1. Joan of Arc (1999) (PG) (religious/drama) (color, 140 min.):
Leelee Sobieski stars as Joan of Arc, a teenaged girl in 15th century France who is told through heavenly visions to travel to the court of the Dauphin and urge him to reclaim the throne of
Listening to her heavenly voices, she leads the French troops to victory at the Battle of Orleans. But when the Dauphin has no further use of her, she is cruelly betrayed and allowed to fall into the hands of the English. Accused of witchcraft and heresy, she is convicted by a court of corrupt churchmen under the leadership of Bishop Cauchon. But try as they might, they are unable to break her spirit completely, even to the point of death by burning at the stake.
I think this film was fascinating in a number of ways. First, Joan of Arc was played by an actress in her teens, the same age range that the real Joan would have been when she led the French army. She is portrayed as a passionate, energetic, and very human young woman who is still strikingly different because of her unshakable faith in God. Instead of being made to look mentally unstable like some recent depictions of the saint, she is shown as being completely clear in her thinking and dedicated to her mission. As far as the filming goes, there were quite a few impressive techniques employed during Joan's visions and during bloody battles. I especially liked the way "Panis Angelicus" was played in the background of one of the battle sequences, giving it a haunting effect.
My main problems with the film deal with the way certain characters are imbued with modern language, values, and attitudes. Also, many juicy instances and quotations from Joan's real life and trial were left out of the film in favor of fictional subplots and dialogue. The Englishmen in the movie are all stereo-typical "baddies" and given very little depth or dimension. Also, a scene showing Mother Babbette stripping off her habit after Joan's trial makes one wonder what that is supposed to symbolize. But nonetheless, if you are interested in St. Joan of Arc and would like to watch a respectful adaptation of her life made in modern times, you will enjoy this film.
2. Kidnapped (1995) (PG) (historical/action/adventure) (color, 155 min.):
Brian McCardie stars as Davie Balfour, an orphan from the Lowlands of Scotland who tries to claim his inheritance from his embittered uncle. Instead, he winds up being kidnapped and sold into slavery on board a ship headed for the
I found this film to be a good adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel about the aftermath of the Jacobite Risings. Although it does stray from the book in various places, I think the film does so with skill, building subplots that succeed in enhancing the main storyline. I also think that this version does a fair job in keeping with the proper terminology of the historical period. This is refreshing in comparison with some later versions that relay heavily on the "bad English"/"good Scots" stereotype and overlook the complexities of the Jacobite Rebellions.
Also, I admire the way that
3. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) (PG) (historical/action/adventure) (color, 142 min.):
Anthony Andrews stars as Sir Percy Blackney, an 18th century English gentleman who everyone considers to be hopeless fop. However, he has a dual identity: that of the Scarlet Pimpernel, daring rescuer of condemned aristocrats in revolutionary
But soon after, Percy learns some shocking news that changes everything: Marguerite apparently betrayed a royalist family to the Republican government. Worse still, the entire family was guillotined as a result! The marriage swiftly turns cold, and Percy retreats into his make-believe shell of shallow snobbery, much to Marguerite's confusion and disillusionment. Meanwhile, in his professional life, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his loyal band hatch a plan to rescue King Louis XVI's young son. But M. Chauvelin, a ruthless French Republican agent, begins to suspect Percy's alter identity and is soon hot on his trail.
I enjoyed this film because it breathed new life into Baroness Orczy classic adventure novel that I have a special fondness for. The musical score which illustrated the dual identity of Sir Percy was especially pleasing to me. The costumes and settings were also generally quite attractive. However, as I have mentioned in past film reviews, I believe Hollywood goes the extra mile with of the low-cut bodice style of the 18th century, trying to heighten sex appeal and thus impure thoughts, and they did so in this film with Marguerite and many of the others ladies. Also, there are several sequences in the film showing Marguerite's brother in bed with his fiancée prior to marriage.
Regarding the acting, I feel that Anthony Andrews tended to overdo the fop part to the point of being excessively annoying. However, to his credit, he also did an excellent job candidly revealing the passion beneath the exterior in certain scenes. Also, the dueling scene with Percy and Chauvelin at the end was a treat. I believe this film did a better job illustrating the relationship between Percy and Marguerite and explaining exactly what the supposed "betrayal" was all about. However, I must also note that I think this story definitely has a French royalist slant, and doesn't cut much slack for the justified complaints of the revolutionaries. At any rate, I think this is a fun adventure flick that makes for enjoyable viewing.
