Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Movie Review: Mulholland Drive (2001)

A Hollywood mystery, Mulholland Drive throws plenty of style and inconsequential abstractions at the screen.

In Hollywood, an unknown woman who later adopts the name Rita (Laura Elena Harring) survives an abduction and a car crash along Mulholland Drive, but loses her memory. She takes refuge in a temporarily empty apartment, where soon the perky Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives, a newcomer to town intent on starting her Hollywood career.

Film director Adam (Justin Theroux) is having a bad day. He is forced by shadowy financiers to cast an actress he does know as the lead in his new movie, then he catches his wife cheating with the poolman and is thrown out of his own home.

Meanwhile, Rita and Betty become friends, and find a large amount of cash and a mysterious blue key in Rita's handbag. She starts having memory flashes, which lead the pair to a grisly discovery. Betty also nails her first audition, and briefly meets Adam. But Rita and Betty's troubles are just starting, and two other women called Diane and Camilla will enter the picture.

A rejected television pilot expanded into an incomprehensible mess of a feature film, Mulholland Drive is two thirds of a decent movie. Director and writer David Lynch conjures up a Hollywood dream/nightmare combination in the story of naive but talented Betty meeting the dark and damaged Rita. The initial 90 minutes, while containing plenty of dead-ends, abandoned incidents and characters meant to be developed later in the television series, offers plenty of promise, despite the cheap amnesia plot device.

Beyond the bounds of the rejected material, Lynch slaps on a further 45 minutes of dream-like, barely coherent concepts, and takes Mulholland Drive to the land of impenetrable theory where any explanation goes and none are satisfactory. The carefully constructed plot is all but abandoned, actresses Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring take on new roles, and the movie wanders off into mythology of its own making.

The parts of the film that make sense are infused with a smooth vibe and play on the metaphor of Hollywood as a field of dreams with a dark underbelly. The less coherent portions are all about the distorted haze of broken dreams, shattered promises and betrayal most foul. While there is some fun to be had in kicking around diverse interpretations, the totality of the film is disrespectful in its cavalier attitude towards its own characters and events.

By the end of the seemingly endless 146 minutes the pieces of Mulholland Drive lie scattered on the boulevard of broken dreams. The puzzle can be assembled into any number of pictures, but they are all distorted by bumptious storytelling.

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Monday, 22 April 2019

Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

A social drama with an embedded crime thriller, Nocturnal Animals is a complex and gripping multi-layered experience.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) manages an art gallery and is trapped in an icy cold and disintegrating marriage with the cheating Hutton (Armie Hammer). She receives a book manuscript titled Nocturnal Animals from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Intrigued to find the book dedicated to her, she starts reading.

The novel recounts the fictional story of Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenaged daughter India (Ellie Bamber). While on a long road trip in rural western Texas they tangle on the highway with a group of thugs led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The horrifyingly violent episode ends with Tony humiliated and separated from his abducted family. Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) is assigned to find the two missing women and apprehend the perpetrators.

Susan is entranced by the novel, and recalls her relationship with Edward from initial courtship to the stress of a young marriage, finding parallels between the novel and their troubled history.

Seamlessly unfolding within three different frames, Nocturnal Animals weaves multiple interlinked stories with effortless ease. Director and writer Tom Ford displays a deft touch to stretch delicate threads between Susan's current and past lives and the fiction in her hands written by her ex-husband. The film is both a baroque composition and a revenge thesis, and works brilliantly in both contexts.

While superficially Susan's marriage-gone-wrong should have little in common with a crime-most-foul and a lust for revenge in the Texas desert, she senses the unsettling connection early. The raw power in Edward's story revealing the insecurities and anguish in alter ego Tony's heart carry unmistakable resonance, leading Susan to question where and how she steered her life. She carries guilt related to how the relationship with Edward ended, and the novel creates an opportunity to both make amends and rediscover her soulmate's trajectory.

Ford portrays Susan's current status in soulless darkness, and uses blues, blacks, shiny surfaces and not an item out of place to convey a perfectly empty life. In contrast Tony Hastings' nightmare burns in the Texas sun, grand skies, yellows and reds engulfing the rage at his own weakness and a passion to finally step forth and be counted.

Nocturnal Animals features four outstanding performances. Amy Adams covers plenty of terrain from a young woman in love to an emotionally stifled gallery manager passing the point of caring about her second husband's cheating antics. Jake Gyllenhaal plays two separate but related roles as the sensitive first husband Edward and the flawed family man Tony.

