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|Romeo & Juliet
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Shakespeare's classic tale of romance and tragedy. Two families of Verona, the Montagues and the Capulets, have been feuding with each other for years. Young Romeo Montague goes out with his friends to make trouble at a party the Capulets are hosting, but while there he spies the Capulet's daughter Juliet, and falls hopelessly in love with her. She returns his affections, but they both know that their families will never allow them to follow their hearts.
Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was unique in its day for casting kids in the play's pivotal roles of, well, kids. Seventeen-year-old Leonard Whiting and 15-year-old Olivia Hussey play the titular pair, the Bard's star-crossed lovers who defy a running feud between their families in order to be together in love. Typically played on stage and in previous film productions by adult actors, the innocent look and rawness of Whiting and Hussey resonated at the time with a burgeoning youth movement from San Francisco to Prague. The tragic romance at the center of the story also clicked with anti-authority sentiments, but even without that, Zeffirelli scores points by validating the ideals and passions of strong-willed adolescents. Less successful are scenes requiring the actors to have a fuller grasp of the text, though the best thing going remains the unambiguous duel between Romeo and Tybalt (Michael York). Lavishly photographed by Pasquale de Santis on location in Italy, this Romeo and Juliet brought a different tone and dimension to a story that had become tiresome in reverential presentations. --Tom Keogh
|Jesus of Nazareth
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Brand: Lions Gate
Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey. Franco Zeffirelli creates an unforgettable portrait in his legendary interpretation of the life of Jesus. James Mason, Anthony Quinn and Anne Bancroft are included in the all-star cast. 2 DVDs. 1977/color/6 hrs., 22 min/NR/fullscreen.
Originally made for TV in 1977, this in-depth (six hours plus) version of Jesus' life is so thorough that the first hour is devoted solely to the story of his birth. The film doesn't skimp on some of the other landmark events of this famous story either. Director Franco Zeffirelli gives more than 12 minutes screen time each to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Passages of the Bible are quoted verbatim, the locations have a Palestine-like authenticity, and, aside from some of the principals (Robert Powell as Jesus, Olivia Hussey as Mary, and Stacy Keach as Barabbas), many of the non-Roman characters are actually played by Semitic-looking actors. Zeffirelli diligently provides the sociopolitical background that gave rise to Jesus' following and the crisis in belief it caused for the people of Israel (and one or two Romans). While not graphic by today's standards, some of the scenes--baby boys being ripped from their mothers' arms and slaughtered, nails being driven into Jesus' hands--may disturb young and/or sensitive children. --Kimberly Heinrichs
|The Dreamers (Original Uncut NC-17 Version)
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From Academy Award®-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor, 1987), comes an erotic tale of three young film lovers brought together by their passion for movies -- and each other. When Isabelle and Theo (Eva Green, Louis Garrel) invite Matthew (Michael Pitt) to stay with them, what begins as a casual friendship ripens into a sensual voyage of discovery and desire in which nothing is off limits and anything is possible. Featuring an engaging, seductive cast, The Dreamers is a ?spellbinding, provocative feast!" (Ebert & Roeper)
A love letter to movies (and the French new wave of the 1960s in particular), Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers starts with a 1968 riot outside of a Parisian movie palace then burrows into an insular love triangle. Matthew (Michael Pitt, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), an expatriate American student, bonds with a twin brother and sister, Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), over their mutual love of film--they not only quote lines of dialogue, they act out small bits and challenge each other to name the cinematic source. Matthew suspects the twins of incest, but that doesn't stop him from falling into his own intimacies with Isabelle. As the threesome becomes threatened, Paris succumbs to student riots. The Dreamers aspires to be kinky, but the results are more decorative than decadent; nonetheless, the movie's lively energy recalls the careless and vital exuberance of Godard and Truffaut. --Bret Fetzer
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|The Passion of the Christ (Widescreen Edition)
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Brand: FOX Home Entertainment
The Passion of the Christ focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus of Nazareth's life. The film begins in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and his trial results in a condemnation to death.
