REVIEW: ANIMAL FARM (1999)

CAST (VOICES)

Kelsey Grammer (Bad Neighbours 2)
Ian Holm (Lord of The Rings)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld)
Julia Ormond (Legends of The Fall)
Pete Postlethwaite (Solomon Kane)
Patrick Stewart (American Dad)
Peter Ustinov (Spartacus)

As a storm washes away the ruins of Manor Farm, Jessie, a female Border Collie, Benjamin the donkey, Muriel the goat, and other farm animals make their return to the farm after years of hiding in the wilderness. Jessie reflects on the events that led them to their current situation. The film flashes back years earlier.
As the alcoholic and abusive farmer, Mr. Jones, struggles with debt to neighbor farmer Mr. Frederick, Old Major, the oldest pig at Manor Farm, holds a meeting with the animals in the barn. Old Major tells the animals that mankind is their enemy, for they serve and provide for mankind without reward. Old Major teaches the animals the song, “Beasts of the World,” which proclaims that animals must overthrow man in order to be free and equal. The meeting is interrupted when Jones stumbles outside the barn and accidentally fires his gun, killing Old Major. When Jones neglects to feed the animals, Boxer, the work horse, leads the animals to the food shed, and the pigs lead a revolution against Jones, his wife, and the farm workers, forcing them off the property. Under the rule of animals, Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm by Snowball, a pig who has learned to read and write. Snowball paints on the barn doors what he calls the seven commandments of Animalism, which, in accordance with Old Major’s views, forbid animals from behaving like humans or killing other animals. The final commandment reads, “All animals are equal.” Snowball teaches the animals to chant, “Four legs good, two legs bad” and also reveals the “Hoof and Horn,” a flag that represents Animal Farm. Napoleon, another pig, declares that the farmhouse is to be preserved as a museum, and the three pigs (Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer) oversee the farm’s operation. Napoleon also takes Jessie’s puppies from her, claiming that it is best for them to receive an education from him. Snowball, when questioned by the farm animals, confesses that he and the other pigs have taken the farm’s milk and apples for themselves. Squealer explains that the pigs’ well-being takes priority because they are the brains of the farm. Jessie is the only one unconvinced.Having learned that Jones has lost control of his farm, Frederick leads an invasion into Animal Farm with other local farm workers. Snowball has planned for such an invasion and leads the animals to victory, causing the humans to retreat. In his defeat, Frederick considers working with the animals instead. Snowball proposes that the animals build a windmill to improve their operations, but Napoleon opposes the plan. When the animals show support for Snowball, Napoleon calls Jessie’s puppies, now grown dogs trained as his private army, to chase Snowball out of Animal Farm and leaving his fate unknown. Napoleon declares Snowball a “traitor and a criminal,” and Squealer claims that the windmill was Napoleon’s plan all along (leaving the animals unaware that Napoleon and Squealer are evil and they are the real traitors). Napoleon declares the pigs will now “decide all aspects of the farm.” When Frederick begins to trade with the pigs, Boxer remembers Old Major mentioning that animals were not to engage in trade. Napoleon explains that “Animal Farm cannot exist in isolation.” Napoleon has the skull of Old Major placed in front of the barn to oversee the farm’s progress, and has a statue of himself erected nearby. Jessie confesses to the other animals that she witnessed the pigs living in the house and sleeping in the beds. Squealer explains that no commandment has been broken. He had, in fact, altered the commandment, ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed’ to, ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.’
Jones and his wife sabotage Animal Farm by blowing up the almost-complete windmill with dynamite. Napoleon frames Snowball for the sabotage, and the windmill’s reconstruction begins under strict supervision by Napoleon’s army, the Animal Guard. Squealer announces that “Beasts of the World” no longer has meaning since Animal Farm’s establishment, and he replaces it with a new song called “Glorious Leader, Napoleon.” The pigs consume more food, leaving the other animals with little to eat. Napoleon declares that Snowball is causing the food shortage and that the hens will have to surrender their eggs to the market. When the hens oppose, Napoleon declares that the hens are all criminals and that no food will be given to them. The pigs produce propaganda films using Jones’ filming equipment. While celebrating Napoleon as a leader, the films show the deaths of animals that have broken Napoleon’s rules. It is revealed that the commandment, “No animal shall kill any other animal” has been changed to, ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.” The commandment, “No animal shall drink alcohol,” is also changed to, “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess,” after the pigs begin to buy whiskey from Frederick.
After Boxer collapses from being overworked, Squealer informs Jessie that Napoleon will be sending Boxer to the hospital. Benjamin notices that the van that comes for Boxer is marked with the words “Horse Slaughterer,” but Boxer is taken to his death before the other animals can intervene. As Jessie and Benjamin plan to flee from Animal Farm, Napoleon is paid for selling Boxer to the glue factory, and Squealer’s latest propaganda film assures the animals that the van was from the hospital, but had been previously been the property of a horse slaughterer. Frederick and his wife dine with the pigs in the farmhouse, where Napoleon announces that the farm’s name will revert to Manor Farm. Watching through a warped glass window, Jessie sees the faces of Frederick and Napoleon distorted in such a way that she can’t tell the difference between them. Muriel and Benjamin notice that the commandment “All animals are equal” has been extended to include, “but some animals are more equal than others.” As Jessie, Benjamin, and Muriel escape the farm with a small group of animals, a propaganda film displays a performance of a new song dedicated to Napoleon. The performance features Napoleon wearing clothes and standing on two legs, as the Animal Guard chants, “Four legs good, two legs better!” The performance ends with a speech from Napoleon, who announces plans to make weapons and build walls to preserve the farm. He declares the revolution over and announces, “All animals are now free!” The film returns to the present, after Napoleon’s dictatorship has collapsed and the farm has fallen in ruins. Jessie finds several of her puppies in the abandoned ruins of the farm who all recognize their mother and she knew that Napoleon is dead (what happened to Squealer and the other animals is unknown). The farm is bought by a new family (though what became of Mr. Jones and his wife is also unknown), and Jessie vows that the animals will “not allow them to make the same mistakes.” She says that they will work together to rebuild the farm (presumably have to work with the new farm family) now that they are finally free.
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This screen adaptation of Orwells Classic fable is well worth watching. The voice casting is excellent and the animatronics are quite acceptable. There are some differences between this film and the novel. The ending in the film has been changed and the script has scenes which are not in the novel. None the less its an acceptable version.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS (1960)

