Tuesday, January 30, 2007




(appears at number 82 in my top 100 and should be higher!)

I saw this again (for the first time) last week and I almost didnt feel worthy to review it. I don't claim to be all that knowledgeable or scholarly but one thing I do have is faith. I believe that faith means more than anything else and this movie speaks to that side of me.
Sir Thomas More was next in line to be Chancellor of England and was a dear friend of Henry VIII. His advice was second to none, for the king, and their friendship was boundless...or so it seemed. As we all know from history class, King Henry VIII was first married to Catherine of Aragon and though he sired four children thru this marriage, none of the sons survived, leading King Henry, desperate for an heir, to seek an 'out'. The means to and end came in the form of the charming and coquettish Anne Boleyn (herself ill fated but the fact of which is not touched upon in this movie) . King Henry became infatuated with her and more and more certain that their marriage would result in his heir. The only way a divorce could be granted, however, was with the sanction of the church. Fortunately for his majesty, the majority of the church and court officials had no morality to speak of. The king was able to obtain the title of Supreme Head of the Church and secure an easy divorce. Opposition did arise from unexpected places, however. Sir Thomas More was not going to buckle under the pressure of his counterparts. He knew his bible and he had faith in God. And he knew the divorce was not scriptural. Because of the circumstances, he refused to sign a proclamation stating that he acceeded to the divorce or the King's assumation of Head of the Church of England. This lead to his eventual execution.

Paul Scofield was born to play the role of More. The natural gravity of his countenance is so perfectly balanced with the levity of his eyes and the beauty of his voice. One gets the immediate impression that loyalty to God has not resulted in a solem shell of a man. He has a family and he enjoys life. He also never claims to be a bible scholar, just a simple man w/ a mountain of faith. And the principles of his Lord are very clear to him so that he is genuinely shocked that others can so easily blur the lines. Throughout the rendering of this story, it is interesting to note that Sir Thomas never desires to be a martyr. He tries very hard to stay free of the political decision he is faced with and never says a word of condemnation against his king. The reasons behind his refusal to sign the proclamation are never stated openly and as he is schooled in the field of law, he knows that this should protect him from incrimination. Even when faced with prison and the sorrow of his family, he maintains his stand for truth-with a very positive outlook. He is absolutely sure that his release is inevitable and refuses to believe that his friend, the king, will turn on him absolutely. It is with consternation that he looks upon the court as they perjure themselves in order to obtain a scentence of execution against him.

Zinneman never attempts to make this a movie about religion. It is about principal and the high price of morality in the face of opposition. He molds his cast into a group of well rounded characters that we can all learn from, as different as they are believable. The supporting players lend great depth to this drama as well. They consist of Orson Welles as a sinister Cardinal, Susannah York as More's intelligent and trusting daughter, Wendy Hiller as his bitter, resentful, but loyal wife, and the scenery-chewing Robert Shaw as Henry VIII himself. Vanessa Redgrave offers a cameo as Anne Boleyn and even without lines, she makes an impression... little wench. A final scene between More and his family will almost undoubtedly move one to tears...I don't know anyone who isnt affected by it.

I personally think that minority relgious groups who believe in pleasing God despite government pressures will benefit and identify the most with the movie. The plight of Thomas More may not be completely accurate by historical standards but it stays faithful to the basic idea, that the man died for his principals. And the fact that the movie is a wonderful cinematic achievement is just the icing on the proverbial cake.

Memorable Quote: (Sir Tomas More)-"Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

My Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

IKIRU (1952)


Akira Kurosawa is a master of Japanese cinema. Though Roshoman, Seven Samurai, and Ran may be the glitzier and more well known of his works, one cannot overlook the power of his quieter films. My personal favorite Kurosawa film is an underrated thriller entitled Hi and Lo but after seeing Ikiru, I'd have to rethink that perhaps. Kurosawa directed this story at the relatively tender age of 42 and I find myself amazed at his grasp on characterization, depth, and humanity at this point of his life. Acclaimed directors twice that age can envy his capability w/ such a subject and mourn the absence of such an achievement in their own lifetime, I'm sure. It's a life affirming and moving glance at what 'could have been' that we won't soon forget.
Kanji Watanabe is a longtime bureaucrat in a city office that has devoted his life to little else than the tedium of his occupation. He sits at a desk and stamps papers, sending them to other city departments for perusal and this is his life...all day and all year. Through the years, he has devoted so much time to this job that his relationship w/ his son has severely suffered and his memory of his dead wife has somewhat faded...leaving Kanji a virtual shell of a man. Things change, however, when he discovers that he has developed a severe stomach cancer and death is close at hand. Frantically, he begins to seek meaning in his life-searching everywhere and through everything. He turns to all of the typical avenues of release-booze, women, parties, excess-and eventually finds a solemn comfort in the companionship of a young female co-worker that seems to have the happiness and contentment he lacks. This relationship causes Kanji to see a side to himself that he never knew he had-which results in a wonderful revelation of character and some drastic changes in his life. After his death, we find that he has somehow been raised to the status of hero in his community.
Kurosawa's long-winded narrative can lag at points. I felt that there were a couple of scenes that seemed to go on a little long and facial expressions that were somewhat puzzling . But the ideas and morals of this story are timeless and told with love. The performance by Shimura is never less than miraculous-absolutley beautiful-heartbreakingly real. The emotion on his face is always completely astonishing and never fails to make an impact. His slow painful movements that never belie the physical ailment he suffers sit so precisely juxtaposed with his determined and almost panicked eyes that search so fanatically for an answer. And the supporting players are likewise memorable, bringing depth and realism to Kanji's journey. There is a song that appears at recurring moments in the movie that also lends and especially sweet mood to the scenes in which it appears. It's a tune that you will find yourself humming for hours after the film's completion.
Needless to say, I strongly recommend this movie. It is an excellent example of Kurosawa's skill and Shimura's talent while at the same time supplying a beautiful moral and enduring story. You will feel moved and determined to live your own life to its fullest, never taking family or time for granted.
Yes, there are some movies that accomplish worlds of good.
My rating-9/10