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Archive for the ‘Peter Ustinov’ Category

Alice In Wonderland

16 Mar

Alice In Wonderland – Directed by Nick Willing – Fantasy Live Action TV production. A Victorian 10 year old girl doesn’t want to sing at a party and runs off into the garden and down a rabbit hole and so forth. 133 minutes Color 1999.

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A labored telling of a dream, oh dear, and we all know what that means. Lewis Carroll’s original, of course, is the most revolutionary work of English literature since Shakespeare. But here everything is literal and old mad hat. Here is a work that should work with the speed of film and works with the speed of high Victorian taffy. Film would be ideal for the material. But the sequences go on at great length and to no good. A director’s collision. Poor Martin Short who must endure himself straining through the same grimace reel after reel. Pete Postlethwaite in a sub-supporting role as The  Carpenter who duets with Peter Ustinov’s The Walrus, but, boy, is it clunkilly staged. Whoopie Goldberg alone survives because she really does have the smile of a Cheshire Cat, and because she is so knowing. And the great Elizabeth Spriggs triumphs as the Duchess. Otherwise the whole farrago is a Caucus Race. Gene Wilder as The Mock Turtle and Donald Sinden as The Gryphon were missing from the version I saw, so perhaps they, with a sigh of relief, are well out of it. Alice In Wonderland could satire anything around that is there to be satirized and allegory anything around to be allegorized. This version has wonderful costumes, true, but consists of  encounters with a series of very rude bad tempered personages indeed, and, alas, that is all it is. It just won’t join the dance.

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Animal Farm

04 Mar

Animal Farm — directed by John Stephenson — Allegory. The animals on an English farm revolt against their revolting owners.  91 minutes Color 1999

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Expecting nothing, I was more bemused by the curious real-life animation of the animals than by the story told or the characters shown. I learned from the Extra Features that it was all done with animals made from robots, who moved, who spoke, and who even drooled. They looked so like real animals to me that I did not believe them for a minute. However, we have Pete Postlethwaite playing the main character, the drunken farmer (Nicholas II), an actor who always presents an ambiguity by his very presence and nature. He also plays one of the animals, and his fellow beasts are played by Peter Ustinov as Old Major, the mentor pig, Patrick Stewart as the loathed Napoleon, Ian Holm as Squealer, Julia Ormond as the little Collie Jesse, Paul Scofield as the dumb but noble Clydesdale, and Kelsey Grammer as the hero pig, Snowball. We are watching the Russian Revolution played out on a lower-mammalian level, just to illustrate to us that the actual personages, Trotsky (Snowball) Stalin (Napoleon) and Squealer (Beria, the head of the NKVD) are as we always knew them to be: dangerous weaklings. As an allegory we are also faced with the main allegorical pattern: revolutionaries become debauched, and the early ideals float away down the gutter. And there is something to be said for that view, as we watch, wonderfully, events in Egypt and Libya, Of course, the demagogues overthrown in those countries also were revolutionaries in their day. In this version, we have hope at the end, but the material is really probably better handled, although handled no differently by Marlon Brando, Mildred Dunnock, Jean Peters, Anthony Quinn, and Joseph Wiseman in Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata.

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