‘Chariots of Fire’

Running is an endurance sport. Not everyone who loves this true-story movie is a runner but it touches them because we all must endure day to day. This film is a metaphor for life, faith, and the importance (or not) of achievement.

*This review contains spoilers.

The story of Eric Liddell is an inspirational one. The music by Vangelis in this film works to elevate the audience to a higher place than most of us usually experience. After all, not all of us will run in the Olympics. The evocative message in Chariots of Fire is strong and timeless.

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Chariots of Fire (1981)
Cast

Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Directed by

Hugh Hudson

Written by

Colin Welland

Other Info

Biography, Drama, Sport
PG

There was a poster in my running coach’s office when I was in High School that read: “The agony for the ecstasy.” That is why serious runners do it. I didn’t run anymore but in my twenties I knew the ecstasy of it. Chariots of Fire displays it masterfully. The film’s true story and anthemic music touched a generation beginning at its 1981 release.

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is the protagonist and he wants to win the olympic medal at any cost. He’s also a student at Harvard who is obsessed with running to run, second place is not good enough. As the Olympics near, he hears of another runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) vying to run in the Olympics. The difference with Eric is that he has a natural ability to run. Abrahams needs a coach and all manner of training to have a chance at winning. Liddell is also a Christian with high ideals. When he finds out the qualifying races are on a Sunday, he tells the committee he cannot run due to his Sabbath. This is the first time something like this ever happened to the committee so they hardly know what to do. Ultimately, they put Liddell in a different race category so he doesn’t have to run on Sunday. At the same time, Abrahams becomes tortured because he will never be able to prove himself against Liddell. This eats him up inside. 

The film is a psychological study of Abrahams. He is a “win at all costs” scrupulous fellow. Conversely, Liddell is a contented missionary in China doing the “work of the Lord” with his sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell).

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There are two speeches by Liddell: one sounds like a sermon and another like a funeral. In fact, the final speech is drawn from actual lines Eric spoke at Abrahams funeral in real life. While they were adversaries on the track, they did become friends. What’s the one thing you won’t do? If you can’t think of anything, you probably need to work on your integrity. Liddell’s live mat seem like a stoic life of service. Abrahams life may look more indulgence with a girlfriend, wine, and the finest of food while studying at the finest of universities. The irony is that Abrahams is always unsatisfied. He becomes jealous of Liddlell, not because he is a better runner which he is but rather because he is content and joyful. It tears Abrahams up that he himself lacks that calmness and self-acceptance.

The music by Vangelis is some of the most evocative and beautiful pop piano ever recorded. It has a synth drum sound which was only just beginning to be used in music. A combination of some ethereal sounds, the synth drum, and the analog piano made this music infectious. It showed up on the pop charts. As a personal anecdote, I was 11 years old when I saw this in the theater. My parents remained through the credits, an action they had never done up to that point and still haven’t since, just to soak in the incredible song.

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This is a British film for sure. Settings include London, Harvard, and a Scottish beach where the British Track Team runs. The beach run is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Whether a person runs or not, this film applies to all of us. We see Liddell’s idealism contrasted against Abraham’s determination and grit. There is some of both in all of us. The question to talk about over coffee at the end is: “What would I stand up for?” The second question: “Who am I more like: Abrahams or Liddell?” They are the two poles on the spectrum. It’s a very tough question to answer. I think it’s clear Liddell is happier but I’ll leave that up to the viewer.

There is a scene at the beginning that has all the members of the British Olympic Track Team playing a game of cricket. Everyone fits except Liddell. He is off to the side and he seems out-of-place. As a missionary, I imagine he felt out of place with those guys. He says “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure. His character makes it a very spiritual film. Sadly, Ian Charleson died of Aids in 1990. He is also known for his roles in Ghandi and Tarzan, the Legend of Greystoke. His role as Eric Liddell remains his most popular role. The fact that he was probably not a Christian, though I don’t know if he was or not, goes to show what a great job of acting he did in Chariots of Fire. In a world where ideals seem less and less important, Eric Liddell’s life stands as a beacon of what integrity and sacrifice means. I’ve seen this film 50 times or more. I watched it again today to write this review. It’s one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. I recommend it to you.

