Theodoros Angelopoulos, Greece, 1988 (8.5*)
This is one of those masterpieces that are unforgettable, yet are hard to recommend. This is basically a road movie: two little Greek kids are told by their mom that their dad lives in Germany, so they decide that they need to find him, and hit the road alone. The story begins with them boarding a train without tickets. What follows is a coming of age tale that brutally welcomes them to the real word: walking in bad weather, hunger (food costs money), rude officials with 'better things to do', and both help and abuse from strangers.
This is not a pleasant story, but is a cinematic masterwork filled with some unforgettable images that one will never forget. It's been called Angelopoulos' masterpiece, but it's fairly certain that it is also Greece's cinema masterpiece. Winner of 8 international film awards (but 6 came from Venice alone), and a little slow by modern standards, but still a rewarding parable of the individual's growing alienation in a cold, uncaring soceity.
#319 on our Top Ranked 1000 Films on the net compendium, and the top-ranked film from Greece, followed by another of Angelopoulos, The Traveling Players at #418
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Theodoros Angelopoulos, Greece, 1988 (8.5*)
Monday, December 28, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, Stuart Samuels, 1992 (8.7*)
For all students and fans of the art of cinematography, this documentary produced by American Film Institute not only shows great example of cinema art, but also interviews many directors of photography (DPs as they call themselves), many Oscar® winners. As any photographer knows, the camera captures light emissions on film, so lighting is extremely important, not only for proper exposure but also for creating the intended mood for the scene. This film even goes one step further, having these artists also explain their inspiration and possible symbolism for their compositions. They also talk about camera movement, an important aspect of film viewing that keeps scenes from being so stagnant they they resemble a stage play.
Oscar®-winner (and favorite) Vittorio Storaro has extensive examples shown from The Conformist (dir by Bertolucci), Apocalypse Now (Coppola), and The Last Emperor (Bertolucci), in which he said he used red for life, yellow for the embryonic emergence into the world, and green for knowledge. These metaphors are likely noticed by very few filmgoers. Another fave of mine is also featured: Oscar®-winner James Wong Howe, a b&w master who shot Hud and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Other prominent DPs are included such as Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane), Lazslo Kovacs, Gordon Willis (Godfather), Conrad Hall, Charles Lang, Vilmos Zsigmond, Nestor Almendros, Sven Nyqvist (Bergman's DP), and more. They also talk about how they had to light certain actors, such as Garbo, Dietrich, Cooper, and what those stars demanded. Though the film was shot in 92 and therefore missed some recent masters, such as Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Hero), this is still an important documentary for serious students of cinema, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan
Christopher Dillon Quinn, 2006 (9.0*)
co-dir by Tommy Walker
Sundance Audience Award and Jury Prize
The story of the genocidal slaughter of the largely Christian southern half of Sudan by the Islamic north is one of the sadder stories of modern times. This film first documents the long exodus of at least 27,000 young men from Sudan to Ethiopia, then when that government fell, to a refugee camp in northern Kenya. Only 12,000 made it there, facing hunger and thirst along the way, forcing many to eat mud and drink their own urine. For some reason the UN and the U.S. both have decided to sit back and let this occur, even though the U.S. had no problem invading Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. (there is no oil nor any terrorists or communists in Sudan). Those who didn't flee the troops were burned alive in their villages.
This film begins with the story of a few lucky young men selected to be flown to the U.S. for education and jobs. Their first western food is on the airline, and they grimace and say that the survival camp food was better, that "this tastes like soap"! Things get better in the U.S., as they can cook their own food in an apartment, and most receive jobs, even though the pay is around minimum wage. The film, narrated by Nicole Kidman, follows the path of three men and their friends and their new lives in America.
Most find life in the U.S. lonely, as one named Panther says "If you're lost and go to a house in Africa they will help you; here they call the police - I feel alienated and lonely as a result. No one walking on the streets talks to each other." Most hope to send money back to the refugee camp for their friends, or to locate their families, missing since the civil war began. Even though the beginning is very harsh viewing, in spite of the singing and smiles of those in the camp, the remainder of the film offers hope that the "Lost Boys of Sudan" is a story that will belatedly find a larger audience, and the apathetic industrial nations will make a much larger effort to rectify this situation. The film won 6 awards at 5 different film festivals. More films like this one need to be made and seen by the world.
