Shaken *and* Stirred: R.I.P. Sean Connery — and Thank You!

He was, of course the first James Bond (and will always remain my favorite one).

He was the original Highlander (there can be only one, and it sure as heck ain’t Christopher Lambert).  He was Indie’s father.  He was Col. Arbuthnot in the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.  He was a lot of things … and people.  All memorable in their own way.  All unique.

For me, though, he will always be, first and foremost, Brother William of Baskerville and Jimmy Malone.

Thank you, Sir Sean, and soraidh … for now!

 

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol (performed by Patrick Stewart)

A Christmas Carol

A “Christmas Carol” for the 21st Century

Part of my annual Christmas ritual – and since this year I’m indulging by way of Patrick Stewart’s splendid audio version and the TV adaptation it inspired, here’s my review of the latter … with the added note that my comments on Stewart’s performance in the movie also apply to his reading, where he also does a splendid job getting under the skin (or whatever it is that ghosts have) of all the story’s other characters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Given the enormous potential for failure, it takes either a lot of guts or a big ego to remake a classic and step into a pair of shoes worn so well by the likes of George C. Scott and Alastair Sim — you don’t have to have grown up in an English speaking country to take those two names and their portrayal of Dickens’s miserly anti-hero for granted as part of your Christmas experience. And I suspect a good part of both guts and ego was at play in this production; but let’s face it: after years of bringing Scrooge to the stage in a much-acclaimed one man show and after also having recorded the audio book version of “A Christmas Carol,” a movie adaptation starring Patrick Stewart was probably due to come out sooner or later. Yet, while it does sometimes have the feel of another huge star vehicle for Stewart (even without the self-congratulatory trailer and brief “behind the scenes” features included on the DVD), his experience and insight into the character of Scrooge allow him to pull off a remarkable performance, and to make the role his own without letting us forget who originally wrote the tale. From a “humbug” growled out from the very depth of his disdain and his audible desire to boil “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips” with his own pudding and bury them with a stake of holly through their heart, to the “splendid” and “most illustrious … father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs,” coughed up and spit out after years of having been out of practice, this is the Scrooge that Dickens described; and Stewart obviously has the time of his life playing him.

This made-for-TV production is sometimes criticized for its use of special effects; I don’t find those overly disturbing, though — in fact, they’re rather low-key and for the most part used to show nothing more than what Dickens actually described. (This is a ghost story, remember?) Scrooge really does see Marley’s face in his door knocker; we all know that Marley’s ghost does indeed walk through Scrooge’s doubly locked door … and last but not least Dickens himself describes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as “shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.” (Granted, no gleaming lights for eyes, though.) The script could have spared a modernism here and there, but again, mostly the lines are exactly those that Dickens himself wrote. Even where the characters don’t actually speak them, they are part of their reflections — such as Marley being buried and “dead as a door-nail” (which, after all, is the tale’s all-important premise) and Scrooge’s rather funny musings how the Ghost of Christmas Past might be deterred from taking him for a flight (where citing neither the weather nor the hour nor a head cold nor his inadequate dress would do). Richard E. Grant, known to TV audiences as Sir Percy Blakeney in the recent adaptations of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” moves to the opposite end of the social spectrum in his portrayal of gaunt, downtrodden Bob Cratchit; and he is a very credible caring father and husband, albeit a bit too well-educated — unlike the rest of his family, who speak and come across as decidedly more cockney. Joel Grey, whose Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret” stands out as one of those “one of a kind” performances that are few and far between in film history, is almost perfectly cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past, combining the spirit’s wisdom of an old man with his child-like innocence, frail stature and luminous appearance. A great supporting cast and solid cinematographic and directorial work round out an overall very well done production.

Many actors are remembered either for one career-making role or for a certain type they have cast. No doubt Patrick Stewart, who as a teenager had to face an ultimatum between a steady job and the theater and chose the latter, will go into film history as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Treck’s “Next Generation.” But I would not be surprised if the other major role he will always be remembered for will be that of Ebenezer Scrooge — on stage, in audio recordings and in this movie adaptation, which successfully brings Dickens’s timeless tale of bitterness, sorrow, redemption and the true meaning of Christmas to the 21st century, and which before long, I think, will attain the status of a classic in its own right. I know that I, for one, will be watching it again with renewed pleasure next Christmas.