Michael Shannon stands as tall as Texas, a detective with unique methods and a personal agenda. And finally Aaron Taylor-Johnson creates a cinematic monster for the ages in Ray Marcus, barely in control of any emotion and willing to improvise his actions on the fly in response to juvenile provocations real or perceived. Together the four actors create unforgettable dynamics and textured characters feeding off each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Ford plays with the theme of personal growth towards directions predicted and potentially unwanted. Susan's worst nightmare is to grow into her calculating mother (Laura Linney, expertly stealing her one scene), but there she is, giving up on her dreams and seeking the shallow pampered life at the expense of happiness. Edward was always the romantic type, just as likely to live in poverty as he is to write a seminal novel, and his brilliance now rests in Susan's hands. She both gave up on him and inspired his greatest achievement, and his creativity will again seep into her life, and not always as she expects.

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Movie Review: Pet Sematary (2019)

A horror film about meddling with life after death, Pet Sematary offers chilling ambiance but is over-reliant on traditional jump scares.

In search of a slower pace and more family time, Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) relocates his life from Boston to rural Maine. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), nine year old daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and infant son Gage are initially happy with the transition, although the massive trucks speeding along the nearby country road are disconcerting. Rachel harbours deep guilt from childhood over the gruesome death of her sister. Her mood is not improved when the family discover a spooky pet cemetery in the woods behind their new home.

Meanwhile, Louis starts work at a local clinic and experiences a disturbing incident when a young man dies violently but appears to haunt Louis with talk of calamities to come. When Ellie's pet cat Church expires, grizzled neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) guides Louis to haunted grounds beyond the cemetery where whatever is buried comes back alive. Louis takes a chance to try and bring Church to life, starting a violent chain of unintended consequences.

The 1983 Stephen King novel was first adapted to the screen in 1989. Thirty years later, co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer working from a Jeff Buhler script recreate King's vision of a forbidden yet tempting place where willing humans have the ability to experiment with regenerating life. The film is effective in creating a bleak mood with death haunting the family's past and present. A steady start introduces the family dynamics and their ominous new surroundings, and once Lewis' patient dies quickly followed by Ellie's cat, the second half offers a tightening grip of unrelenting horror.

Pet Sematary delves into themes of persistent guilt casting a lifelong shadow. Rachel blames herself for the traumatic death of her deformed sister at a young age, an incident replayed and leveraged by Kölsch and Widmyer to good effect. Back in the present Lewis is overwhelmed with guilt when things start going wrong for the family he relocated to new surroundings, increasing the dark appeal of meddling with nature in a desperate attempt to set things right.

And the film does find a focus on the intoxicating magnetism of controlling life and death. Jud is honest about the inexorable pull of the haunted soils. The ramifications of meddling with the dead are not all good, and yet the enormous power to reinstate life cannot be resisted, especially when combined with human emotional failings and the medical imperative to save lives even when all seems lost.

While the story offers plenty of opportunities for interpretation, on the screen Kölsch and Widmyer resort to relatively safe and traditional genre elements. Things go bump in the night, doors creek, the wind howls, and intimidating creatures make sudden appearances from the shadows. It's all reasonably effective, but also quite predictable.

Pet Sematary may not break much new ground, but does place a worthwhile marker in familiar territory.

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Sunday, 21 April 2019

Movie Review: Us (2019)

A home invasion horror film, Us offers creepy thrills and astute commentary about the American dream.

As a young girl, Adelaide had a bad experience at the spooky mirror-filled funhouse on the Santa Cruz beach, where she bumped into an exact look-alike. More than 20 years later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is now married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) with two kids of her own, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). During a vacation trip to the family's rustic summer home Adelaide's anxieties are reawakened when Gabe insists the family spend a day at the Santa Cruz beach.

Her mood is not helped when she spots the funhouse still standing, and she momentarily loses sight of Jason. But things get a lot worse that night when a family of four lookalikes shows up at the Wilson's doorstep. The vacation turns to horror when the lookalikes invade the house, and Adelaide's worst fears are realized.

Us toys with the concept that everyone has a doppelganger, and combines it with the American Dream as a zero-sum game. Every success is mirrored and tethered by an equivalent failure, and maybe one day, the failures will rise up and demand their share. Here director and writer Jordan Peele has the invading hordes dressed in red jumpsuits, emerging from subterranean tunnels, and generally unable to speak. But they are capable of extreme violence, causing societal anarchy and joining hands across the country.

