite being a short 93 minutes, the silent style attempts, slow motion, warp zooms, and weak supernatural effects are very slow to get going, and none of it looks good. Completely unnecessary music is way too loud, the dialogue is poor, and demon anal sex and girl on girl teases completely cop out.  The flashbacks and sepia tone expositions try to be scary but offer nothing new except their own continuity errors.  Seriously not even worth the late night dozing. 

06 April 2012

Classic Blu-Ray Joy!

Classic Blu Ray Joy!
By Kristin Battestella

I’ve written previously on the fountain of youth and magical restorative powers of blu-ray for classic film.  Thanks to plenty of Christmas and birthday gifts, I have even more must see evidence!

Ben-Hur – I’ve spoken briefly on this spiritual essential before, but the massive 3 Disc Limited Edition 50th Anniversary set needs a conversation all its own-and then some.  Not only is the 1925 silent Ben-Hur also restored on blu-ray, but the 1959 1080p feature glory takes two blu-ray discs along with two commentaries and an isolated score. Sweet Jesus indeed the three documentaries are long, and there are more storyboards, vintage trailers and newsreels, screen tests, 1960 Oscar footage, and 2 books!  Of course, we can’t forget the rousing main attraction itself- Best Actor Charlton Heston’s embittered quest for revenge and his freeing encounter with Christ never looked so good.  I’ve seen this film- low balling it- at least fifty times, and I’m finding things I have never seen.  From the grand Overture’s first bars to the final chorale, it’s as if we’re watching a contemporary film made to look old.  Yes, there’s mid century over acting and melodramatic stylings that perhaps give it away, but 50th Anniversary my foot.  We believe this is real stonework, vintage armor, and truly a cast of thousands- for now you can count every single one of them hearing the Sermon on the Mount.  Such clarity and attention to detail- the patina on the golden plates, the stitching on Judah’s robes, sweat and dirt flinging from men and horse, oh heck even the eyebrows!  Already colorful and full of zest, the opening Nativity sequence is stunning, the galley scenes and naval battle epic- models and painted backdrops this cannot be!  CGI cannot recreate this kind of atmosphere. Do you believe I found myself tilting my head to the rocking of the Arrius’ ship?  The white stallions in Ilderim’s tent, the Roman mosaics, sets and locations- you just have to witness the chariot race for yourself because I’m running out of adjectives! Director William Wyler knew how to use the scope of his physical sets, and it finally shows as it was meant to be. The internal depth of scenery, perspective, performance, and inspiration is incredible- distant plants and Roman plumes blowing in the breeze, townsfolk in the far marketplace and the hills of Jerusalem beyond, the awesome healing power of God- this is how you make a film three-dimensional!  Avatar?  F*ck Avatar! You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Ben-Hur on blu-ray.  Jesus wept…and so did I.

Casablanca – The package design of this Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray is cumbersome, but the treats are so, so delightful.  Two discs worth of features, with introductions and commentaries from Lauren Bacall and Roger Ebert, deleted scenes, audio and score accompaniments, trailers, and television adaptations.  Not to mention four documentaries, cartoons, a photo book, reproduction poster cards, and Warner production notes, wow! Of course, this Best Picture winner is already spectacular as far as the spectacular of cinema spectacularness goes- and yet this digital renewal adds a new pinnacle. The onscreen locales are simple awesome; the smoke and arching walls of Rick’s Café create a physical illusion to represent the tense claustrophobia of the titular town and times.  Remember, this film was made during World War II with a lovely international supporting cast of expatriates and refugees, and the tragedy, danger, and heart of it all still comes across stunningly. Everyone looks so suave yet untouchable, too- white dinner jackets, uniforms of all flavors and every button, medal, and insignia upon them.  It’s so formal and yet reckless- the perfect shadows and lighting design say everything that can’t be said in this most amazing Oscar screenplay. You can practically feel every slick in the men’s hairs and wipe Peter Lorre’s sweat from his brow. It’s so easy to be swept up in the incredible music, too. The layered montages are clear and defined as well, but somehow hazy and hypnotic- as if we are going back to Paris, too. Seeing all these details anew…it’s just like watching a new film for the first time! Just to think, I haven’t even mentioned the performances yet. That sparkle from Ingrid Bergman’s earrings, the tears in her eyes, the fog as she and Bogie…well, I can’t give everything away to the two people on the planet who haven’t seen Casablanca!  What’s wrong with you two? “Play it!”