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express, Part 2: Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snow Queen”

The Snow Queen - Hans Christian Andersen,T. Pym   

– Read a classic holiday book from your childhood (to a child if you have one handy).

Alas, I didn’t have a child handy, and Holly was singularly unimpressed, so I just settled down on my couch and read Andersen’s fairy tale of love conquering eternal ice all by myself!

The story also makes for very atmospheric visuals, of course …

Russian / U.S. animated adaptation (1959 / redub 1998):

German TV (2014):

 

 

 

Original post:
http://themisathena.booklikes.com/post/1500376/the-twelve-tasks-of-the-festive-season-task-the-eleventh-the-polar-express-part-2-hans-christian-andersen-the-snow-queen

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — TA’s Reading List (& Matching Activities)

Thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting yet another great game … this looks like so much fun (again)! — I’m probably going to try pairing activities and reads whenever possible, so I’m going to include all the activities in my list below, too, in addition to my reading choices:

 

Task the First: The Winter Wonderland:

Reading: A book that is set in a snowy place: Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas in Wales (audio version, read by the author himself)

Activity: Take a walk outside and post a picture of something pretty you encountered on your way.

 

Task the Second: The Silent Nights:

Reading: A book set in one of the Nordic countries: Rose Tremain – Music and Silence, Kurt Aust – Das jüngste Gericht (The Last Judgment), or Åke Edwardson – Frozen Tracks

Activity: Hygge: Put on your fuzziest socks, light a candle, and spend some time (reading) in front of the fireplace or your coziest nook. Post a picture if you want.

 

Task the Third: The Holiday Party:

Reading: A book where a celebration is a big part of the action: Rex Stout – And Four to Go

Activity: Make something that is considered party food where you are from, and post a picture of it on Booklikes.

 

Task the Fourth: The Gift Card:

Reading: A book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift: Since my recent birthday presents were almost all books, something from my birthday haul — most likely either Ilija Trojanow – Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds), Edwidge Danticat – Claire of the Sea Light, Jim Butcher – The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Val McDermid – Splinter the Silence, Michael Connelly – The Crossing or Ian Rankin – Even Dogs in the Wild … all of these are books I’d been planning to read sometime soon anyway. I may also be using some of these for other tasks, though (see, e.g., “Kwanzaa” and “Hanukkah”).

Activity: Give a book to a friend and post a picture of the wrapped present.

 

Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:

Reading: A book written by an African-American author or set in an African country: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun, or possibly Ilija Trojanow – Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) (see also “gift card”).

Activity: Make a donation to a charitable organization that operates in Africa.

 

Task the Sixth: The Hanukkah:

Reading: Let the dreidel choose a book for you (note: I’m going to spin the dreidel when I’m actually getting ready to do this task):

נ  Nun (miracle): Christopher Paolini – Eldest (audio version read by Kerry Shale)
ג Gimel (great): Arthur Conan Doyle – The Valley of Fear (audio version read by Simon Vance)
ה He (happened): Ian Rankin – Even Dogs in the Wild (see also “gift card”)
ש Shin (there, i.e. Israel): J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters From Father Christmas

Activity: Make a traditional Hanukkah food like doughnuts or potato latkes. Post a picture, or tell us how they turned out.

 

Task the Seventh: The Christmas:

Reading: A book set during the Christmas holiday season: Donna Andrews – The Nightingale Before Christmas

Activity: Set up a Christmas bookstagram-style scene with favorite holiday reads, objects or decorations. Possibly also a cat.

 

Task the Eighth: The Movie Ticket:

Reading: A book that has been adapted to a holiday movie: Frances Hodgson Burnett – Little Lord Fauntleroy (The screen adaptation starring Alec Guinness and Ricky Schroder is one of the Christmas staples on German TV.)

Activity: Go see a new theater release this holiday season (this does not have to be a holiday movie).

 

Task the Ninth: The Happy New Year:

Reading: (A coming of age novel or) any old favorite comfort read: Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol (audio version performed by Patrick Stewart)

Activity: Post a holiday picture of yourself from your childhood or youth.

 

Task the Tenth: The Holiday Down Under:

Reading: A book set in Australia or by an Australian author (or a book you would consider a “beach read”): Thomas Keneally – Office of Innocence, Kerry Greenwood – Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates, or Peter Temple – Bad Debts

Activity: Buy some Christmas crackers (or make your own) to add to your festivities and share some pictures.