After all the controversy and rigorous debate has subsided, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will remain a force to be reckoned with. In the final analysis, "Gibson's Folly" is an act of personal bravery and commitment on the part of its director, who self-financed this $25-30 million production to preserve his artistic goal of creating the Passion of Christ ("Passion" in this context meaning "suffering") as a quite literal, in-your-face interpretation of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus, scripted almost directly from the gospels (and spoken in Aramaic and Latin with a relative minimum of subtitles) and presented as a relentless, 126-minute ordeal of torture and crucifixion. For Christians and non-Christians alike, this film does not "entertain," and it's not a film that one can "like" or "dislike" in any conventional sense. (It is also emphatically not a film for children or the weak of heart.) Rather, The Passion is a cinematic experience that serves an almost singular purpose: to show the scourging and death of Jesus Christ in such horrifically graphic detail (with Gibson's own hand pounding the nails in the cross) that even non-believers may feel a twinge of sorrow and culpability in witnessing the final moments of the Son of God, played by Jim Caviezel in a performance that's not so much acting as a willful act of submission, so intense that some will weep not only for Christ, but for Caviezel's unparalleled test of endurance.
Leave it to the intelligentsia to debate the film's alleged anti-Semitic slant; if one judges what is on the screen (so gloriously served by John Debney's score and Caleb Deschanel's cinematography), there is fuel for debate but no obvious malice aforethought; the Jews under Caiaphas are just as guilty as the barbaric Romans who carry out the execution, especially after Gibson excised (from the subtitles, if not the soundtrack) the film's most controversial line of dialogue. If one accepts that Gibson's intentions are sincere, The Passion can be accepted for what it is: a grueling, straightforward (some might say unimaginative) and extremely violent depiction of the Passion, guaranteed to render devout Christians speechless while it intensifies their faith. Non-believers are likely to take a more dispassionate view, and some may resort to ridicule. But one thing remains undebatable: with The Passion of the Christ, Gibson put his money where his mouth is. You can praise or damn him all you want, but you've got to admire his chutzpah. --Jeff Shannon
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Once you find out what happened in Rwanda, you'll never forget. OscarÂ(r) nominee* Don Cheadle (Traffic) gives "the performance of his career in this extraordinarily powerful" (The Hollywood Reporter) and moving true story of one man's brave stance against savagery during the 1994 Rwandan conflict. Sophie Okonedo (Dirty Pretty Things) co-stars as the loving wife who challenges a good man to become a great man. As his country descends into madness, five-star-hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle) sets out to save his family. But when he sees that theworld will not intervene in the massacre of minority Tutsis, he finds the courage to open his hotelto more than 1,200 refugees. Now, with a rabid militia at the gates, he must use his well-honed grace, flattery and cunning to protect his guests from certain death. *2004: Actor, Hotel Rwanda
Solidly built around a subtle yet commanding performance by Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda emerged as one of the most highly-praised dramas of 2004. In a role that demands his quietly riveting presence in nearly every scene, Cheadle plays real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in the Rwandan capital of Kigali who in 1994 saved 1,200 Rwandan "guests" from certain death during the genocidal clash between tribal Hutus, who slaughtered a million victims, and the horrified Tutsis, who found safe haven or died. Giving his best performance since his breakthrough role in Devil in a Blue Dress, Cheadle plays Rusesabagina as he really was during the ensuing chaos: "an expert in situational ethics" (as described by critic Roger Ebert), doing what he morally had to do, at great risk and potential sacrifice, with an understanding that wartime negotiations are largely a game of subterfuge, cooperation, and clever bribery. Aided by a United Nations official (Nick Nolte), he worked a saintly miracle, and director Terry George (Some Mother's Son) brings formidable social conscience to bear on a true story you won't soon forget. --Jeff Shannon
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|The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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By far the most ambitious, unflinchingly graphic and stylistically influential western ever mounted, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an engrossing actioner shot through with a volatile mix of myth and realism. Clint Eastwood returns as the "Man With No Name," this time teaming with two gunslingers (Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef) to pursue a cache of $200,000and letting no one, not even warring factions in a civil war, stand in their way. From sun-drenched panoramas to bold,hard close-ups, exceptional camera work captures the beauty and cruelty of the barren landscape andthe hardened characters who stride unwaveringly through it. Forging a vibrant and yet detached style of action that had not been seen before, and has never been matched since, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shatters the western mold in true Clint Eastwood style.