‘The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur’

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STARRING: John Alarimo, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandra Dee
DIRECTED BY: Joe Forte
PRODUCED BY: Joe Forte
WRITTEN BY: Joe Forte
GENRE: Biography
RUNTIME: 54 Min
YEAR: 2016

I had a chance to see this film and I must tell you it moved me very deeply. It’s a difficult subject, growing old, but one each of us must face it sooner or later. The “wake-up-call” of this film is that we are all mortal. Questions like, “Who will care about me when I’m old?” resonate throughout the film like pebbles on a lake create ripples. It sticks with you. Because it’s not necessarily about Ben-Hur and rather about the golden age of Hollywood and a man who had a part in making many movies including Ben-Hur, I’m linking to a preview on the movie’s official website. There is also a treasure-trove of never before seen memorabilia, photos, and footage on their site’s page here.

Johnny-SandraDeeHere’s how I saw it: A man who worked in the golden age of Hollywood as an actor, singer, and director looks back on his life with his younger film-making 2nd cousin, Joe Forte. He reminisces and shares a lot of memorabilia he has accumulated through the years. There is a story he tells about how he, in essence, saved Ben-Hur when it was at a weak point but the main idea of the movie is not that, it’s about the impending sunset on all of our lives. This makes for a highly emotional, though at times “hand-held cam, slow-paced” film. It would be a great movie to see with a loved one and then get coffee after to talk about this highly taboo topic. What will become of us when the curtains of our lives close?

I think we all need to consider what worth our lives have.  My only criticism of this film is its title, I feel people will miss the point. It’s a film about aging gracefully and about the hard truths that go along with that. The Ben-Hur moments are few and far bewtween. Still, that is his calling card and legend if-you-will, so in that way, it makes a little more sense. At any rate, that’s the reason it lost a star with me. The other 4/5 I mean sincerely, this is a fine film on an important subject.

Johnny at home_02Even a huge film like Ben-Hur needed real people to make it work. But what happens when the director goes home and the actors are left to go to doctor appointments and such, try to make peace with old age? This film takes us soberly down that path. The memorabilia shown throughout the film along with stories from the golden age of Hollywood make it enjoyable. Other than that it is a theme as important as it is difficult to think about. The memorabilia and stories from this man ease the hard truth of aging. He brings the audience awareness of the past and the present which is priceless if we’re hoping to live in the now. I recommend this one. Here are some more photos from the film:

There are many ways to see this film. They are linked on the film’s official website: Watch & Purchase.

Explore more about the film through its website and social media:

www.manwhosavedbenhur.com

 Facebook:/manwhosavedbenhur

Twitter: @savedbenhur

Instagram: #manwhosavedbenhur

 

 

 

The Lady in the Van (2015)

This film is based on a true story. Once again, a movie presents vans in culture. Specifically, a van in British culture about 15 years ago and a lady that lived in it.

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The Lady in the Van
Cast

Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent

Directed by

Nicholas Hytner

Written by

Alan Bennett

Other Info

Biography, Comedy, Drama
Rated PG-13
1h 44min

The dilapidated van was owned by Mary Shepherd, a scraggly old homeless woman who lived in it for 15 years on Alan Bennett: playwriter’s, driveway. Bennett wrote about the experience in a play and it won numerous stage awards. In fact, Maggie Smith, known for being in the Harry Potter films and a billion others, played the role of Shepherd which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards; and in the 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation. What’s more, Jennings wrote the book & the film. It’s the content of this heartwarming film, along with Maggie Smith’s acting, that makes a pleasant watch. It gets you thinking about all sorts of things worth talking about.

What if you had no one and you were entirely alone in the world? How would you view families playing together and people going to work talking negotiations etc. Alan Bennett write plays about lonely people but he meets the ultimate muse when he meets Mary Shepherd. Through a course of events at the beginning of the story, he begrudgingly allows her to park her van, which is her home, on his driveway. This causes him troubles he hadn’t accounted for but he lets her stay for 15 years. In a very unwittingly way, they are both kept company and they both see the other, thereby not making them as lonely as some.

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Mary has an interesting story of how she came to be homeless. I won’t spoil it but suffice it to say, she feel as if she can never re-enter society. In the time she spends on Jennings’ driveway, he hears many of her stories and finds her a better choice than his own mundane, non-adventurous life for writing content. That’s why he lets her stay. They have experiences and the characters are developed more than adequately.

