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Rewind Review: This is It

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

This it It (2009)

This is It is a documentary about the rehearsal process for Michael Jackson’s never-to-be-realized series of concerts in London, which were to have occurred starting this summer. It is the kind of documentary that is set up for success on many fronts whether it be financially, aesthetically or in sating a public’s curiosity.
Financially the success was almost guaranteed. Immediately following Jackson’s death his body of work went on to dominate the Billboard charts for weeks on end and the film has been no different climbing to top spot in the box-office. It is already sure to threaten as the highest grossing documentary of all-time and likely to receive an extension on its two-week limited release which was never likely to stay limited.

 
In terms of aesthetics the accomplishment is more a feat of content than appearance, of vision rather than framing. Much of the footage being full-frame grainy video proves the axiom that people will accept poor image quality before poor sound. The success of this film really lies in the third aspect in which it was successful which is in documenting an event that was to be and satisfying curiosity thereof.
The fact that the film was, in fact, finished is no small feat in and of itself. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to the footage for $50 Million in July and immediately went into post-production on it prepping it for this release date. As a technical feat it’s impressive no doubt but it has much to offer within that is worth seeing.

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The film starts with a rather personal approach showing us candid interviews with the dancers who were selected to partake in the show and they tell of their past somewhat, the audition process and what being in the show means to them. Soon after it goes into working on particular numbers and we are allowed to see the creative process at work both from Jackson’s perspective and in collaboration with director Kenny Ortega.
We see lighting get added, music being refined, film segments being shot against green screen and just a small taste of the epic scale that this series of concerts was to have and even on celluloid and without a live audience there to witness it, it’s rather impressive.
Perhaps the best part of the film is that it remains focused on the show on highlighting the numbers and the production, and what it couldn’t show through rehearsal footage it discussed in interviews, for example, costume pieces that were not yet complete like the “Billie Jean” costume. In zeroing in on the show it also didn’t lose focus on Jackson as an artist and even with a freeze frame and a title card at the end it didn’t get too bogged down in playing up a melodramatic and sensationalistic ending. If you want to draw parallels between the rehearsals and his tragic death you can but it is not a tabloid film, thankfully.
Resisting the temptation to give too much away allow this critic to say merely this: the best thing about this film when it was first announced seemed to be the fact that it seemed to be completing an unfinished work, or coming as close to doing so as humanly possible. The film does that and more so giving us a glimpse into what was likely to have been the biggest and best show the young century has seen.

Michael Jackson's "This Is It"
The concert series being designed to stay on one stage and not needing to travel made it a different creature entirely and this film showed how Jackson was taking his video ingenuity and bringing it to the stage and he was most definitely a driving force as the repeated conversations between him and Ortega throughout illustrate.
Unlike, some music docs that take you off stage, behind the scenes and into the personal lives of the artist, this was about the show. This film was about This is It and that’s it and that was more than enough. Despite the pace being a little slow in the middle it’s still a great ride.
8/10

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Short Film Saturday: The Heights (SC Featured)

It’s been too long since I did a Short Film Saturday. This short doc that first aired on Sportscenter, and I just watched it for the first time. It links into a vacation I just took (to Williamsport to the Little League World Series), which is only a small reason for my recent hiatus.

It shows not only the importance of youth programming but also how increased interaction between police and their communit can affect change. Enjoy!

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Mike Pence’s Mulan Problem

So, here I am again discussing another Disney reading – or rather a conspiracy theory. This one concerns Mulan and was proffered by newly-minted Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence when he was a conservative talk show host in Indiana. On his show’s site he penned an op-ed which postulated that Mulan was liberal propaganda, and, in his mind, proof that women should not serve in the armed forces.

The approach I will take to examining this claim is a mostly film theory based. He’s politicizing the apolitical and therefore I will keep most of my discussion focused on his assessments and whether they are truly contextualizing plot and themes correctly.