 

Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express:

Reading: A book that involves train travel: Martha Grimes – The Train Now Departing, or Agatha Christie – Murder on the Orient Express or The Mystery of the Blue Train

Activity: Read a classic holiday book from your childhood, or tell a story about a childhood Christmas you’d like to share.

 

Task the Twelfth: The Wassail Bowl:

Reading: A book set in the UK, preferably during the medieval or Victorian periods: Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave

Activity: Drink a festive, holiday beverage; take a picture of your drink, and post it to share – make it as festive as possible.

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season books

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1491594/the-twelve-tasks-of-the-festive-season-ta-s-reading-list-matching-activities

Merken

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles … and Dartmoor

“Yes, the setting is a worthy one. If the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men ––”

 

“I have been in Devonshire.” “In spirit?” “Exactly … After you left I sent down to Stamford’s for the Ordnance map of this portion of the moor, and my spirit has hovered over it all day. I flatter myself that I could find my way about.”
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

(Note: Review of my favorite screen adaptation starring Jeremy Brett HERE.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Having loved Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles longer than I can remember (kooky “penny dreadful” style screen adaptations notwithstanding), I of course insisted on a visit to Dartmoor when we visited Devon and Cornwall a few years ago.  And oddly, during a vacation otherwise set to the tune of bright blue skies and Mediterranean temperatures, the weather cooperated even on the day when we set off to the moor … by regaling us, on precisely that day only, with the suitable atmosphere composed of increasingly dark skies, culminating in torrential rain fall and a veritable storm!  So, here’s some of what I imagine Holmes and Watson (and the residents of Baskerville Hall, Merripit House etc.) would have seen and experienced:

OK, so it’s a village church and not a manor house, but pretty much every major historical building in Dartmoor seems to be made of this sort of stone, and built in this or a similar style.  So just imagine the belflry isn’t a belfry but just another wing (with a roof on the same level as the other parts of the building), and you have a pretty good impression of what Baskerville Hall would presumably have looked like.


“Mind you call it Baskerville Arms …”

(Sir Henry’s response to Barrymore’s giving notice and explaining that he and his wife intend to “set up in business” in a small way.  The above quote is not actually in the novel – I’m borrowing a minor addition from my favorite screen adaptation starring Jeremy Brett here.)

Princetown prison – the infamous Dartmoor penitentiary, from which Mrs. Barrymore’s brother has escaped in Conan Doyle’s story.

Background on the prison and the nearby quarry, where convicts were made to work

Dartmoor ponies

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Addendum:
A few years later during a visit to Norfolk, I also passed by Cromer Hall near Norwich — the building that actually did inspire Conan Doyle’s Baskerville Hall (and again, the weather cooperated in providing the requisite atmosphere):

 

Original post:
http://themisathena.booklikes.com/post/1482334/yes-the-setting-is-a-worthy-one-if-the-devil-did-desire-to-have-a-hand-in-the-affairs-of-men

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM

Wakeup Call, Williams Style

1965 was the year when, as a result of the Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, American military buildup in Vietnam began in earnest, and troop strength grew by a factor of no less than eight; from 23,000 at the beginning of the year to roughly 184,000 at the end. 1965 was also the year when a new AFN DJ arrived in Saigon, which over the course of that same year would transform itself from a sleepy French-Vietnamese colonial town into the nightmare it has since come to be in the memory of countless vets.

The new DJ in question was Adrian Cronauer; fresh from an assignment in Greece.

While the idea for a fictionalized account of his Vietnam experience was Cronauer’s own, fueled by the popularity of M*A*S*H, the script for Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Vietnam was ultimately penned by screenwriter Mitch Markowitz with only some input from Cronauer himself, who has since gone out of his way to underline the fictional nature of the account and stress that his true stance was not so much anti-military as “anti-stupidity.” Thus, the film has to be taken with a considerable grain of salt; both as far as the portrayal of 1960s’ armed forces radio and as far as the movie’s plot is concerned. But that doesn’t make it any less poignant; nor does it take away one iota of Robin Williams‘s performance as Cronauer: Indeed, the role of an irreverent, unstoppable DJ seemed tailor-made for Williams, who had burst onto the scene with his inimitable brand of lightning-quick ad-libbing ten years earlier in Mork & Mindy – and of course, all of Cronauer’s hilarious broadcasts in this movie are ad-libbed, too.