The Maltese Falcon – Also already reviewed at length previously, you would think I have nothing more to say- or that black and white doesn’t cater to the wonders of blu-ray.  But no.  The palette from director John Huston is crisp and truly silver, indeed. The depth of the monochrome breaks free from the colorless full screen frame with dimension and layers for every fabric and decoration onscreen.  The pinstripe in Humphrey Bogart’s suit, the pattern in Mary Astor’s fur stole- Bogie looks better than that Tales from the Crypt stunt!  The classic uses of shadow and light are increased ten fold, and I feel as though I can walk into this picture ala Pleasantville. Okay, the white subtitles are tough to see in some spots, but the sound is pitch clear to hear all the double-talk and melodrama.  And the features! There’s a ‘One Magnificent Bird’ half hour retrospective with author Dashiell Hammett experts and stars of today singing their praises, a 45 minute TCM collection of Bogart’s film trailers and dozens more vintage previews. Radio clips; commentaries; forties bloopers and outtakes with the likes of James Cagney, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Stewart; test shots, and more. These rarities look sweet and are a real treat – and it’s all subtitled, too!  Thanks to this lifelike facelift and appreciation, it’s very easy to be caught up in the quintessential noir mystery all over again. This disc is a must for any classic film connoisseur.

The Ten Commandments – And you thought I talked too long on Ben-Hur! Another epic that needs to be recognized again and again- and usually is thanks to yearly network airings for Passover- this 2 disc blu-ray release is simply magical! Growing up, I think I was actually more partial to this 1956 Cecil B. DeMille magnum opus over any other Biblical epic. From the dirty Vincent Price with his silk hanky ready to wipe any offending grease and his wicked snake successor Edward G. Robinson to the dry and bitchy perfect Judith Anderson versus the snarky and wonderful Anne Baxter, top to bottom everyone in this awesome cast comes to play.  Beautiful Lily Munster- er Yvonne De Carlo, true flower Debra Paget, strong Henry Wilcoxon- I’ve shown my share of Heston love! Though I confess, I do prefer Yul Brynner’s voice and presence. I still speculate his 1956 Best Actor Oscar is really for his work here and in Anastasia in tandem with The King and I. And oh my, look at that oil lathered up on John Derek! Despite the 1956 over the top acting style, the script is profoundly solid with touching quotations and sentiments.  This is a vivid world of inspiration, love, jealousy, and deliverance.  It’s a perfectly personal and intimate drama amid an epic, ancient scale with one of the best booming, rousing, almost voluptuous scores ever to tidy it all up!  All these classics on blu-ray have very pleasing, easy to navigate menus and presentation, I must say; one more thing the modern jumbled and flashy discs should learn.  Although DeMille’s introduction would never fly today.  After all, he tells us how long we have, that there’s an intermission, and it’s all divinely inspired.  Any one of those would scare contemporary audiences!  Fortunately, the Oscar winning color cinematography and divine scale speak for themselves on blu-ray: inlaid stonework, Egyptian jewelry, what color and flamboyant hieroglyphics! That fire upon Mount Sinai, the glow of the Burning Bush, the plagues and that freaky green mist coming for the first-born. I can’t stop- the Exodus, Ramses’ chariot pursuit, and that parting of that so, so blue Red Sea.  The blues alone in this picture- every shade of the spectrum indeed for Edith Head’s costumes. Of course, dramatic liberties are taken, the sound is big and the voices are low, and framing lines on the matte paintings are visible. There’s a simplicity to the original editing as well, with the master track only cut for a reaction or spectacle shot. It might jar some today, but this style allows longer stage drama scenes to play. The Ten Commandments is not without flaws, no, but it’s a truly complete picture nonetheless.  Who knew that a little grain, sand, mud, and water could do so much for a viewer’s soul?  

Yes, the prices of these collector and special edition blu-ray sets only seem to be getting higher, and they are delicate indeed.  Quicker editions are cheaper, but often deny the viewer all the bells and whistles. However, for the classic enthusiast or film historian, the movie restoration and complimentary material are essential pieces in the celebration and preservation of vintage cinema. 

For more classic blu-ray evidence, here are a few more of our reviews (so far!):

05 April 2012

A Gregory Peck Celebration!

I Think, Therefore I Review is ringing in April by taking part in a special Birthday Tribute to Gregory Peck!

Our new Gregory Peck Greatness analysis and viewing list is coinciding with Flix Chatter's Beauty is Forever: Happy Birthday, Mr. Gregory Peck!  So be sure to visit them for more of the Peck Party! 

Now then, onto the review respect...

Gregory Peck Greatness!
by Kristin Battestella

Well there’s no time like a spring birthday to give some respect to the quiet greatness that is Gregory Peck, is there not?

Captain Horatio Hornblower – I feel like I’m going to say too little about this 1951 adaption of the original C.S. Forester Hornblower trilogy simply because I want to say so much!  Yes, a significant but saucy portion of the Flying Colours novel is avoided- a fifties hero such as dear Gregory would never have a French affair!  Nevertheless, director Raoul Walsh (They Died with Their Boots On) wonderfully combines the spirit and adventure of Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line with vivid globe hoping naval action, great ship designs, and some good old sea faring flair.  And Peck portrays the introverted and often melancholy Hornblower smashingly!  It’s not an easy role to play thanks to the written complexity and inner angst, but Big GP adds layers of charm, subtly, and a hint of humanity while being no less masculine and badass. Upon seeing this film as a kid, I loved it so much that I up and got obsessed with the literary Hornblower, and they remain some of my most favorite books twenty years later!  Now, if only Virginia Mayo (White Heat) wasn’t such an inferior miscasting as Lady Barbara, but at least we have a dash of Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings) to make up the difference.