So let’s begin.

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It starts with the title of the piece (pictured at the bottom of this post): “Women in the Mulan Military.” It’s objectively nonsensical. In the film Mulan there is one woman in the military. She is not allowed to be in the military and poses as male. Or is the lack of proper italicizing to indicate that allowing women to serve “Mulans” our military? Which also makes no sense.

Lack of coherence in titling already paves the way for flawed reasoning.

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In a not-so-minor grammatical note he writes “Fathers Day.” Sorry. It’s Father’s Day. If you are a father it’s your day rather than the day of all fathers. Possessives are important. Already he’s not even made his point and I’m less likely to give any credence to his arguments.

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Then he claims the popularity of the film was all induced by McDonald’s. This gives you a sense of his understanding of the film industry. Disney animated films were on a hot-streak at the time, they always appeal to kids, and McDonald’s tie-in is the work of Disney Marketing not some insidious McDonald’s agenda. Furthermore, it shows his bias from the start. He’s not even synopsized the film yet.

In a film with an anthropomorphized dragon, a fictional creature to begin with, and a cricket in the same vein, he critiques the likelihood of Mulan’s military prowess:

Despite her delicate features and voice, Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts.

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Mulan and the voice actress who played her Ming-Na Wen

It’s uncertain how one can read that sentence any thing other than sexist. Apparently, Pence can suspend disbelief on common Disney tropes but a pretty girl who can fight is crazy. Not to mention the fact that this film establishes her as accident prone, and then does a traditional training montage to show the improvement of her martial skills. To Pence’s mind she has to look like G.I. Jane or a butch lesbian to be able to fight.

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If anything in this piece almost holds water it’s this next passage, but even that misses the mark:

Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military. I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)

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This is another case of vastly overrating the influence of media on reality. Apparently the integration of women in combat roles during the Gulf War or on combat ships in 1993 or flying combat missions during operation Desert Fox in 1998 doesn’t set-up a childhood expectation just movie about a Imperial Era Chinese girl, who goes only to protect her father and promptly quits when the war is over. That’ll get girls wanting to be in 21st Century wars they “shouldn’t be in.”

As for Bambi, I don’t know anything about deer hunting debates. I didn’t know they existed. I know there is a season for it and regulations around it. Maybe that’s an Indiana thing. Bambi, however, I do know. It was the first movie I remember seeing at the movies. Bambi’s mother’s death is scarring because it’s his mother not because it’s a deer taken down by a hunter. Hunters shoot deer. That’s a fact. In anthropomorphizing forest animals a logical assumption, divorced of political leanings, is that animals would fear hunters. If you think Walt Disney knowingly put liberal propaganda in his films, you don’t know enough about Walt Disney – which he probably doesn’t because even though this piece is from the late ’90s he refers to Walt Disney, the man who was dead more than 30 years, and not Disney, the company that bears his name. Lastly, people twist things up over time. Like the fact that the name Bambi is used almost exclusively for girls in real life even though Bambi in the film is a buck.

From there Pence goes on a tangent about scandals like Tailhook and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. His assessment: men and women stuff will happen. It’s classic victim blaming. It’s like saying “Well, if they weren’t in the military they wouldn’t have been raped and molested.” Try weeding out the rapists and molesters instead.

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When he ties it back to Mulan he states, in closing:

It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer! Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story. They likely added it because it added realism with which the viewer could identify with the characters. You see, now stay with me on this, many young men find many young women to be attractive sexually. Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Just like they eventually did for young Mulan. Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.

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Methinks methinks is a compound word.

As for the supposed irony, it’s irony that is informed by Pence’s sexist viewpoint. The subtext of that sentence is: a woman in the military either falls in love with her superior officer or is raped. Yes, there’s Disneyfication like the addition of animal sidekicks, and yes there is a romantic interest; however, that builds additional conflict (the key to drama) as to show one’s feelings could betray her gender, which she is hiding after all.

