George Romero takes us inside this hippie/ rebel/ gypsy moth fantasy about a roving group of "live free or die" motorcyclists who run a traveling Renaissance fair/medieval combat arena. It's all very misty-eyed poetry and rules of chivalry as opposed to say, instance, an actual story. A kind of mood piece. If one takes the trouble to just let it happen the work has its rewards but folks requiring a plot need to look elsewhere.
The story herein, a bit of Biblical fanboy fiction, involves angels revolting against angels and needy for a really bad human soul to tip the balance. Chris Walken is a perfect casting choice - if only the medium had been respected more. As it goes the story lacks bang. There's a priest, for instance, fallen from the path, central to the story, and one comes away with little connection to him. This one rides on the fumes of what one hopes it will be, only it fails to live up to that hope.
Ken Branagh's unabashed Oscar grab proves that simply memorizing Shakespeare does not necessarily make one a good writer, but the guy does understand his intended audiences. And so this piece, a nostalgic nod to what? The old days? Mom? Family? The old neighborhood? "And even if times were hard, didn't we all have each other?" Seen through the eyes of a young boy this is moviemaking by an old hand at what pleases the hoi polloi. And while there is probably no Best Picture award for the work itself, I am certain that Dame Judi Dench will have to explain at the airport the extra weight in her suitcase when she flies home from Hollywood.
Based on a 1954 play this war film never completely leaves its theatrical roots, meaning characters will talk when direct action is called for. Nonetheless, ignoring the flaws, here is a tale about the psychology and group dynamics of stress and war just happens to supply the plot motivators. What sells this effort is the superb characterizations performed by the cast. Jack Palance's Oscar should have been here, and perhaps one for Eddie Albert, too, though Lee Marvin is no slouch either. Interestingly the war is the least thing of interest here, which is why this'll never be taken for one of the great war films but shines as a lesson on the corruptive influence of cowardice.
I recently saw other top-of-the-line films with a good deal of this cast in other roles wherein they all delivered top-notch and quality performances. But del Toro has something here, something alive, that allows those same actors FIRE. It's a creation so beautiful it's breathtaking. The cinematography is lush. The story, the rise and fall of just one of the mob, one of the guys, a normal joe, "you know that guy", connects for just those reasons because we know somebody like this character, and all the characters. It's why the story works. Del Toro has a classic made. See it for yourself.