Through Adelaide's complex character Peele explores the fragility of the human experience, where life's trajectory towards misery or happiness is dictated by one childhood incident. And he may also be more broadly commenting on the United States ("Us"), where haves and have-nots can pretend to exist in separate worlds, but eventually (and maybe now), both the delusion and the peace will shatter with the downtrodden rising to seize control.

Peele does pack his film with sketched-in content, from a preponderance of bunnies to government experiments gone awry and years-in-the-making but barely explained plans hatched in tunnels, passing through the remarkable ability of the tethered revolutionaries to repeatedly come back from the dead. It's all fodder for thought and theories, but also an indication of some lack of writing discipline.

But Us is an otherwise enjoyable romp, combining an overall creepy mood with occasional jump scares and a mean streak of humour. Peele makes excellent use of the vacation home's hidden nooks, the aways unsettling funhouse with too many mazes and mirrors, and recurring symbols from black flag T-shirts to Jeremiah 11:11 references.

And when the time comes to unleash mayhem, Adelaide and her family rise to the challenge, the film's final act veering towards bloody action with even the kids getting into the act of self-preservation. Because everyone has a role in repelling the barbarians at the gate, especially if the barbarians are us.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Movie Review: Detroit (2017)

A drama about race-fuelled tensions erupting into violence and murder, Detroit recreates a chapter of history that still carries powerful resonance.

It's 1967 in Detroit. Tensions are high in the black-dominated inner-city. A raid on an illegal nightclub by the all-white police force triggers violent street rioting and looting, and the national guard is deployed to support the Detroit police. Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) is trigger-happy police officer not beyond shooting rioters in the back.

Caught up in the chaos is security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega). Being black but also a figure of authority, he walks a fine line to try and maintain the peace. The aspiring R&B band The Dramatics is hoping for their big break, with lead singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) poised for stardom. But the rioting interrupts their first big concert, and Reed and his friend Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) take refuge at the Algiers Motel where they meet Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), two white girls who may be prostitutes.

Vietnam veteran Karl Greene (Anthony Mackie) is also at the hotel, as is the confrontational Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) and his group of friends. When Carl fires harmless starter pistol shots out of the window, the police descend on the hotel with Krauss as the lead officer. The subsequent stand-off and brutal police interrogation leaves three people dead and a trail of unanswered questions.

Based on real events, Detroit reexamines a distressing episode in American race relations. The  murder of three black men at the Algiers Motel by white authority figures is another appalling milestone when black lives did not matter, and decades later the country continues to grapple with some of the same tragic fault lines.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are broadly successful in creating the larger social context, and Detroit effectively conveys a city core where the predominantly black population clings to hope against an overwhelming wave of despair. The heavy handed enforcement tactics force a tipping point, unleashing anarchy that swallows up neighbourhoods in fires fuelled by rage. As in any urban war zone, most of victims are the innocents caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bigelow is less effective in rounding out her characters. At over 2 hours and 20 minutes, Detroit would have benefitted from tighter editing, fewer incidental distractions and more focus on the people at the centre of the drama. Security guard Dismukes and singer Reed come closest to resonating, but still suffer from shallow definition.

As the centrepiece to the film, Bigelow stages the raid on the Algiers Motel as an agonizing nightmare unfolding in the searing pace of life-defining events perceived in real time as never ending. The cruel heartlessness of officer Krauss and his colleagues as they toy with the lives of black men (and two white women), deciding who lives who dies, is a harrowing cinematic achievement.

For all the lessons to be learned from the Algiers Motel murders, Detroit is unfortunately both essential history and regrettably close to continued reality.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Movie Review: Dead Ringers (1988)

A psychological drama with some gory elements, Dead Ringers flirts with unsettling topics related to anatomy, gynecology and identical twins behaving badly, but fades precipitously in the second half.

In Toronto, identical twin brothers Elliot and Bev Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons) grew up sharing everything. Now successful gynecologists specializing in fertility treatments, they jointly run a clinic and live together in a sleek flat. Elliott is confident and brash; Bev is more introverted. The brothers are not beyond surreptitiously interchanging identities and sharing women. When Elliot starts seeing actress and clinic patient Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), he offers Bev the opportunity to attend some of the dates. Claire is none the wiser that she is having sex with two different men.

Claire has unusual gynecological anatomy which Bev finds fascinating. Gradually Bev and Claire start to fall in love, creating a wedge in the close brotherly relationship. Claire also introduces Bev to drugs, and he is soon addicted to uppers and downers. Claire starts to suspect Bev is keeping some truths from her, and when secrets are revealed both brothers have to deal with grim consequences.