Clint Eastwood (the Man with No Name) is good, Lee Van Cleef (Angel Eyes Sentenza) is bad, and Eli Wallach (Tuco Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez) is ugly in the final chapter of Sergio Leone's trilogy of spaghetti westerns (the first two were A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More). In this sweeping film, the characters form treacherous alliances in a ruthless quest for Confederate gold. Leone is sometimes underrated as a director, but the excellent resolution on this digital video disc should enhance appreciation of his considerable photographic talent and gorgeous widescreen compositions. Ennio Morricone's jokey score is justifiably famous.
|Tea With Mussolini
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Florence, Italy, on the brink of WWII: it was a time of social unrest and, of course...afternoon tea. Join OscarÂ(r) winner* Cher and an incredible cast of leading ladies as they host this "radiant, beautiful film" (Gene Shalit, "Today Show") that is "worth savoring" (Mademoiselle).Prewar Florence is the place to be for any proper British woman who relishes culture and the arts. These ladies have everything they could ever want or needincluding a promise from dictator Mussolini himself that not even the imminent world war will impose upon their lifestyle. But when itappears that his word is not kept, and these expatriateswho chose to stay in Italy instead of seeking refuge in their own countryare in trouble, it takes a young outcast boy and a brazen American woman (Cher) to keep them in the high life and out of harm's way.
In filming this semi-autobiographical account of life in Italy during the dawn of World War II, director Franco Zeffirelli imbues Tea with Mussolini with the mixed blessings of fond reminiscence. It's a warmly inviting film, as impeccable as any Merchant-Ivory production, but like a hazy memory it's uncertain in its narrative intentions. And yet with an exceptional cast to compensate, the film's as engaging as it is inconsequential.
Zeffirelli's alter ego is Luca (Charlie Lucas in youth; Baird Wallace as a teenager), who is raised in Florence by Mary (Joan Plowright), the middle-aged secretary of his absentee father. Luca lives among a loose band of British and American women, nicknamed "Il Scorpioni" for their stinging wit in the shadows of Mussolini's thuggish dictatorship. Along with Mary there's Hester (Maggie Smith), a crusty ambassador's widow; Arabella (Judi Dench), a lively bohemian; lesbian archaeologist Georgie (Lily Tomlin); and Elsa (Cher), a flamboyant American who quietly finances Luca's education.
Il Scorpioni witness the rise of fascism and the dangers of resistance, weathering dictatorial custody and (in Elsa's case) falling prey to heartbreaking betrayal. But Tea with Mussolini carries little dramatic weight; you have to forgive its unfocused structure to appreciate its merits. Zeffirelli gently conveys the passage from pleasantry to wartime, and he's drawn uniformly fine performances from this seasoned cast. If the film is vaguely unsatisfying, it's only because it had the makings of greatness and settles instead for an ethereal quality of anecdotal enchantment. --Jeff Shannon
|A Midsummer Night's Dream
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A stellar cast, headed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline, bring Shakespeare's romantic comedy to life. When two pairs of star-crossed lovers, a feuding pair of supernatural sprites and a love potion gone awry all come together in an enchanted moonlit forest, the result is a delightful mix of merriment and magic. Also starring Calista Flockhart, Stanley Tucci and Rupert Everett.
Imagine a work by Shakespeare reduced to one of those pretty, glossy coffee-table picture books that have only a dollop of text alongside its sumptuous photographs, and you might have Michael Hoffman's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This all-star version of Shakespeare's comedy is gorgeously shot in Tuscany, complete with a magical forest, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful villas, picturesque villages, stunning period costumes--oh wait, there's supposed to be a story here, too! Hoffman hijacks Shakespeare's basic premise but doesn't instill it with much more than surface shine and transplants it to turn-of-the-century Italy. Ergo, it's left up to the actors to find the heart and soul of this classic play, in which the fairies of the forest play mix and match with four young lovers, courtesy of a magical love potion. Hoffman couldn't ask for better (or better looking) actors to play Shakespeare's dreamlike love games--Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Anna Friel, Dominic West, the list goes on and on--but he sure as heck doesn't know what to do with them, aside from putting them in various states of undress. Only Flockhart (as the lovestruck Helena), Tucci (a sprightly Puck), Pfeiffer (dazzling and funny as the queen of the fairies), and especially the sublime Kline (as weaver-turned-donkey Bottom) seem to connect with their characters in ways that make this adaptation occasionally soar; the rest are inexplicably left to flounder. Hoffman does seem to set himself right with the film's climax, when Bottom's amateur acting troupe hilariously enacts the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (it helps that the troupe includes Roger Rees, Sam Rockwell, and Bill Irwin). Those searching for a more in-depth exploration of Shakespeare's farce might do better to look elsewhere, but if it's gorgeous actors and scenery you're in the mood for (along with an evocative opera soundtrack), and an all's-well-that-ends-well ending, this Midsummer Night will give you pleasant if weightless dreams. --Mark Englehart
|House of Exorcism
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