The African Queen

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Rose Sayer and her brother Samuel are English missionaries in 1914 German East Africa. Their rare contact with the outside world is through Charlie Allnut, who delivers their occasional mail on his steam- powered boat, The African Queen. The Germans destroy their village. Samuel is injured and dies, broken-hearted. Charlie offers to take Rose with him.

At first, they are stiffly polite to each other. He respectfully calls her “Miss,” and she calls him “Mr. Allnut.” She decides that they must help fight the Germans by using their explosives to blow up the powerful German gunboat, the Louisa. He becomes angry and frustrated by her insistence on what he sees as a dangerously reckless idea, and she becomes disgusted and furious when he gets drunk. He calls her a “crazy psalm-singing skinny old maid.” She pours all his liquor overboard.

He decides that she will change her mind when she sees how dangerous the river is, and takes her over the rapids. She is thrilled, telling him that she is “filled with admiration” for his skill, and that “I never dreamed any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” Charmed by her enthusiasm and praise, he still insists that they cannot possibly attack the Louisa. The river is all but impossible to navigate, and a German fort blocks their path. She insists, and as they face challenges together they learn to respect, rely on, and finally love each other. After a tender night together, she asks him, “Mr. Allnut, dear. There’s something I must know. What’s your first name?”

They make it past the fort and survive bugs, rapids, leeches, and the reeds that strangle the river, finally approaching the Louisa. But they are captured and sentenced to death by the captain. Charlie asks for a last request — that they be executed as husband and wife. The captain quickly marries them, and just as they are about to be hung, Charlie’s torpedo strapped to the African Queen hits the Louisa, and Mr. and Mrs. Allnut swim to shore together.

This is one of the finest and most satisfying of the “two diverse characters must take a journey together and learn to like and respect each other along the way” genre. Rose and Charlie are opposites. And yet they are perfectly suited to each other.

We first see Charlie hideously out of place sipping tea with Rose and Samuel and trying to hide his growling stomach. “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put in this world to rise above,” she tells him later. And yet, in another sense, Rose and Samuel were out of place in Africa. Ultimately, Rose is not comfortable “rising above” nature, and indeed grows to love it, as she gives up some of the strictures of civilization and appreciates the beauty and “stimulation” of the natural world. Charlie learns to appreciate some of the beauties of civilization; to take the challenge and the responsibility of participating in the fight against the Germans, to have a relationship of trust and tenderness.

Humphrey Bogart won a well-deserved Oscar for this performance. Katharine Hepburn, who was also nominated, said that her performance was based on director John Huston’s suggestion that she play Rose as Eleanor Roosevelt. Compare this performance to her appearance in “Pat and Mike” a year later, in which she played a world-class athlete.

The movie is based on a novel of the same name by C.S. Forester, but the romance was added by screenwriters James Agee and John Huston. Adults who enjoy this movie might like to see “White Hunter, Black Heart,” a backstage look at the making of this film, concentrating on John Huston’s elephant hunting.

Look at a map of Africa to see where this took place.

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About Adam

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

It begins as a sweet, simple love story. A flirtatious waitress named Lucy (Kate Hudson) falls for a man named Adam (Stuart Townsend). All the other men in Lucy’s life pursued her, but Adam lets her take the lead. Once she does, he is charming to her family, and a thoughtful and romantic boyfriend. She proposes to him in front of a restaurant full of people, including her whole family, and he accepts.

For most movies, that would be followed by “the end” and the credits. But this one is just getting going. The clock turns back and we see the same set of events through the eyes of Lucy’s siblings, all of whom have romantic problems for which Adam seems to provide the ideal solution. Lucy’s sister Laura (Frances O’Connor), a graduate student, dreams of a man with whom she can share the poetry that is so meaningful to her. Their brother David is about to explode with longing for his girlfriend, a virgin who says she wants to stay that way. And another sister, bored with her marriage, would like some excitement. Somehow, Adam provides it all, and then some.

It is fun to see what is going on behind the scenes of the original story, and there are some sly parallels, as when different family members hear different stories about Adam’s fancy car. The story could be cynical — after all, it is about betrayal, deception, and infidelity. But Adam’s ability to go straight to the heart of each person’s desire gives it a whimsical, almost magical tone that keeps it as light as a bubble. Hudson has less of a star turn than she had in “Almost Famous,” but she is bewitching, especially when she sings the standards that provide a nice ironic counterpoint to the various love stories.

And love stories they are — Adam is not manipulative and indeed might think of himself as happily manipulated by others. He is not trying to do anything but make everyone happy, and he has such a knack for it that even the audience cannot help being a little charmed.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language, and fairly explicit sexual references and situations, including infidelity and (unconsummated) homosexual feelings. Characters drink, sometimes to excess, and they smoke. There are some tense scenes, but no violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Adam figured out what each member of the family wanted, and how the various secrets and lies around his involvement with each of them might create problems in the future. They might also want to talk about times when they have felt pressure to be something different in order to make someone happy.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Local Hero.”