The film follows Adrian Cronauer from his arrival in Saigon in the spring of 1965 to his forced departure about a half year later (although the real Cronauer in fact stayed for a year and was not forced out but left when his regular tour of duty was over). While a comedy, and although not trying to be anywhere near the “definitive” take on Vietnam, it does take a close look at the year when the conflict escalated and, in particular, at the resulting toll on human relations. Robin Williams earned his first of to date four well-deserved Academy Award nominations for this role (the others were for Dead Poets Society [1989], The Fisher King [1991] and Good Will Hunting [1997], the movie for which he finally scored on Oscar night). And in his inimitable way he provides pointed comic relief not only over the microphone but also, and always with a unique ear for the situation’s mood, whenever the script would otherwise threaten to veer off into melodrama; such as after his discovery that his Vietnamese friend Tuan is actually a Viet Cong fighter named Phan Duc To (“It’s unbelievable. Five months in Saigon, and my best friend turns out to be a V.C. This will not look good on a resume!!”); and in scenes that would otherwise be burdened with a bit too much cliché and / or deliberately funny writing, such as the conference after Cronauer’s first broadcast, where Bruno Kirby (Lieutenant Hauk) gets to deliver such gems as “Don’t say that the weather is the same all the time here, because it’s not; in fact, it’s two degrees cooler today than yesterday” and “I hate the fact that you people never salute me – I’m a lieutenant, and I would like salutes occasionally. That’s what being a higher rank is all about.” Even if Kirby himself gets to make up for these a little later in the same scene with the comment “We are not going to escalate [Vietnam into] a whole war so we can get a big name comedian” (Bob Hope who, as the men have informed him, does not “play police actions”), it takes Williams‘s/Cronauer’s final weaving of the lieutenant’s preferred abbreviations into a single sentence to truly put the finishing touch on the scene.

Although Good Morning Vietnam is clearly first and foremost a star vehicle for Robin Williams, he is joined by an outstanding supporting cast, including inter alia, besides Bruno Kirby, Forest Whitaker as Cronauer’s good-natured sidekick PFC Montesque Garlick, the ever-reliable J.T. Walsh as his second great nemesis, Sergeant Major Dickerson (whose stock character of a straight-laced white middle class guy would probably not have come off convincingly as a villain vis-à-vis anybody but Robin Williams) and, in particular, Tung Thanh Tran as Tuan and Chintara Sukapatana as his sister Trinh: Her plea with Cronauer not (even) to seek her friendship, let alone more, because for her such an association with a man (particularly a foreigner) is culturally unacceptable, is one of the movie’s most quietly powerful scenes. Exceptional is further Peter Sova’s cinematography, which convincingly captures the daily realities of a city and a country on the brink of an all-out war, and is brilliantly complimented by the editing, which in turn also uses the soundtrack – more or less a mid-1960s “greatest hits” compilation – to maximum effect; be it in framing daily military routine, the soldiers’ enjoyment of Cronauer’s style of broadcasting or combat action: Indeed, hardly any image could make a more powerful statement on the cruel absurdity of war than seeing a village blown up to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s It’s a Wonderful World.

Thus, Good Morning Vietnam is in its own way as poignant a wakeup call as any other movie about Vietnam – or about World War II, or any other war for that matter. It deservedly netted the Political Film Society’s 1989 Peace Award, in addition to Robin Williams‘s Oscar nomination and his Golden Globe and American Comedy awards, as well as the movie’s ASCAP soundtrack award. And it certainly bears revisiting – for its overall quality, for Robin Williams‘s performance, and also for lessons learned and deserving never to be forgotten.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1987)
  • Director: Barry Levinson
  • Producers: Larry Brezner & Mark Johnson
  • Screenplay: Mitch Markowitz
  • Music: Alex North
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Peter Sova
Cast
  • Robin Williams: Adrian Cronauer
  • Tung Thanh Tran: Tuan
  • Chintara Sukapatana: Trinh
  • Forest Whitaker: Edward Garlick
  • Bruno Kirby: Lieutenant Steven Hauk
  • J.T. Walsh: Sergeant Major Dickerson
  • Robert Wuhl: Marty Lee Dreiwitz
  • Noble Willingham: General Taylor
  • Richard Edson: Private Abersold
  • Juney Smith: Phil McPherson
  • Richard Portnow: Dan ‘The Man’ Levitan
  • Floyd Vivino: Eddie Kirk
  • Cu Ba Nguyen: Jimmy Wah

 

Major Awards and Honors

Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association) (1988)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical: Robin Williams
Political Film Society (USA) ( 1989)
  • Peace Award
  • Special Award
American Comedy Awards (1988)
  • Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role): Robin Williams
Grammy Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Best Comedy Recording: Robin Williams
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1989)
  • Top Box Office Films: Alex North

 

Links

 

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

And what will your verse be in the poem of life?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden.)