This is the same kind of knee-jerk reactionary propaganda decree that leads to people thinking Muppets want their children to be Communists or that Frozen will make their daughters lesbians.

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The film is actually one of the earliest feminist characters in the Disney pantheon. She takes matters into her own hands, is a non-conformist, and almost never allows herself to fall to the mercy of a patriarchal society. Pence’s oversimplified statement would make sense if we lived in a bygone era, but we don’t. Politics aside he misses the moral entirely. Mulan doesn’t join the military because she really wants to behead some Huns nor does it caution us about our daughters running off to fight wars incognito.

Mulan pleads for her father to be excused as he is aging and injured. This plea is rebuked. She runs off and takes her father’s place. She risks her freedom and life to protect him. It’s a story about courage, sacrifice, and the family value of honoring elders.

The story is set when it was first written in a poem in about the 5th century. It was a far more impressively progressive statement then than it is now. Apparently, some aren’t ready to come out of the 600s.

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June-ing the Cult: The Movie Rat and Zokkomon

When Bubbawheat was looking for some cultish films to watch in June, and when a foreign title was one of the qualifiers, I knew I’d have something to add. Some of his thoughts are in line with mine on Zokkomon (2011) but I added a blurb with my perspective a few years after seeing the film, and it’s always interesting to see someone’s fresh perspective. Check it out!

Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

Zokkomon 2011

My June-ing the Cult month is winding down as I get to my last two which are also the two most recent films in this line up. Over at the The Movie Rat, Bernardo suggested that I check out Zokkomon, which is only five years old at the moment and was actually distributed by Disney World Cinema. Aside from that, I had no idea what I was getting into other than I assumed there would be at least some musical numbers based on what little I’ve seen out of Bollywood. What I ended up getting was a weird mix of Batman, Harry Potter, with a little Matilda and even the Karate Kid thrown in for good measure. The high point was the colorful characters and the touch of a greater message that was only slightly heavy handed. Very fun film and easily recommended.

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Blu-Ray Review: City of the Dead (1960)

City of the Dead (1960)

It seems as if this film has always been plagued a bit by its title. Its original British title, which it now goes by everywhere, City of the Dead, sounds like many a zombie film through the ages rather than a tale about witches and witchcraft. Its original US title did not really serve a use, however, as Horror Hotel makes the film feel more schlocky and bloody than it is. What City of the Dead is is a story told in wholly Gothic, aggressively fog-laden style and quite effectively done.

On occasion this film is as transparent but highly enjoyable nonetheless. It features a narrative told with a truncated running time allows it an almost El Mariachi-like replicative structure. It kicks off with a great teaser that leads to an awesome introduction for the late great Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee in this film is given quite the interesting role to work with. It starts with an impassioned, excellently delivered monologue and builds in intrigue from there. While it’s not the largest of his roles it does much to buoy this film throughout. His presence grows to make an impression that belies the amount of screen time he’s allotted.

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With almost any work in the horror genre the score is a crucial piece of the puzzle, and this film, so dead set on creating atmosphere and so simple in its plotting clearly needs to succeed in this facet and does so to tremendous effect.

As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.

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This film works for what it wants to accomplish: a chilling, moody, Gothic witch tale and is well worth seeking out for the program alone but it even more worth it for fans and neophytes alike for the myriad bonus features the Blu-ray release includes such as:

Horror Hotel, the American Version of City of the Dead

Alternate cuts, even when they are shown to be inferior are always useful for learning.

Not one, not two, but three feature-length commentaries:

  • Bruce Hallenbeck
  • Actor Christopher Lee
  • Director John Moxey

Three interviews, which are lengthy:

  • Christopher Lee
  • Actor Venetia Stevenson
  • John Moxey

Plus:

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery
  • Liner Notes by Mike Kenny, Film Reviewer
  • English Subtitles

City of the Dead can be purchased directly from VCI or other online retailers such as Amazon.