Quotes: "God must have grown tired of the unrighteous acts of mankind; God must have grown tired of us."
"I have never used electricity; when I get to America, I think I will have a hard time learning how to use electricity."
(re Christmas, after arrival here): "What does Santa Claus have to do with Jesus? Is he in the Bible? What does the tree have to do with this? In our country we sing and dance and prepare for the birth of Jesus in our hearts"
Friday, December 18, 2009
Ron Howard, 2009 (8.1*)
The Dan Brown book for Angels actually preceded the more boring Da Vinci Code, and is what you'd call a "page turner", an engrossing mystery-thriller with literally a ticking time bomb, one in this case made from the first sizable bit of anti-matter generated by the super-colliding particle accelerator at the CERN labs in Switzerland. Using that science fiction as the impetus, the story has the same Robert Langdon symbologist character as Da Vinci, once again played by Tom Hanks (who just plays himself again), and also features the Illuminati battling the Vatican, the scientists who were supressed by the Catholics as "heretics", who were hunted down and killed like rabid dogs.
In this story, the best of the Renaissance art of Rome is highlighted (a great promo for tourism), as well as many famous churches, chapels, statues, and fountains, especially those designed by Bernini. Langdon is brought in to save some kidnapped cardinals, the "Preferenti", those most popular in the upcoming Papal election, as the story begins with the death of the pontiff.
Ewan MacGregor is the better actor here, as the Camerlengo representing the Pope's office until they elect a new one, and veteran Armand Muller-Stahl as the head of the enclave of cardinals. This film is non-stop action with nary a momentary breather, as a different cardinal will be executed each hour along a path of illuminati locations, each with difficult clues for the cognizenti detectives, such as Langdon to decipher, thus giving the heroes a chance as well. Much faster paced than Da Vinci, and with a few changes to made to the book, this should actually please readers of the novel as well as action-mystery fans.
Note: watch the documentary about the "Making Of.." on the dvd, as almost everything you see is special effects; the crew built one of the largest sets ever, two football fields long, in a parking lot in L.A., to recreate Vatican City, always off limits for filming. The scientists at CERN also liked this film, but let the public know that there isn't nearly this much anti-matter in existence, only enough to emulate a firecracker.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
aka Deadly Is the Female
Joseph H. Lewis, 1949, bw (7.6*)
This is a classic film noir about two marksmen who connect at a circus, where the alluring Peggy Cummins has an Annie Oakley style performance nightly. After the pair get together, the John Dall character wants to go straight, but Miss Starr has a yen for the fast life and spending more money than they have. The only solution is to become armed robbers, so the two go on a Bonnie and Clyde style crime spree. Often innovative directing by Lewis, there's a terrific atmospheric sequence in a fog-filled swamp, as the two are inevitably hunted by law enforcement en masse. Screenplay was really by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Even though the Dall character started with guns as a kid, he did not "shoot his eye out", lol..
#583 on our Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Internet compendium
Monday, December 14, 2009
Charles Sturridge, 2000 (9.1*)
Longitude is a tv miniseries dramatization of the life of British inventor John Harrison, a carpenter and amateur clockmaker, brilliantly portrayed by veteran actor Michael Gambon. In the early 1700's, ships at sea could not calculate their longitude due to the motion of ships which prevented pendulum clocks from operating accurately. Navigators estimated speed and current drift and estimated their positions on charts, and just one degree of error resulted in many shipwrecks and deaths. Queen Anne offered a prize of 20,000 lbs to anyone who could solve the problem, so in order to save lives, John Harrison, who made wooden clocks more accurate than metal ones, took up the challenge.
Juxtaposed with his story in perfect synchronicity is the modern story of Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons), who is attempting to restore Harrison's clocks (to his neglected wife's frustration) and get them operative again so they can take their proper place in a museum of history. Director Charles Sturridge does a masterful job of not only integrating the two stories, but of also keeping us engrossed in a history lesson for nearly four hours. Only the British could pull this off, making what reads like a boring story of clock invention into a riveting drama upon which thousands of lives depend. Based upon the history book by Dava Sobel, one of the best history films ever made.