Hands up folks, how many of us discovered Thoreau after having watched this movie? Really discovered I mean, regardless whether you had known he’d existed before. How many believe they know what Thoreau was talking about in that passage about “sucking the marrow out of life,” cited in the movie, even if you didn’t spend the next 2+ years of your life living in a self-constructed cabin on a pond in the woods? How many bought a copy of Whitman’s poems … whatever collection? (And maybe even read more than Oh Captain! My Captain!?) How many went on to read Emerson? Frost? Or John Keats, on whose personality Robin Williams‘s John Keating is probably loosely based? To many people, this movie has a powerful appeal like few others and has proven inspirational far above and beyond the effect of an ordinary movie experience. And justifiedly so, despite the fact that charismatic Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), one of the story’s main characters, tragically falters in the pursuit of his dreams, in the wake of apparent triumph. Because although Neil’s story is one of failure, ultimately this film is a celebration of the triumph of free will, independent thinking and the growth of personality; embodied in its closing scene.

Of course, lofty goals such as these are not easily achieved. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) in particular, the last scene’s triumphant hero, is literally pushed to the edge of reason before he learns to overcome his inhibitions. And Thoreau warned in Walden: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Anyone who takes this movie’s message to heart (and Thoreau‘s, and Whitman’s, and Emerson’s, Frost’s and Keats’s) knows that success too easily won is often no success at all, and most important accomplishments are based on focus, tenacity and hard work as much as anything else. And prudence, too – dashing Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) pays a terrible price for his spur-of-the-moment challenges of authority; although of course you just gotta love him for refusing to sign Keatings’ indictment. “Carpe diem” – live life to its fullest, but also know what you are doing. You won’t enjoy this movie if you are afraid of letting both your mind and your feelings run free.

Shot on the magnificent location of Delaware’s St. Andrews Academy, Dead Poets Society is visually stunning, particularly in its depiction of the amazingly beautiful scenery (where the progression of the seasons mirrors the progression of the movie’s story line), and as emotionally engaging as it invites you to reexamine your position in life. Robin Williams delivers another Academy Award-worthy performance (he was nominated but unfortunately didn’t win). Of course, Robin Williams will to a certain extent always be Robin WilliamsAladdin‘s Genie, Good Morning Vietnam‘s Adrian Cronauer and Good Will Hunting‘s Professor McGuire (the 1997 role which would finally earn him his long overdue Oscar) all shimmer through in his portrayal of John Keating; and if you’ve ever seen him give an interview you know that the man could go from hilarious and irreverent to deeply reflective in a split second even when it wasn’t a movie camera that was rolling. Yet, the black sheep among Welton Academy’s teachers assumes as distinct and memorable a personality as any other one of Williams‘s film characters.

Of its many Academy Award nominations (in addition to Robin Williams‘s nomination for best leading actor, the movie was also nominated in the best picture, best director [Peter Weir] and best original screenplay categories), Dead Poets Society ultimately only won the Oscar for Tom Schulman’s script. But more importantly, it has long since won it’s viewers’ lasting appreciation, and for a reason. – As the Poet said: “Camerado! This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man” (Walt Whitman, So Long!), this is no movie; who watches this, watches himself!