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Galaxy Quest

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is one of the funniest movies of the year, hilariously but affectionately skewering television sci-fi, its stars, and its fans. Not since William Shatner told Trekkers Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz to “get a life” back on Saturday Night Live has there been such a sublime look at this world, reminding us, in these days of Adam Sandler and the Farrelly brothers, that intelligence and humor are not mutually exclusive. The fast, funny, and fresh script takes a terrific premise and unreels it in a tightly constructed farce that is filled with surprises. Perhaps the biggest one is that we really come to care about the characters.

Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sigourney Weaver play former stars of a cheesy “Star Trek”-style show that ended nearly 20 years ago. Their only paying jobs are appearances at conventions of fans and store openings with their co-stars. A group of aliens who received the television transmissions of the program’s reruns and thought they were documentaries comes to Earth to ask for their help.

The TV stars find themselves on a real-life replica of their television series spaceship, lovingly constructed by the aliens to replicate every detail from the show. And they find themselves in a real-life confrontation with a lizard-looking tyrant named Sarris, trying hard to remember lines and plots from old episodes to help them defeat him.

The people behind this movie have watched a lot of Star Trek. Rickman, who played a character somewhere between Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock, stares glumly at his alien gill make-up in the mirror and murmurs about the time he got five curtain calls as Richard III. Sam Rockwell (very far from his role earlier this month as the evil prisoner in “The Green Mile”) plays an extra who was killed on one episode, worries that he’ll be killed for real on this mission, because “my character is not important enough for a last name.” Tony Shaloub, as the Scottie equivalent tries to reassure him: “Maybe you’re the plucky comic relief!” The responsibility assigned to Sigourney Weaver, the Lt. Uhura equivalent, is repeating everything the computer says (and wearing a low-cut uniform).

After a string of slob comedies, it is a special joy to see one that is so sharply written and performed. Acting! Satire! Dialogue! Plot! I remember those! I’m just glad someone else does, too. If movies got curtain calls, I’d give this one five. (Be sure to check out the brilliantly designed “unofficial” website at http://www.galaxyquest.com/galaxyquest)

Parents should know that there is some cartoonish sci-fi violence, some of it rather gross, and one sad death, a character gets so drunk he passes out, and is then very hung over, and there are mild references to Allen’s character sleeping “with every Terakian slave girl and moon princess” on the show.

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Comedy Satire Science-Fiction

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Posted on April 14, 1999 at 3:06 pm

In this technical marvel of a movie, human and animated actors interact seamlessly. It begins with a cartoon, loveable Roger Rabbit taking care of adorable Baby Herman, despite every kind of slapstick disaster. Then, as birdies are swimming around Roger’s head after a refrigerator crashes down on him, a live-action director steps in to complain that the script called for stars, and we are in a 1947 Hollywood where “Toons” are real.
A private detective named Eddie (Bob Hoskins) is hired by the head of Roger’s studio to get evidence that Roger’s gorgeous wife Jessica is seeing another man. Eddie does not want the assignment. Once a friend to the Toons, he hates them since one of them killed his brother. But he needs the money badly, so Eddie goes to the Ink and Paint nightclub, where Jessica performs, and he takes photos of her playing “patty-cake” (literally) with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), maker of novelties and gags. Roger is distraught when he sees the photographs. But it turns out that Jessica is completely faithful to Roger, and that she is caught up in a complex plot to close down Toon Town and Los Angeles’ excellent public transportation system to build freeways. Eddie’s efforts lead him to Toon Town and then to a warehouse where the real villain is revealed.
This was a one-time opportunity for cartoon characters from all the studios to join forces, and it is one of the great pleasures in movie history to see them all together. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck perform a hilarious duet at the Ink and Paint Club. On his way out the door at Maroon studios, Eddie brushes by several members from the “cast” of “Fantasia.” The penguin waiters from Mary Poppins show up in another scene, as do Pinocchio, Mickey Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker. The mix of characters and styles works extremely well, and kids will enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters in a different context. Kathleen Turner provided the sultry speaking voice of Jessica Rabbit, but her singing voice was Amy Irving.
Children will be delighted with the Toon characters, and with the interaction of the cartoons with the human actors and with the physical world. Eddie’s venture into Toon Town is almost as good. The story is fast-paced and exciting, and the slapstick is outstanding. But the human and cartoon characters mix more smoothly than the combination of slapstick and film noir references in this movie. The plot includes murder, corruption, and suspected adultery. The premise that the only possible explanation for the traffic system in Los Angeles is that it was the vision of a sinister madman is funnier for adults than it is for kids. Eddie is not an especially attractive leading character. Still reeling from his brother’s murder, he drinks too much and is surly to his clients, to his girlfriend, and to Roger.

(more…)

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Animation Based on a book Comedy Fantasy For the Whole Family Satire
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