The first half of Dead Ringers sets up nicely. With Jeremy Irons in sparkling form acting opposite himself and director/co-writer David Cronenberg gradually unspooling a story of twins effectively sharing one psyche, the film appears pregnant with possibilities. With only a slight adjustment in hairstyle to differentiate the brothers, many scenes sparkle with initial identity doubt. Combined with an unhealthy obsession with women's reproductive systems and the instruments used in gynecological examinations and surgeries, Dead Ringers appears destined to soar.

Unfortunately, Cronenberg's cinematic vision stalls, withers and then just slumps in the second half. Claire is sidelined and essentially the film degenerates into a slow one-actor two-character descent into self-destruction and depression. Irons is never less than terrific charting the two brothers being slowly crushed as the world emotionally and physically closes in on them. But his talents are not enough, and Cronenberg runs out of ideas and into a series of discrete dead ends.

A sojourn to the gallery of an instrument-making artist is an excuse for some imaginative tools and surgery gore, Elliot's latest companion Cary (Heidi von Palleske) sleepwalks in and out of a few scenes, and the drugs occupy ever increasing screen space. None of the haphazard plot elements amount to much as the brothers' personal and professional lives unravel in unison and along a dreary linear path.

Within the narrative void and pretty visuals plenty of interpretations are possible, including the layered contradictions of immature men being simultaneously fascinated, perplexed and manipulative of the women who provide them with life. But Dead Ringers strips down too far, the fate of the brothers predictably conjoined and inexorably turning dark, just as surely as the energy seeps out of a film that starts smart but stumbles well before the end.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Movie Review: Z (1969)

A political conspiracy thriller, Z delves into the sordid world of government plots to silence dissent by any means necessary.

An unnamed country, presumed to be Greece, is governed by shadowy right-wing military types operating a pseudo-democracy and proclaiming independence from any ideology. An opposition left-leaning pacifist parliamentarian known as the Deputy (Yves Montand) arrives at a countryside town to make a speech, despite death threats. He and his handlers are stymied in trying to find a venue, eventually settling for a union hall and installing speakers to broadcast into an adjacent public square.

Supporters, agitators, and ranks of police officers congregate. After delivering the speech the Deputy is assaulted by two hired goons, severely injured and rushed to hospital. His wife Helene (Irene Papas) is numbed by the incident, while surgeons fight to save her husband's life. The Examining Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) starts a methodical investigation, and despite pressure to sweep the incident under the carpet he doggedly pursues all available leads to uncover proof of a plot.

Based on the 1963 attack on Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis and the subsequent investigation by respected Magistrate (and later Greek President) Christos Sartzetakis, Z (a Greek graffiti symbol for "he lives", used in reference to Lambrakis) is a hard-hitting, expertly crafted condemnation of dirty politics. Director and co-writer Costa-Gavras creates an environment of gritty street tension dominated by a government determined to maintain it's version of discipline, and opposed by a small group of idealistic politicians and journalists willing to take disproportionate risks.

In government offices bands of sweaty men (and they are all men) representing the military, police and intelligence services of the ruling junta nonchalantly concoct versions of the truth to best suit their needs, using a combination of indoctrination, intimidation, bureaucracy, truth reimagination and goon squad tactics to maintain control. Stuffed into unearned uniforms adorned with cheap medals, the rulers' audacity and layering of lies is Orwellian in scope, as the machinery of the state extends to every street corner.

Into this dark nightmare steps the Magistrate, a man intent on serving justice despite government intentions, and empowered by an ethical code above any oppressive directive. With star names Yves Montand and Irene Papas enjoying smallish roles, it is Jean-Louis Trintignant who finally occupies the heart of Z. As the unflappable and bespectacled Magistrate he becomes the irresistible force pushing against the immovable wall, under no illusions as to the limits of his power but willing to let evidence speak for itself.

Costa-Gavras uses flashbacks, multiple perspectives of the same key incidents, quick edits, sly humour and short scenes to bring plenty of dynamism into the movie. The staging of some of the action scenes lands on the slightly clunky side, but otherwise Z is crafted to chase events into a rage. Eternally relevant as an exposition of powermongers controlling the state apparatus, Z lives on as a faint flicker of hope.

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Saturday, 13 April 2019

Movie Review: The Constant Nymph (1943)

A love triangle featuring a subdued underaged romance, The Constant Nymph offers plodding treatment of a controversial subject.