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1989)
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Producers: Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • Screenplay: Tom Schulman
  • Music: Maurice Jarre
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
  • Casting: Howard Feuer
Cast
  • Robin Williams: John Keating
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Neil Perry
  • Ethan Hawke: Todd Anderson
  • Josh Charles: Knox Overstreet
  • Gale Hansen: Charlie Dalton
  • Dylan Kussman: Richard Cameron
  • Allelon Ruggiero: Steven Meeks
  • James Waterston: Gerard Pitts
  • Norman Lloyd: Mr. Nolan
  • Kurtwood Smith: Mr. Perry
  • Carla Belver: Mrs. Perry
  • Leon Pownall: McAllister

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1990)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Tom Schulman
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 100 Inspiring Films: No. 52
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 95th: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
National Board of Review Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Top Ten Films of 1989: No. 6
Political Film Society (USA) (1990)
  • Democracy Award
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1989)
  • BAFTA Film Awards, Best Film: Peter Weir / Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • BAFTA Film Awards; Best Original Film Score: Maurice Jarre
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1990)
  • Top Box Office Films: Maurice Jarre
Golden Screen (Germany) (1991)
  • Golden Screen
Jupiter Awards (Germany) (1990)
  • Best International Film: Peter Weir
  • Best International Actor: Robin Williams
Guild of German Art House Cinemas (1991)
  • Guild Film Award – Gold, Ausländischer Film (Foreign Film): Peter Weir
César Awards (France) (1991)
  • Meilleur film étranger (Best Foreign Film)
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1990)
  • Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Film)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Regista del Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Director): Peter Weir
Online Film & Television Association (USA) (2015)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame, Motion Picture
Artios Awards (Casting Society of America) (1990)
  • Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama: Howard Feuer
Young Artist Awards (USA) (1990)
  • Best Motion Picture, Drama

 

Links

DEAD MAN WALKING

Of Monsters, Murder and Divine Mercy

“Sister, I won’t ask for forgiveness; my sins are all I have,” sings Bruce Springsteen in this movie’s title song while the end credits roll over the screen – giving voice once more to Matthew Poncelet and the men portrayed in Sister Helen Prejean‘s nonfiction account on which this movie is based; that angry “white trash,” those men who are “God’s mistake,” as one victim’s father says, inconsolable over the loss of his daughter; those men locked up in high security prisons for unspeakable crimes which many of them claim they didn”t commit. And Matt Poncelet (Sean Penn) is just such a guy; locked in bravado and denial, he proclaims his innocence and would rather take a lie detector test on the day of his execution “so my momma knows I didn’t do this” than own up to his responsibility.

With Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), we first learn about the crime which landed Poncelet on death row – the rape-murder of a couple on lovers’ lane – from the account she receives when she starts writing to him and eventually agrees to visit him in prison. It is, as she will soon learn, a story that anti-death penalty advocates are all too familiar with; a story of unequal access to lawyers and of two defendants, each blaming all guilt for their crime exclusively on the other, regardless what truly happened. And as long as she is assured that even if Poncelet would have a new trial he wouldn’t go free (as an accomplice, under Louisiana state law he would receive a lifetime prison sentence), Sister Helen is willing to help him find a lawyer and, when the date for his execution is set, try to obtain a reprieve.

But it does not end there, as she soon finds out; and one of this movie’s greatest strengths is the way in which it portrays all sides of the moral issues involved in the death penalty. There are the victims’ families, a stunning 70% of which break up after the murder of a child, and who are forever stuck with the unloving last words spoken to their loved ones and the memory of all the little homely details reminding them of their loss. There are the prison guards and nurses, trying to see executions as “part of their job” – with varying success. There are the politicians, barking slogans on TV; promising to “get tough on sentencing, get tough on lenient parole boards, get tough on judges who pass light sentences.” There are the convicts’ families, marginalized as a result of their brothers’ and sons’ acts, particularly if they refuse to condemn them publicly. (“Now I’m famous,” Poncelet’s mother comments bitterly on the dubious celebrity status she has attained as a result of a TV show about Matt. “A regular Ma Barker!”) And there is the death penalty itself, shown in all its chilling, graphic, clinical detail, here in its allegedly most humane form: lethal injections, which tranquilize the muscles while the poison reaches the convict’s lungs and heart – “his face goes to sleep while his inside organs are going through Armageddon,” Poncelet’s attorney says at his pardon board hearing. “It was important to us to show all sides of the issue,” explains director Tim Robbins on the DVD’s commentary track, “not to be satisfied with soundbites, and to present the reality … Ultimately, the question is not who deserves to die, but who has the right to kill.”