Duel in the Sun – Well well, Good Old Gregory is playing the villainous lothario for a change!  David O’Selznik’s notorious 1946 hot mess took every director and their grandma to complete, and it still thinks much too much more of itself than there actually is- narration, prelude, overture, exit music, and all. The latent thin line between love and rape and racism is all over the place, and an insipid, supposedly sexy Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette) and a limp Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane) contribute nothing.  A delightful and classy Lillian Gish (Birth of a Nation) is barely there, and Butterfly McQueen’s (Gone with the Wind) demeaned Vashti is a desperate and insulting attempt to akin to that greatness. While fans of the other cast can certainly tune in, in my mind, Gregory Peck is the only reason to see this picture.  Yes, it is tough to believe Our Man Gregory as the naughty boy to start, but the film is lifted whenever he’s onscreen.  The juicy ne’er do well Lewt is damn entertaining.  Hell, he’s even likeable and charismatic with his shameless self!  A must see for Peck devotees, even if you just fast-forward to his scenes.

To Kill a Mockingbird – I don’t suppose there is much more I can really say about this utterly exceptional 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee’s modern literary classic from Oscar nominated director Robert Mulligan (Fear Strikes Out) besides the greatness that’s already been said by everyone ever.  When one needs to cite a picture that is as perfect as its book source, look no further than this Best Adapted Screenplay winner.  I suspect The American Film Institute knows its stuff, and it named Peck’s Academy Award winning portrayal of single dad and Southern lawyer trying to do the right thing Atticus Finch as America’s Greatest Movie Hero of the 20th Century.  By gosh, if we only had a political candidate as special as Atticus!  You can watch this in the classroom when your young for Scout (Supporting Actress nominee Mary Badham, This Property is Condemned), Philip Alford’s Jem, and Boo Radley (The Godfather’s Robert Duvall in his debut). Then again, as an adult you can still shed a strong tear for Brock Peters (Star Trek IV) as the wrongfully accused Tom Robinson. This film is a must see to say the least, and if you need to read one book in your lifetime, this should be it. 

The Omen – Dashing diplomat Gregory Peck, a lovely Lee Remick (Days of Wine and Roses), wonderfully disturbing satanic chants, and Billie Whitelaw (Hot Fuzz) and Damien Harvey Stephens as the freakiest nanny and kid pair you’ll ever see! Maybe contemporary audiences might erroneously dismiss this 1976 quiet sinister because it’s not the slash and gore horror mess we so often churn out today. However, there are plenty of creeps, wicked deaths, and demonic shuddering still to be had here, with a perfectly tormented and fatherly GP caught in the crossfire. I don’t know why they bothered with a remake!  Seriously, who can replace Our Man Gregory? No one, and the slice and dice imitators completely fail against classy horror granddaddies like this. 

Roman Holiday – Reporter Peck- make that Best Foreign Actor BAFTA nominee Peck- woos the fish out of water Princess Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) in this romantic time capsule of 1953 filmmaking and Italian splendor. The black and white photography sometimes hinders the Edith Head (All About Eve) costumes and royal grandeur, but it’s still enchanting decoration nonetheless- and the accolades followed indeed. Though coming from an aristocratic background herself, Audrey’s Oscar winning debut is charming, delightful, and still relatable and endearing to audiences high and low almost sixty years on. Cap it off with Tall, Dark, and Handsome, and any viewer should be sold.

Spellbound – Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight, Anastasia) and a very young and charming Gregory Peck mix mystery, romance, nut houses, and psychoanalysis in this 1945 Alfred Hitchcock (Rebecca, Psycho) thriller questioning dreams and memory. Is our amnesiac Peck the killer? Surely no! Can gentle Bergman heal his mind before she’s the next victim? Exceptional performances by the leads, tight black and white direction and filmmaking by Hitchcock, and a great mystery with visual panache keeps this picture viewable-even after you know how it ends or watch it a dozen times.  This one is actually my favorite Gregory Peck film, and I am very biased- or couldn’t you tell?

Can’t get enough? Browse our Gregory Peck label for our previous reviews and stayed tuned for more. And be sure to keep up with Flix Chatter's ongoing Peck praise! Until then, here are a few more screen captures from Duel in the Sun to tide you over!