 

 

CAST

Kirk Douglas (The Devil’s Diisciple)
Laurence Olivier (Clash of The Titans)
Jean Simmons (The Big Country)
Charles Laughton (Mutiny on The Bounty)
Peter Ustinov (Death of The Nile)
John Gavin (Psycho)
Nina Foch (Sliver)
John Ireland (Red River)
Herbert Lom (The Dead Zone)
Joanna Barnes (The Parent Trap)
Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot)
Joanna Barnes (The Parent Trap)
John Hoyt (When Worlds Colide)

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Spartacus is one of the great Hollywood epics and Kirk Douglas’ defining role. It is a brilliantly written screenplay that combines the struggle for freedom from oppression with a compelling love story in a setting that accurately depicts the majesty as well as the corruption of the Roman Empire. The scenes depicting the political maneuvering of the Senate were priceless.Kubrick’s work was nothing short of brilliant. His attention to the details of the period was wonderful. The orchestration of tens of thousands of extras in the battle scenes was phenomenal. His presentation of the love scenes between Varinia and Spartacus were sensitive and compelling. I was most impressed with his treatment of the slave army. He put a human face on the slaves by showing mothers with their children and scenes of Spartacus walking among the people. This completely wins the affections of the viewer. His pacing was perfect and despite the film’s length at over three hours, it did not seem to drag since there was always something fascinating on the screen.

Kirk Douglas gave a powerful performance and created a character that was bigger than life. He was strong and inspirational while simultaneously being gentle and kind. Laurence Olivier gave a riveting performance Crassus. He was cunning, imperious, consumed by ambition and utterly heartless. It is hard to imagine a more nefarious bad guy.

Jean Simmons has had an impressive acting career that has spanned more than 50 years. She is both a great beauty and an enchanting actress. She gave Varinia dignity, strength of character and a quiet seductiveness that played well off the power exuded from Douglas. Their screen chemistry was both passionate and touching. Rounding out a great cast were Peter Ustinov who was terrific as the sniveling and cowardly Batiatius always conniving to profit from someone else’s misfortunes, and Charles Laughton as the astute and duplicitous Gracchus, manipulating the Roman senate to his best advantage.

The last decisive battle scene between the slave army and Roman legions was magnificently staged. The extras playing the Roman legionnaires marched in formation so precisely, and the whole formation moved like a single organism. The blinding flash, which was created when thousands of extras simultaneously pointed their shields toward the camera, was absolutely awe-inspiring. Just before the two armies clashed, thousands of extras playing the Roman army quickly and precisely reorganized the formation to create skirmish lines. This was a site to behold. It must have been absolutely terrifying for the foes of Rome to watch the formations of these robot-like, super-precise Roman legionnaires charging toward them. This is among the best epics ever made and certainly among the top three films about the Roman Empire. This film should be on every film buff’s list of required viewing and is highly recommended for its moving story to anyone who hasn’t seen it.