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Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films, 1930-1960 by Laurence Raw

I originally got this book as a research volume, as such, I only read the entries that were strictly pertinent to the precise time I needed information on. The scope of this book was a bit larger, so I always knew I was likely to want to come back to it and finish it. Reading it as part of the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book was a no-brainer.

The first few items of note are how handy it is and how it is organized. It is, as described on the back cover, “a biographical dictionary,” so actors that fit the bill are indexed alphabetically and their films are discussed on an individual basis. In discussing films in the same genre there are many instances of repeated filmmakers (Roger Corman and Bert I. Gordon to name to). However, actors listed frequently cross paths as well and if they are discussed in someone else’s entry and have one of their own it is denoted with capital letters. You can come back to it and have fun cross-referencing actors and titles with the help of the index. The filmography is also handy if you want to create a checklist of titles to see (like on Letterboxd for example).

Dracula's Daughter (1936, Universal)

Some of the most important aspects to note, without giving too much away, is that Raw thankfully takes all film seriously in his analysis and astutely encapsulates a performer’s type so they become more familiar sight unseen, and conversely, ring true for actors you know well. When some films discussed are B-Grade or lower you don’t want the film browbeaten on an academic level. Ideally in reading a film insights and information you may not have known should be disseminated in and interesting way – and it is.

Readers should be forewarned that the film is presented using two-column pages. Depending on proclivity this may slow the pace down some but isn’t much of an encumbrance since the book can be read straight through or piecemeal.

It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958, MGM)

While the eras encompassed in this book are a few, the presence of horror and sci-fi and its persistence in reflecting changing norms and mores and reflecting the times closely is a constant that allows for some persistent theming even if there isn’t a narrative per se. Fans of the genres, film history, and acting should look into picking up this book.

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In Memoriam: Anton Yelchin

As I’ve stated many times in the past, I don’t automatically feel the need to write an In Memoriam piece. Removing exercises of necessity was a lot of what starting my own blog was about. Therefore, the shock and tragedy of the loss of Anton Yelchin at far too young an age were not enough to spawn this post. His impact would have to be great enough, and it most definitely was to me.

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However, greater still inasmuch as in recent years Yelchin’s output on the indie scene have been both notable and among those that, sadly, I’ve had on my radar but have remained blindspots. What I did see was enough for him to make his mark, enough to make him notable enough for me to say in my review of 2011’s Fright Night:

Anton Yelchin, who may not be a household name yet but has certainly done his fair share of films and should be recognizable to most.

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However, Yelchin had made his presence known to me a decade earlier as he came to personify on film the character of Bobby Garfield in the film version of Hearts in Atlantis. It was one of my first experiences having read something and then seen the movie and he was quite impressive. Had 2001 not been as stacked as it was he may have been nominated for a BAM Award for it. Hearts in Atlantis kicked off a triple feature I took in thanks to a favorable movie schedule. I believe it was my first post-9/11 movie outing.

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He also turned in noteworthy performances in Alpha Dog, as an ingénue getting caught up in a seedy underworld, and in Charlie Bartlett where he played a very different sort as a scheming, smart alecky charmer who turns his private school on its head. And, yes, he went on to become Chekhov in the latest Star Trek franchise. The significance there to me, personally, as one who has seen all the films but never been terribly enamored with the show, was that he made me appreciate the character on a whole new level I never had before. Furthermore, being a Russian Jew and emigrating to the US at six months of age, it was great to see him in a part that was reflective of his background.

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Some of his recent notable indie turns I need to take in are Burying the Ex, The Green Room, 5 to 7, Cymbeline, and Like Crazy.