03 April 2012

A Few Religious Biographies

A Trio of Religious Treats
By Kristin Battestella

Even during Holy Week ahead of Easter and Passover, it seems increasingly tougher to find quality religious documentaries, debates, and films on television anymore.  Here’s a quick trio of Christian biographies to tide the spiritual over this April.

Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador – I thought this would be a little 45-minute biography with all the evangelist fixtures and staple speakers, but no.  This 2-hour 2006 special hosted by David Frost begins with Graham’s humble childhood- full of baseball, Tarzan, and a lack of academics- and continues through his early ministry along with the romance with his late wife Ruth Bell Graham. The founding principles of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association are discussed as well, as are later massive revivals and the ups and downs of global politics.  Great archival photographs and footage anchor the narration along with interviews with family, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, and the famed such as George H.W. Bush.  Wow, it is so surprising to see early color video of Graham, and the subtitles go far for those who can’t quite understand those thick North Carolina sounds.  There’s also a lovely score throughout the piece that I must say adds a very bittersweet, rousing little touch. Though long, the show is divided into chapters, presenting a streamlined approach useful for a classroom or study group discussion.  New interviews with the titular man himself would have added a more personal or insightful angle, and some sensitive politics with US presidents aren’t too heavily touched upon either. However, with such a vast life and religious issues to discuss, God’s Ambassador balances the individual faith, the missions against communism, and evangelism in foreign lands through the decades quite well.  Lengthy bonus features from Bill Gaither, Frost, and Franklin Graham are also included on the video, offering more great music, crusade footage, and insightful interviews to cap off the set.

Joan of Arc – Looking more lovely than ever, Oscar Winner Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Spellbound, Anastasia) battled for this 1948 biopic with director Victor Fleming (Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind) and co-star Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac)- only to have her personal scandals overshadow the finely spiritual here.  Along for the spectacle ride is a huge ensemble including John Ireland (Red River), Ward Bond (Wagon Train), and Gene Lockhart (Miracle on 34th Street).  Although the colorful sets are a touch towards forties fakery, angelic choirs, lofty candles, big church art, fancy scrolls, and Cecil B.- esque narration add to the grandiose scope. The costumes are also a little plain, with lots of veils and hennins, and some sequences are too slow and dry with a windblown feeling to it all. And let’s not forget, a 33 year old Bergman is just a bit too old to play a teenage saint.  Thankfully, she’s in Best Actress nominee form of course.  The battle scenes are also well played and paced, and the newly released unedited version is a must for the full appreciation of the picture.  I wouldn’t normally applaud the poorly chopped up 100 minute edition, but this shorter version might also be worthy for a classroom analysis. Now, one might notice similarities to 1999’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. We have the same person of interest, sure, and there’s a modern, fast-paced gore and action vibe tying the latter all together- unlike the reverent and somber feeling here. However, some of the scenes from Milla Jovovich and Luc Besson’s recent biopic seem more than just homage.  I’ve researched, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a connection or any official or unintentional remaking of the Joan of Lorraine source play.  Bergman fans or Joan enthusiasts, however, might enjoy a study or comparison and revisit.  

The Song of Bernadette – Best Actress winner Jennifer Jones (Duel in the Sun) leads this inspirational 1943 tale alongside Charles Bickford (The Big Country), Anne Revere (A Place in the Sun), and Vincent Price (The Pit and the Pendulum).  My Mom swears by this movie, and despite my ongoing dislike of Jones, this is indeed her best work.  Youthful and innocent, Jones holds her own against the young suave and skeptical legalese of Imperial Prosecutor Price and more nasty adults with her soft honesty and subtle words. Even if Jones is also too old and doe eyed, we believe in Bernadette’s purity- and it’s ironic Jones had a behind the scenes’ scandal as well.  We’re slow to start with repetitive dialogue and it all feels overlong at just over two and a half hours, but the lovely little story here is well filmed with beautiful somber music to accent it all. Yes, it’s obviously pro Catholic and lays on the bias and sentiment- but what’s wrong with having a little faith?  The Victorian strict attitudes and poor tough times are also laid on thick against Bernadette- only the fine Priest Bickford supports her- and the period French touches succumb to liberties taken with the forties Americanization.  Fortunately, the miracle portrayals are perfectly done with abstract Lady Linda Darnell (The Mark of Zorro and another scandalous woman!) None of the reverence is hokey at all in comparison to the snotty family and disbelieving folk.  The Lourdes events are handled with respect as natural and realistic, believable and yet still divine without being a fantastic spectacle.  Wow! It’s all still special as miracles obviously are, and yet audiences today might find it somewhat strange that Bernadette’s elders would think her an insane or bad child.  Again, this adaptation is fine for a mature CCD debate or Sunday School classroom.  We have religious controversies, sure, but the sincerity and truth onscreen is evident here.

As to Passover, you can read a quick review of my favorite The Ten Commandments here – and look for our new analysis on the blu-ray edition soon!