In Belgium, classical music composer Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) learns that his most recent composition was performed in London and flopped. In need of fresh inspiration, he relocates to the rural Swiss mountain farm of his friend and music aficionado Albert Sanger (Montagu Love). Albert is in ailing health, but his four spirited teenaged daughters are excited to welcome Lewis. In particular, Tessa (Joan Fontaine) harbors a deep crush, and hopes that one day Lewis will notice her, although she suffers from a weak heart and fainting spells.

But Lewis meets Tessa's sophisticated older cousin Florence Creighton (Alexis Smith) and they quickly get married, crushing Tessa's hopes. The extended family relocates to the London home of Florence's wealthy father Charles (Charles Coburn). Tessa and her sister Paula (Joyce Reynolds) are hustled off to a boarding school, while Lewis starts resenting Florence's conceited lifestyle and friends. When Tessa moves back into the Creighton house, the smoldering passion between her and Lewis becomes undeniable, igniting Florence's fury.

An adaptation of a novel and play by Margaret Kennedy, The Constant Nymph was out of general circulation for close to 70 years after initial release. Turner Classic Movies reached agreement with Kennedy's estate and the restored film re-emerged for broadcast in 2011. This 1943 version was already Hollywood's third take on the book, after adaptations in 1928 and 1933.

With the Lolita-like difficult subject matter of a fourteen year-old girl-woman dreamily lusting after a much older man who eventually awakens to her love and reciprocates (here in words only), director Edmund Goulding deserves credit for steering a steady path away from sordid implications. An overall sense of blandness helps, and Boyer rather flatly portrays Lewis as mostly oblivious to Tessa's passion until late, generally treating her as a younger ardent sister.

Fontaine, at 26 years old, does her best with unconstrained physical mannerisms to portray a barefoot farm-raised young teenager, but she can only do so much. On the screen Tessa is never anything other than an accomplished actress pretending to be a girl.

A stage director before moving to films, Goulding settles for lumbering theatricality and uninspired camerawork. Many of the scenes slowly sink due to length and listless talkiness. Somewhat saving the day is Alexis Smith in fine form as Florence Creighton. Finally here is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it, but who also pays the price for the hurriedness with which she snags Lewis. Florence emerges as the most emotionally involved woman, and her struggle to control her rage and not lose her man gives The Constant Nymph some verve.

The cast also includes Brenda Marshall as Tessa's oldest sister Toni, and a rather wasted Peter Lorre as Toni's shifty suitor then husband Fritz.

Kennedy infuses the relationship between Tessa and Lewis with an inspirational subtext to soften the troublesome age difference. Wise well beyond her years and inspired by her father, Tessa deduces Lewis will only unleash his musical creativity when he finds true love and experiences heartache. The Constant Nymph follows a predictable narrative path to misery as a gateway to inspiration. Pity the film itself is more stilted than imaginative.

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Friday, 12 April 2019

Movie Review: Band Of Angels (1957)

A Civil War drama, Band Of Angels is stranded between old and new representations of racism and eventually falls between the cracks.

In Kentucky just before the Civil War, Amantha Starr (Yvonne DeCarlo) is the daughter of a cotton plantation owner who is unusually kind to his slaves. Upon her father's death, Amantha is shocked to discover her mother was a slave, and so therefore she is half negro. Brutal slave traders holding her father's debts immediately capture and ship her to New Orleans, where wealthy businessman Hamish Bond (Clark Gable) buys her at auction for $5,000.

Hamish owns multiple properties and treats all his slaves with dignity, and indeed has raised Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier) as a son, but Amantha remains unsure what Hamish wants from her. Eventually a romance develops between them and he offers her freedom, but she elects to stay. Hamish is hiding dark secrets about his past, while various other suitors enter Amantha's life as she struggles with her identity. The eruption of the Civil War severely disrupts Hamish's business, while Rau-Ru finds the dream of true freedom within grasp.

Based on the book by Robert Penn Warren, Band Of Angels deserves some credit for adopting a relatively enlightened stance and featuring multiple dignified black characters carving out a place in a shifting societal landscape. Sidney Poitier's outspoken Rau-Ru is the most prominent, but the intriguing Michele (Carolle Drake) is another of Hamish's slaves grappling with loosely defined captivity, the complications of freedom, and quiet infatuation.