At the heart of the story are two radically different individuals: Sister Helen, who has grown up in an affluent, loving family; and Matthew Poncelet, the convicted killer. And their portrayal is this movie’s other great strength: without either of them, this film would not have been half as compelling. Both Sarandon and Penn deliver Academy Award-worthy performances. (Sarandon did win her long overdue Oscar, Penn lost to Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas – this would have been an occasion where I would have favored a split award.) Gradually, very gradually we see them get to know each other; and as they do, the visual layers separating them in the prison visiting room are peeled away. Yet, even after he has learned to accept Sister Helen as a human being (not without attempting to come on to her as if she were not a nun – director Tim Robbins’s way of dispelling the notion that they might fall in love, as is so often the case in the more clichéd versions of this type of story), Poncelet insists that his participation was limited to holding one of the victims down, but that it was his accomplice who raped and killed them both. And even days before his execution, he is still looking for “loopholes” in the bible, as Sister Helen admonishes him, seeing redemption as a free ticket into heaven instead of a means of owning up to his responsibility. (“I like that,” he comments when she quotes Jesus’s “the truth shall make you free.” “So I pass that lie detector test, I’m home free.”) Only in his final hour, he slowly, gradually gives up the protective layers of his bravado and lays bare his raw nerve and innermost anguish. And while he speaks, finally, in a complete flashback, we, the viewers, see what really happened that dark and lonely night in the woods, and what all the previous partial flashbacks have not revealed.

“It is easy to kill a monster, but hard to kill a human being,” Poncelet’s attorney explains on one occasion; and Tim Robbins echoes that sentiment on the commentary track. Yet, this movie is not about romanticizing a brutal killer, any more than it is about demonizing his victims. It is, first and foremost, an attempt to bring a complete perspective to one of contemporary America’s most pressing problems, and to find a way past sorrow and hate and move towards the future. And even if you’re still for the death penalty after having watched it – don’t claim ignorance as to what is involved.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: PolyGram (1995)
  • Director: Tim Robbins
  • Executive Producers: Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner
  • Producers: Tim Robbins / John Kilik / Rudd Simmons
  • Screenplay: Tim Robbins
  • Based on a nonfiction account by: Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.
  • Music: David Robbins
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Cast
  • Susan Sarandon: Sister Helen Prejean
  • Sean Penn: Matthew Poncelet
  • Robert Prosky: Hilton Barber
  • Margo Martindale: Sister Colleen
  • Raymond J. Barry: Earl Delacroix
  • Peter Sarsgaard: Walter Delacroix
  • R. Lee Ermey: Clyde Percy
  • Celia Weston: Mary Beth Percy
  • Missy Yager: Hope Percy
  • Jenny Krochmal: Emily Percy
  • Roberta Maxwell: Lucille Poncelet
  • Jack Black: Craig Poncelet
  • Jon Abrahams: Sonny Poncelet
  • Arthur Bridgers: Troy Poncelet
  • Lois Smith: Helen’s Mother
  • Steve Carlisle: Helen’s Brother
  • Helen Hester: Helen’s Sister
  • Michael Cullen: Carl Vitello
  • Scott Wilson: Chaplain Farley
  • Barton Heyman: Captain Beliveau
  • Steve Boles: Sergeant Neal Trapp
  • Nesbitt Blaisdell: Warden Hartman
  • Ray Aranha: Luis Montoya
  • Larry Pine: Guy Gilardi
  • Kevin Cooney: Governor Benedict
  • Gil Robbins: Bishop Norwich
  • Adele Robbins: Nurse
  • Mary Robbins: Aide to Governor Benedict
  • Miles Robbins: Boy in Church
  • Jack Henry Robbins: Opossum Kid
  • Helen Prejean: Woman at Vigil (uncredited)

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1996)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
Screen Actors Guild of America Awards (1996)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
National Society of Film Critics Awards (1996)
  • 2nd Place, Best Actor: Sean Penn
American Political Film Society Awards (1996)
  • Exposé Award
Humanitas Prize (USA) (1996)
  • Feature Film Category: Tim Robbins
Independent Spirit Awards (1996)
  • Best Male Lead: Sean Penn
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards ( 1997)
  • Favorite Actress, Drama: Susan Sarandon
Online Film & Television Association (1997)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame: Motion Picture
Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film Awards (1996)
  • Best Movie
  • Best Actor: Sean Penn
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Competition): Tim Robbins
  • Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas: Tim Robbins
  • Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost” Daily Newspaper: Tim Robbins
  • Silver Berlin Bear (Best Actor): Sean Penn
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1996)
  • Migliore Attrice Straniera (Best Foreign Actress) – “Dead Man Walking”

 

Links