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Filmography aside another interesting note is that his death in a freak accident has made me want to revisit his works I know, see those I haven’t and as bittersweet as it will be I very much want to see his five soon-to-be-posthumous releases, including the next Star Trek. This is contrary to my reaction to Robin Williams’ death, which has made me unable to watch his films since.  I can’t say circumstances always effect my viewing reaction postmortem, it’s just notable that in these two, most recent sudden deaths they’ve affected me differently, even though they are personas I held dear. Clearly, as is the case with all celebrity deaths that can affect us, we lament for ourselves and the image we’ll be deprived of and ponder the what ifs of future works. His work, will continue to live on as only film can, and thankfully, his prolific nature will give us a few more glimpses of his talent from beyond the Vale of Tears that separates us from the hereafter.

At 12, he was interviewed about Hearts in Atlantis, and the recent events of 9/11 clearly were addressed in the questioning (how could they not be?); A wise-beyond-his-years Yelchin said:

“I know a lot of people wouldn’t want to come to movies at this time, but this is a movie that gives you a good feeling. It is a movie about a friendship and about people who love each other.”

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Hearts in Atlantis did leave me with a good feeling as did much of his work. But that one, even if it wasn’t my favorite, came when I needed it, it was part of a day where I started reclaiming my life, where I found I could watch movies again. Yelchin was a part of that day in a small way and for that I am eternally grateful.

Rest in peace.

Short Film: Meet A Muslim

Introduction

If you wish to merely view the short film scroll to the bottom, and enjoy! If you want some of my reasoning for selecting it today, read on.

Statement

I happened upon this short film on Facebook the other day and I wanted to share it on Saturday, but I’ve been slacking on this blog. In light of today’s events in Orlando, it bears sharing.

It’s exhaustive to have to have to constantly remind people that there over a billion Muslims in the world and a prerequisite of the faith is not fundamentalism, which is the largest danger.

Other faiths, ethnicities, and races have perpetrate horrid acts in the past, sometimes as the will of a majority rather than a minority. It does not mean we should shut out the world.

The sole comment I got to this video on Facebook reconfirmed my commitment to sharing it. Furthermore, inspired some pseudo-poetry on my part.

I refuse to judge…

Americans by the Ku Klux Klan,
Germans based on Nazis,
Muslims based on Al Qaeda or Isis,
Christians by the Crusaders.

I refuse to judge.

I refuse to live in fear of…

Americans,
Germans,
Muslims,
Christains.

I refuse to live in fear.

If you choose to live in fear
your truly fear to live.

And that’s the bottom line: it’s choice, this exclusionary fear. You can read here how closely the events of 9/11 affected me. Not that I’ve been immune since; I’ve breathed a sigh of relief, trembled and cried when friends and family “checked in as safe” on Facebook. But again it’s a choice.

I am not a Muslim, but I have met some. I identify with the group that was targeted in this latest heinous act of terrorism, but I choose not to generalize. In his groundbreaking documentary on the Holocaust, Night and Fog, Alain Resnais asks: “Who is responsible then?” In answering this question lately we, as a society, have a tendency to be far too inclusionary in assigning blame. The blame is not to be split a billion ways. The sole blame for the act lies with one man and one extremist organization. A list of enablers is a bit longer but features many more “home grown” culprits.

It’s also important to note that this attack and the thwarted one in Los Angeles comes during the month of Ramadan. Plotting this sort of act contrary to the teachings of Mohammed during the holiest of months shows you how far afield this sort of action is from the core of the faith.

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Royalty on Film Blogathon – The Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Introduction

When I first read about the Royalty on Film Blogathon, one film jumped out at me immediately as the topic I should write about. Now, having selected The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Best Picture at the BAM Awards I have written about it. However, a specific piece on the royalty featured within this film, and the interesting narrative and philosophical devices they are employed in was something I couldn’t pass up.