Despite the good intentions, Band Of Angels stumbles and stalls rather than building momentum. Director Raoul Walsh is unable to ever ignite the film as it trundles from scene to scene with little passion. The intention to duplicate the grand drama of Gone With The Wind with more modern sensibilities is clear, but Band Of Angels does not come close to replicating the grandeur of the 1939 classic. Neither the writing nor the acting are at the requisite level, and indeed many scenes unfold with a stiff and artificial theatricality.

Walsh and writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts also manage to fumble the most pertinent discussions around racism. Amantha openly resents her blackness, Rau-Ru is angry at everything, and Hamish's relative kindness appears to stem from embers of guilt rather than any core belief. Although Gable is absent from large chunks of the film, Hamish's dark background is by far the most compelling aspect of the story, and Band Of Angels would have greatly benefited from showing samples of his formative years. Instead Walsh leans heavily on Gable, who is excellent, to recall the past, reducing the film to plenty of talking and spurning the opportunity for a more powerful cinematic experience.

Elsewhere, and between bouts of self-hate, Amantha too easily falls in love with every man who sets eyes on her. There is a fiery preacher and ardent believer in freedom, a handsome military type, the gruff Hamish, and a slimy next-door plantation owner. They take turns abusing and rescuing her, not necessarily in that order, as Band Of Angels desperately tries to define itself. In search of stability and fulfilment Amantha wastes too much time purring at the wrong targets, much like the film itself.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Movie Review: Hawaii (1966)

A historical epic about Christian missionaries, Hawaii aims for a spectacular scope but has to settle for competently stodgy.

It's 1819 in New England, and the strictly idealistic Calvinist Reverend Abner Hale (Max von Sydow) heeds the call from Hawaii's Prince Keoki (Manu Tupou) and volunteers for a Christian mission to the islands. The Reverend Dr. Thorn (Torin Thatcher) insists that Abner first get married, and connects him with the eligible Jerusha (Julie Andrews), the daughter of church member Charles Bromley (Carroll O'Connor).

Jerusha is still nursing a heart broken by whaler Captain Rafer Hoxworth, who loved her and abandoned her. After a brief and awkward courtship she agrees to marry the stiff and clumsy Abner. They travel to Hawaii on an arduous sea journey including traversing the Magellan Strait. Upon arrival they are welcomed by Keoki's mother Malama (Jocelyne LaGarde), the local ruler considered sacred by the natives.

As per tradition to preserve the purity of bloodlines Malama is married to her brother Kelolo (Ted Nobriga), one of many examples of adultery and incest that Abner immediately starts raging against. Jerusha is more patient and teaches Malama how to write, while Abner builds his first church and slowly starts to exert influence, although changing deeply entrenched local customs proves difficult. Abner and Jerusha start a family, but further complications arise when Captain Hoxworth (Richard Harris) appears in Hawaii and reinitiates his romantic pursuit of Jerusha.

An adaptation of one chapter from James A. Michener's 1959 book, Hawaii is ambitious in scope and proficient in execution but hamstrung by dry subject matter and an aloof protagonist. The beautiful scenery and grand Elmer Bernstein music score ensure a base level of entertainment. But the story of humourless missionaries browbeating locals into redefining themselves as worthless sinners is grating.

While Julie Andrews receives top billing after achieving stratospheric success in The Sound Of Music, Jerusha is very much the secondary character. Instead the script by Daniel Taradash and Dalton Trumbo chooses Reverend Abner Hale as the focal point. His uncompromising view of the world and Bible-thumping attitude defines the fire and brimstone style of proselytizing, and makes for an exceptionally dour central character. Three hours is a long time to spend with anyone, but three hours with Abner are more than enough to capitulate and buy whatever he is selling just to avoid his continued wrath.

Relatively unknown at the time, director George Roy Hill replaced Fred Zinnemann and was himself reportedly fired and rehired several times during the course of the troubled production. To his credit, Hill does tease out the agonies (including loss of culture and rampant diseases) experienced by the natives due to the missionary invasion, and raises questions as to whether the locals ultimately benefited from welcoming and trusting the social and religious fundamentalists.

With Max von Sydow in full preacherman mode, it is left to Andrews to prove she can handle dramatic roles. She effortlessly passes the test in the two key scenes, first Jerusha explaining to Abner intimacy's place in marriage, and much later awakening him (somewhat) to the power of love over dogma.

Native Tahitian Jocelyne LaGarde earned an Academy Award nomination for her one and only screen role as Malama, who injects much needed spirit whenever she is on the screen despite LaGarde knowing any English and reciting her lines phonetically. As Abner will spend a lifetime learning, sometimes what matters is not what needs to be said, but how the message is conveyed.

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