4. Merlin (1998) (PG) (fantasy/action/adventure) (color, 182 min.):
Sam Neill stars as Merlin, half-human and half-wizard, who is brought into being by the vicious pagan goddess, Mab, who hopes to halt the spread of Christianity across
Unfortunately, a series of events involving lust and intrigue are instigated by Mab, and Merlin makes the serious mistake of helping Uther Pendragon make love to another man's wife. Merlin takes custody of the child born of that union, hoping that he can set things right from there. The child grows up to be King Arthur, gaining his throne after pulling a sword out of a stone. But Merlin's sin in helping Uther sin comes back to haunt him. Arthur is betrayed by his wife, Guinivere, who has an affair and her champion, Sir Lancelot. The repercussions threaten to destroy the Round Table, the symbol of justice and brotherhood in the
I thought this movie was very creative with a touch of quirkiness. This is a fantasy meant to be humorous in many instances, and a strict following of the Aruthurian legends is not provided here. Diversions galore change facets of the old tales and weave them together in a new chronological order. However, if you're not a purist and you don't mind cartoonish special effects, the combination of complex characters and a heart-pounding musical score is quite delightful.
I must say that I wish the film depicted Christianity as more of a "force to reckoned with" as opposed to an organization that needed to be rescued by a half-baked wizard! Furthermore, I don't think the priest at Glastonbury gave Nimue very good advice when she was trying to determine to vocation in life, nor did he give a very good explanation to Merlin about why bad things happen to good people. However, the film did do an interesting spin on the traditional Arthurian legends and Celtic Mythology, weaving everything together deftly and and wrapping it up nicely - with a happy ending, too!
5. War Horse (2011) (PG-13) (military/drama) (color, 146 min.):
Jeremy Irvine stars as Albert Narracott, a young man growing up in an English farming community just before the outbreak of WWI. When his father purchases a new horse at an auction, Albert takes the job of training him and names him "Joey". A bond forms between boy and horse, and they become inseparable companions. But when the crops fail, Albert's father sells Joey to the military to use as a "war horse". Vowing to follow Joey into the war as soon as he reaches the prescribed age, Albert ties his father's battle medal on the horse's bridle so he will be able to recognize him later on.
Throughout the course of Joey's incredible journey, he is used as a mount in a cavalry charge, hidden in a windmill by deserters, adopted by a lonely French orphan, and confiscated to haul cannon before finally escaping in a mad gallop across the trenches! Meanwhile, Albert finally enlists in the army only to be blinded in battle. Without his eyesight, all hope of the boy ever being able to locate his precious horse seems to be lost. But in the end, the light of love proves to be stronger than visual darkness.
I enjoyed this film because of the way it deftly handled emotional developments and demonstrated the goodness in humanity. Albert is shown as a hard-working, loving, and loyal young man. His parents, although flawed and strained by circumstances, are still shown to be decent people struggling to make a living. The British cavalry officer who buys Joey generously promises to return the horse to Albert if he survives the war. The German deserters who steal Joey are teenaged brothers, the older of whom is seeking to prevent his younger brother from being killed in the front lines. The French girl who adopts Joey is a sickly orphan in need of love. The German who is ordered to use Joey to haul cannon allows the horse to escape, thus saving Joey's life.
Later, when Joey is tangled in barbed-wire in the trenches, a British soldier and a German soldier both work together to free him. Another part of the movie I found especially moving was the scene when Albert is in a charge across "no man's land" and he sees the snobbish son of his family's wealthy land-lord get badly wounded. Risking his own life, he drags his old nemesis to safety, explaining simply, "We're Devon Boys."
The main problems I have with this film are the confusing way some of the scenes were structured as the viewer struggles to follow the various subplots and waits patiently for them to intertwine. Also, I thought the French girl was rather disrespectful in her attitude towards her grandfather which made her less likable than she could have been. Still, I believe this ranks as one of the best films to be made in recent years.
I hope you take the initiative and check out some of these flicks on Amazon.com, your local library, a movie rental center, Netflix, or whatever works best for you!
|A Scene from the Film Joan of Arc|