Quote: The watch beats five to the second, a slight recoil being perceptible at each beat, and goes for 30 hours. The plates are of brass, polished but not gilt. The pivot holes are jeweled as far as the third wheel, that is to say, those of the balance, staff, detente, contrate wheel, fly, fifth, fourth, and third wheels. The jewels are rubies, and the end stones diamonds. It is a masterpiece, weighing only slightly less than the brain that conceived it. (Irons, as Rupert Gould)
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
John Boorman, 2006 (7.9*)
This uneven but intriguing story gives superb Irish actor Brendan Gleeson a field day as a wealthy Dublin developer's aristocratic lifestyle is severely interrupted by the appearance of his doppelganger, who is at first just a hallucination, then a major intrusion. The plot has many twists and unexpected resolutions. Gleeson's own son, Briain Gleeson, plays the capitalist's socialist son, who quips that "many people had to become poor to make you rich".
These dual roles gave Gleeson a chance to show his subtleties, as each character looks the same but are slightly different. The weakest cast member is American Kim Catrall as his trophy wife - she just doesn't have the accent nor the skills to measure up to the rest of the authentic cast; she's better suited for Sex and the City.
What begins as a comedy turns darker about midway, before making some good statements about one's missed opportunities to be more human in our pursuits of careers and wealth. Not Boorman's best, that would be Hope and Glory, nor Gleeson's, I prefer him in In Bruges, but each is good enough to make this one worth the effort.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Aparna Sen, 2002, India (9.6*)
(mostly in English with some subtitles)
This small film is one of the most inspiring and heartwarming you can see, so this makes the perfect holiday movie. Directed and co-written by former actress Aparna Sen, who has crafted an understated story about travelers on a bus, from a multitude of backgrounds, and who are able to forget their political, religious, and cultural differences in a time of need and simply become humane people befriending and helping strangers whenever possible.
The story concerns a young married Tamil Hindu mother, Meenakshi Iyer played by Konkona Sensharma, traveling alone with her infant son, Shandaman, beginning a bus trip by saying goodbye to her father. He meets a male photographer, Raja (in a brilliant and subtle performance by Rahul Bose), also traveling alone, so the concerned dad enlists Raja's chivalry in ensuring that his daughter and grandson arrive safely at their train to Calcutta to reunite with her husband. What follows is an often pleasant journey that eventually literally hits a roadblock and traffic jam at a river crossing with much confusion as to the cause.
There are many small stories here (with perfect casting, esp. the baby "Santa", as Raja calls him), interwoven into one tapestry of human kindness and caring in spite of unrest and turmoil in society, as this takes place in a world of warplanes, terrorism, and even community riots, which are sadly commonplace in parts of Asia. India alone has 17 official languages, so most people learn and communicate in English, as in this film. I don't want to give away too much here, as there are several plot surprises that propel and intensify the story and make it engrossing as well as inspiring.
This film won 9 of the 10 award nominations it received internationally, most were best film or screenplay at smaller festivals [Awards page at IMDB]. For me, this is one of the best Indian films I've seen, there are no Bollywood songs, just a couple of poems set to music as part of the terrific film score - even the music itself is inspiring, especially one song that is a 10th century poem from an Indian poet-saint, which also begins the film:
For what shall I wield a dagger, O Lord
What can I pluck it out of, or plunge it into
When You are all the World?
- Devara Dasimayya, 10th century
This film and its story are just as eloquent as this poetry, as director Sen has successfully risen above religion to create the most perfectly spiritual story imaginable about the selfless love arising from friendship.
[Note: for those not familier with Indian regional cultures, this will be a fine introduction into all the different people there, and the still too prevalent idea of the caste system, as you hear bigoted comments like "you don't know what kind of person cooked the food" - while I'm thinking: just be glad you have food at all!]
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country."
-George W. Bush [Mr. President - where are the remainder from?]
"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
-George W. Bush
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'."
-George W. Bush
"I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future."
-George W. Bush [just as we suspected: he's a time traveler!]
"The future will be better tomorrow."
-George W. Bush
"We're going to have the best educated American people in the world."
-George W. Bush [this may be accurate, as those south of us are also 'American']
"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."
-George W. Bush
"We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe."
-George W. Bush
"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."
-George W. Bush
"We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur."
-George W. Bush [like the 9.11 attack?]
"For NASA, space is still a high priority."