Method

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The approach I wanted to take to this topic, because I love this story so, was to revisit the story in three different forms. Aside from a look at the film itself I also wanted to examine the two translations that any novel takes before reaching the big screen (novel to screenplay and screenplay to finished film). This is not a fanboy needing a talking down but rather a comparative analysis.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Its Royals

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Now, one thing all versions of this particular installment of The Chronicles are focused on, is the power struggle, in external terms, of the chosen monarchs of this land (the Pevensies) and the presumptive tyrant (the White Witch), as well as the one between the White Witch and the Godhead of Narnia (Aslan).

Jadis, The White Witch, Chatelain of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, Etc.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

The bones both to the story and the arc of the White Witch’s persona are not only well established in the book but they are very well adhered to by the screenplay. She: hired Tumnus as a spy, talks to Edmund upon his arrival, harps on the Four Monarchs prophecy, per Lucy and others she has “no right to be queen,” levies constant threats in true authoritarian style, establishes the Secret Police, and seeks to consolidate her power at all costs.

The bits of detail in the book are left out of the film add a bit more depth but do not really rob the film of much: on occasion she is called Lilith, after “Adam’s first wife”; she is a Half-Jinn, Half-Giantess; and was the Emperor’s (akin to the Father in the Christian trinity) hangman.

Edmund Pevensie, King Edmund the Just

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

One thing this particular filmed version of the story gets absolutely right beyond a shadow of a doubt is the complexity and conflict of Edmund’s chareacter. Oversimplification or piling on of him for his mistakes, as I witnessed in a stage version due to either the bastardized script or the unfaithful direction of the theatre company performing it; is not only a wrongful interpretation but angers me to no end.

In the novel we get insights like “Edmund did not like this arrangement at all but dared not disobey” and that “Deep down inside him he really knew that the white witch was bad and cruel.” However, simple visual literacy, as well as the adept personification by Skandar Keynes (which earned him a BAM Award Nomination as Best Actor also) make it quite clear that that doubt and conflict exist within him early on despite his regrettable decisions. In the book it’s stated in black and white he realizes he was lied to and regrets his decision. In the film there is less verbal fat and more visual fodder.

What the book includes for all the children are some of the things they either dreamed of before assuming the throne or did once they took it. Edmund dreamed of roads he’d build, a private cinema, giving the beavers lesser legal status, getting revenge, and building railways. It also describes his reign as one where he proves to be “great in council and judgment” and that he is “graver and quieter” than his siblings as he grows, no doubt influenced by these formative experiences upon coming to Narnia.

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Now, the films spend even less time with the children being actually crowned monarchs than the book does, however, what it does do to compensate for that fact is have loyalists refer to them as “King” or “Queen” or “Your Majesties” and also show where these Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve act worthy of the thrones they will possess that are their right.

Edmund later leads by example, feels pity for Tumnus who he lead to his slaughter, is condemned a traitor and is to be sacrificed for penance and never pleads for his life. His actions in battle are not only part of his redemption but Peter vouches for him. He is also spared of details of the deal the White Witch and Aslan struck. All of this is reflected in the film.

He comes a long way, the longest way of all, from the young naïf swayed merely by offers of endless Turkish Delight.
Aslan

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Being the deity of this world is frequently referred to as a king as well much in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition. He is touted as the rightful king, and in an example of terrestrial kingliness he holds private council with both the White Witch and Edmund (after his rescue). The film wisely follows the books example of having these conversations occur off (screen/page). We are witness merely to the aftermath and it adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings. His willingness to act as a sacrifice and also to want to spare Susan and Lucy the sight of his death but willing to accept their company for the journey is in essence a service a king would provide his subjects.

Lucy, the Valiant and Susan, the Gentle

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The evidence in the screenplay of the children working into their roles as monarchs is evidenced on the page as well. In one of the earlier drafts when the film version was still referred to as The Hundred Year Winter, Peter is referred to as nodding in “kingly” fashion in a descriptive the precedes the coronation. On page 68 of the script there is use of “majesties” in plural.