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In the end we learn that Shepherd had been a nun and a decorated pianist in previous years. It’s amazing that Jenning’s never knew that until the end. To conclude, Maggie Smith is well grounded in this character and she is entrancing to watch. She’s plays the character as if it were herself. I also liked Jennings’ performance. I didn’t like the way that had his inner dialog with himself, a “clone” who comes in and out of scenes. I would have rather seen something like him writing and having his words speak. At any rate, the film did very well so don’t let my criticism take away. I highly recommend this for British viewers who know the play as well as for American fans of Maggie Smith and British culture.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

The lives of three young women and why they became punk revolutionaries is the main idea of “Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer.”

Pussy_Riot-A_Punk_Prayer_PosterIt’s a real situation and a real “group” (instead of a band) that protests the Soviet Union through punk songs and performance art. They claim to be non-violent, which is good. In some of their protest situations they have been threatened and violence has been enacted against them. Three visionaries of the group: Mariya Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova occupy the film’s content and their stories are inspiring or enraging depending on your political and moral point of view. I found these three women and their art hugely inspirational. I think we forget in America what freedom is and that at some point, it needs to be sacrificed for.

These three women feel that Russia needs to get more progressive. By that I mean, women should be allowed to have a life with or without men.

They also feel there should be a clear separation between church and state. More than anything, they detest the policies of Vladimir Putin, the current leader of the Soviet Union. Many of their songs decry his regime. I liked the open and forward thinking of the women but some of their techniques, such as the naming of their group and some past indiscretions on film, in my opinion are not as universally embraceable as they could be. I’m writing a review about their documentary but I cringe a little creating the title with the word “pussy” in it. Is there another way we could name this group without fanning the flames of the conservatives? I am no revolutionary but I might recommend to Pussy Riot a slightly more marketable and palatable approach to its persona.

These women spend at least 6 months in jail (I lost track after all the updates and frankly am too lazy to look up this significant particular). When they address the court or the press, it is breathtaking. They scribble tomes while behind bars and nearly every time they read their words, they are met with unguarded applause. These is something to these revolutionaries but the movie feels at times as if much of it is staged. If not staged, the movie sometimes feels like HBO camera crews are betting on a worldwide interest in a documentary. This to me is gauche. Not everything can be captured in a documentary. Would Johnny Rotten want to be followed by HBO? How about Ghandi? Hmmm, maybe? Having said that, this movie reminds me of the times I fought to be outside the “system.” So many people these days, especially our youth, accept their position playing video games and being bored. We don’t have to accept the role society gives us. We can break out and be original. It could start by protesting the things we dislike in society. I wonder if many American kids would risk going to jail to try and make the government change. Let’s hope more American kids get that message from Pussy Riot.

Walt Before Mickey

Who doesn’t love Disneyland and Mickey Mouse? The mysterious background of the Disney empire is unveiled in the park itself in several exhibits, in books, and other media. Unfortunately it has never graced the silver screen, until now.

“I am working on a new style of animation that I know you will be interested in.” -Walt Disney

Directed by
Khoa Le

Writing Credits
Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez, Timothy Susanin, Frank Licari

Cast
Jodie Sweetin
as Charlotte Disney
Jon Heder
as Roy Disney
David Henrie
as Rudy Ising

Who doesn’t love Disneyland and Mickey Mouse? The mysterious background of the Disney empire is unveiled in the park itself in several exhibits, in books, and other media. Unfortunately it has never graced the silver screen, until now.

This film is a delight to watch but I can’t say the performances are Oscar worthy. It actually presented like the kid of movie you’d see inside the park about Walt. The lines are delivered in a rote fashion and the characters are not  very developed. All this just goes to show you how powerful Disney’s story is. I enjoyed every minute of it.

We see into Walt’s early family life. His father was not supportive. Still later on, he did provide a small financial contribution to Walt’s first company. At one point Walt says, “We don’t know anything about business, but we’ll learn.” He and his hired hands do learn things at the school of hard knocks. He is cheated in a scandalous move by none other than the Felix the Cat creator.

If you ever wondered how Walt Disney got started, this is a good one to go see. Don’t go in expecting an amazing biography but you will see a compelling beginning of a miraculous man’s creative life.