-George W. Bush [but not as high as getting funding]
"Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children."
-George W. Bush [unfortunately, we also have politicians and preachers]
"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
-George W. Bush [ya know - I think he's right! "Global warming sir? that sounds like a bunch of scientists talking" - Kenny, on 30 Rock]
"It's time for the human race to enter the solar system."
-George W. Bush [this last one is especially hilarious - exactly "where" have we been until now?]
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
This is a small, captivating film of an improbable romance, closely tied to political events surrounding a G8 economic summit in Iceland. Veteran actor Bill Nighy (who has been much better, he's a little too mannered and unnatural here) is an withdrawn economist for the British government, preparing some proposals and financial feasibility for their participation in the upcoming G8 summit in Reykjavik Iceland, who can't find a table at lunch and sits with a young woman, having coffee alone. Kelly MacDonald is terrific as the young Irish woman, slowly warming up to Nighy, as we watch her character change and come out of her shy shell over the course of this film and become more vocal about her concerns; she won an Emmy for actress in a movie.
The script by Richard Curtis tackles some tough political issues, especially poverty and hunger in the world, so some have dismissed this as "propaganda", an attitude I just don't understand. I guess most westerners would rather see a dumb Bullock or Sandler romantic comedy, than a serious film about society's shorcomings. If you're one of those, avoid this, but if you want an engaging romance on a intellectual level, with complex and real people, this Emmy winner for TV movie is a small gem. Also won a Humanitas Prize, and the Shanghai TV Festival award.
[Note: even though for tv, this features brief frontal nudity, but don't panic, it's neither gratuitous nor arousing]
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Wong Kar-Wai, 2007, in English (8.2*)
Wong is a Hong Kong director, and one of the most visual filmmakers in history, which makes him one of my favorites. He frames shots like still photographers, yet always keeps the camera moving so nothing is static. He also likes to slow the speed down sometimes (such a slow motion kiss), or speed it up a little (street crimes become blurred and fast), creating alterations of time only possible with cinema. His films all involve passage of time and relationships, and some even show the date or time as segment headings. This film shows its "chapters" as date and distance from New York City for the main character played by singer Norah Jones in a subtle, finely nuanced performance.
This is about relationships, close and long distance. The film starts in New York city, where Jude Law runs a diner frequented by Jones, hunting for a missing lover. She later hits the road, and the film moves to Memphis, where she meets David Straithorn, an alcoholic cop, while tending bar, and his estranged wife, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz. She later moves on to Nevada and runs into Natalie Portman as a poker playing babe with a hot Jaguar.
Wong tells simple stories where the art is in the cinematography. He has some of the richest color you'll ever see in modern films, and some of the most striking images of mundane subjects. In this one he shows almost abstract images of pie, elevated trains, cars, landscapes rolling by. His films have won numerous international awards, but this is his first one in English, and will be a nice introduction to his work for westerners not familiar with him. Chungking Express and its sequel Fallen Angels were the inspiration for Tarentino's Pulp Fiction.
This film also features a terrific soundtrack, with original music by Ry Cooder, and some pop songs, with "The Story" sung by Norah Jones at the film's close.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Dir: Joe Wright, 2007 (8.9*)
Best Picture (British AA)
Best Drama Picture (GG)
[Updated 12/01/09 with the awards link]
This British war romance, based on an Ian McEwan novel, is one of the best recent films in the classic romantic novel tradition, and reminds me of Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. Keira Knightly and James McAvoy star as the lovers, who grew up together on the same estate, but from different social classes. There's also a bit of sibling rivalry going on with Keira's little sister, brilliantly played by young Saiorse Ronan, who was rewarded with an Oscar® nomination for supporting actress. However, it's Vanessa Redgrave who takes your breath away with a five minute scene; this was short but worthy of award nominations, she was so incredible (she was nominated by one critics group). The long tracking scene at Dunkirk that follows three soldiers for about a mile is one of the most unforgettable war images on film. Also received Oscar® nominations for picture, director, art direction, costume design, screenplay, and won an Oscar® for music.
Update: Atonement went on to win 23 awards with another 67 nominations worldwide. Young Saiorse Ronan (Briony at 13) was terrific, and got several nominations for supporting or actress or newcomer. The awards page at IMDB