This is needed in the film as in the book their coronation is toward the end (pp.193, per the omnibus pagination), as are honors bestowed upon their friends (p. 194). Lewis concludes that “They governed Narnia well and long and happy was their reign” and “All foul brood was stamped out.” Furthermore, they “…made good on laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down and saved young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged people who wanted to live and let live.”

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Over the years they earned their nicknames. In the films Aslan bestows the monikers at coronation. King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, Queen Lucy the Valiant. In the film, they had to earn the names along the course of the film such that Aslan could bestow them upon them. Also, having them be assigned territories of Narnia to take special care of to shutdown the nitpicker wondering why one kingdom needs four monarchs.

Peter’s nickname is best exemplified by his leadership leading up to and during the battle. Edmund’s name of Just is perhaps the most fitting for it is through being unjust himself to start that he starts to learn firsthand what is right and proper in given situations. Lucy’s valiance is on display from the start as she never wavers in her certitude that the quest to save Tumnus, and thus, Narnia, is right. Susan’s gentility is one you have to dig for. However, its her protectiveness of her siblings, wanting to see them out of harm’s way, her needing to be coaxed into battle, and trying to avoid the conflict if it an be avoided, is where it is seen most readily.

Escalation

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In the script, and then in the film, you can see how certain aspects become emphasized. In the film there is more emphasis on the battle, which is dealt with in post-mortem in the book. In the script the White Witch more convincingly sways Edmund here than in the book because the language is simplified and less on the head. Tilda’s interpretation of the White Witch then takes the character to the next level.

In the book there is no incidence of Edmund and Tumnus in cells next to one another. This triangulation wherein the White Witch plays Tumnus off Edmund, exagerrating “He traded you in for sweets,” truly allows for additional depth for all character involved: Tumnus suffers further, Edmund experiencing this and plotting his escape aid him redemption, and the Witch is further vilified in cinematic terms.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

As they prepare for war, Edmund really comes full circle fully committing to a battle he knows he must participate in. The emphasis of screentime spent on their training adds good bonding time for the siblings.

Susan asks: “Edmund already nearly lost his life! What are we supposed to do?”
Edmund responds: “Whatever we can.”

Conclusion

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Yes, the White Witch through being the antagonist and the reigning monarch, justly or not, takes the led in this film. However, as magnetic and magnificent as Swinton is; he desires and actions are all highly logical and compelling. Having those who are prophesied to inherit a throne slowly travel from a feeling of unworthiness to a desire for and a deserving of that seat is a more compelling journey. Furthermore, the return of a God-king to a land and an ousting of the evil ruler is also compelling. There are few characters in said books that are commoners at the end, but those who bring us into the story, those we travel with are those who will assume the thrones and those we follow. Aslan’s showing favor to the Pevensies lends truth of being anointed by God to this mythic landscape and provides the perfect counterbalance in this story.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is nearly flawless tale, and a main reason for this is the unique looks at regality it affords us.

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Athletes in Film Blogathon: Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

Introduction

When first learning of the Athletes in Films Blogathon, there were some obvious choices I could make. However, having just written about Space Jam, and not holding in it in as high esteem as some in my generation and younger, the only clear choice left for me was to write about Amazing Grace and Chuck yet again. Though having written on it extensively as part of a larger piece, I didn’t focus too much on the professional athlete involved in a key role. Therefore, I will do so here.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

This is a film in which:

A little league player named Chuck refuses to ever pitch again until nuclear weapons are disarmed. Basketball star “Amazing Grace” Smith follows the boy’s example, and starts a trend.

The athlete in question in this film is:

…played by Alex English who was a player for the Denver Nuggets at the time this film was produced. We see him playing, hit a three-point shot and give his famous three fingers in the air gesture, after the game his agent/best friend, Lynn (Jaime Lee Curtis) reads him an article about Chuck and the wheels start spinning.

With the memory of his wife and daughter gnawing at his mind, Amazing decides to quit basketball and do like Chuck did, an official protest has begun. At one point someone asks Amazing “Do you really think you’re going to bring an end to nuclear weapons?” Amazing turns to him and says “I don’t know but wouldn’t it be nice.” This soon starts a snowball effect and so many athletes join the cause that professional sports are crippled and the movement spreads worldwide.

Alex English Celtics

English (pictured) played a preseason game with the Boston Celtics that was used as his game footage for the film. Having an active player play an exhibition with a team he was not contracted by is an impressive feat that Columbia/Tri-Star and the production team pulled off with the NBA’s cooperation.

The notion of athletes as activists does have quite a few precedents in sports. Here are some examples:

  • Muhammad Ali refuses induction in Vietnam.
  • “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Michael Jordan on his sociopolitical neutrality as a public speaker.
  • 1980s a decade of sports as politics: consecutive Summer Olympic boycotts.
  • First Post-9/11 games in New York.
  • “I can’t breathe” shirts in NFL.
  • Athletes for Trump.

Alex English

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This film marked Alex English’s debut as an actor. Later he went on to play Mayor Wade on Midnight Caller, then the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Eddie. The following year (1997) he was in The Definite Maybe as “The Premiere.” It was his first big screen role as a non-athlete and his second time playing some sort of leader. Despite an intermittent, free of too-much fanfare acting career, he did develop a second type aside from the most obvious one based on his first career. His most recent role was in Lumera, which was the feature film debut of his son writer/director Alexander English, Jr. who sure enough got bit by the bug during dad’s forays into the entertainment industry.

Critical Reception

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

With regards the reaction to the movie, it was critically panned. Variety noted that “Amazing Grace and Chuck is destined to go down in history as the camp classic of the anti-nuke genre. As amazingly bad as it is audacious, film will live forever in the hearts of connoisseurs of Hollywood’s most memorably outrageous moments.”

Prescient words as one of my viewings of this film was an unexpected premiere on TCM not too long ago, and Warner Archive recently rescued this film and has made it available on DVD at long last I could move on from my recorded off TV version.

However, not all the reviews were as harsh as Variety‘s. Janet Maslin of The New York Times at least had gentle praise for the performers stating that “Mr. Zuehlke, who is so precocious and somber, and Mr. English, who is nothing if not sincere…” which he most certainly is. Director Mike Newell chose English well. Newell has had tremendous results from young actors in his charge. A professional athlete like a child has less craft than an experienced, trained actor — so much falls to the director to cast well, finding the right persona, and coaxing as much natural response as his trust engenders from his actor.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

If limiting the casting options for Amazing Grace to contemporary basketball players of the late-‘80s English stands out as the obvious pick: as Michael Jordan would later show in Space Jam he was a bit stiff performance-wise and a bit too cool in persona to pull it off. Charles Barkley would be more suited in a comedy and would not bring the necessary gravitas to the film. Magic Johnson was too Hollywood to not be a distraction in this role. English fits.

Newell went on to imply that the audaciousness — and the Amazing Grace quote — are the very point of the film that must be taken into account when appraising its virtues and contrasting them to its deficits:

“I hope this film will leave audiences energized and with a great surge of hope. I hope it will be a reminder that the individual can make a difference and that humanity is capable of following its best instincts.”

Conclusion

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

In my initial piece I concluded by saying:

This is a film that is idealist and dares to dream. It takes the fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and combines them with the hope of Glasnost and presented us with a fantasy. The poster for this film should tell you it’s a fantasy. And it’s one that only could have come out of the 80s, this film literally drips 80s. In the 1990s, and especially in the present, disarmament was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. It’s a great film about one person can make a difference and a film with a message.

This paired with Newell’s notion of the certitude I have that English was likely the best possible choice from a shallow talent pool of professional basketball acting talent. A humility, Grace (to match the fictional nickname), believable idealism, and the ability to quietly inspire followers was a necessity for this concept to have a chance and its what Alex English could bring to the table naturally.