The Juniper Tree (1990), directed by Nietzchka Keene, starring Bjork, Bryndis Petra Bragadottir, and Valdimar Orn Flygenring.
This extraordinary film, based on a Grimm’s Fairy tale, is shot in Iceland, and takes place in medieval Iceland. The stark landscapes stand out brilliantly as photographed in delicious black and white. I see echoes of Bergman here but this is a truly unique film of women with supernatural powers. Bjork is radiant in this her film debut as one of the sisters who has visions. Highly recommend!
Directed by Jean- Pierre Melville, starring Alain Delon, Richard Crenna, and Catherine Deneuve.
Un flic translates to “A cop,” but it is a heist movie that features the bad guys as well. Alain Delon is the icy cop who doesn’t mind issuing a slap across the face from time to time to gain cooperation. Richard Crenna is the mastermind criminal and nightclub owner. Catherine Deneuve, who is impossibly beautiful and completely vacuous in this role, is the femme fatale that each man is in love with.
The movie starts with bank robbery in a small French town near the ocean on a foggy day. It is brilliantly conceived and executed with a minimum of dialogue. Another set piece was a train robbery, which features lowering Richard Crenna onto a moving train and picking him up again from a flying helicopter overhead. Wow! Never saw anything like that. Models were used in the filming, but I didn’t care, it was still pretty exciting. When planning the train robbery, the gang calculated a time frame of 20 minutes. When the robbery actually takes place, the sequence is exactly 20 minutes long. Pretty impressive stuff. Not Melville’s best film, but it was his last, and definitely memorable!
Directed by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish
Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter
Billed as one of the scariest movies ever made, Night of the Hunter (1955) is certainly chilling. Nobody does menace quite like Robert Mitchum. He plays a psychopathic man of the cloth who wields a switchblade knife like an erect penis. The man has definitely got his wires crossed. Beautifully photographed in black and white, each frame composed magnificently to produce the maximum effect. Highly stylized presentation, more of an arthouse thriller than a run of the mill horror flick. Definitely one of a kind. If you love films, this is one to add to your list.
The Lady from Shanghai (1947), directed by Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, screenplay by Orson Welles, also starring the beautiful Rita Hayworth. Wow! I can’t believe I have never seen this film noir classic until now. That is the beauty of the Criterion Channel. A very convoluted plot, solid acting, a few plot holes, and a phony Irish brogue on the part of the Orson Welles character mixed together with original and creative camera work and outstanding editing make for the ingredients of a flawed but visually stunning movie. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married at the time the picture was being filmed but were divorced three weeks after completion. That might explain the lack of chemistry between the two. He had her cut her hair short and bleached blonde for the picture, which was controversial at the time but I thought she looked sensational. This is a must see for all serious film buffs. Glad I finally got around to it!
I sat through this tedious little thriller last night. I kept hoping it would get better and redeem itself. It didn’t. It was a great concept but failed to deliver. It suffers from weak writing, mediocre direction, and zero chemistry between the stars, Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. The sex scenes were some of the most awkward ever laid on celluloid. The dialogue was unbelievable and there were plot points through which you could drive a truck.
There was a lot of talent here but it didn’t add up to much. John Carpenter was the writer, Irvin Kershner directed. The images used in the film were from the Helmut Newton Collection and the title song was sung by Barbara Streisand. Interesting turn by character actor Brad Dourif. Raul Julia played Laura’s ex in a not so interesting turn. There was an exciting chase scene at the end that was mostly on foot. What I like the most about the film were the various location shots in New York City. New York was pretty gritty in 1978.
Directed by Paul Schrader, starring Ken Ogat and Masayyuki Shionoya
This film is a biographical treatment of the life of one of Japans’ most well-known writers, Yukio Mishima. It is structured in four chapters which interweave Mishima’s real life and his stories and novels. His early life as a boy is shown in black and white footage, his present-day life is shown in regular color and the scenes from his novels are shown in garish technicolor where the settings and action are highly stylized. The literary scenes are weirdly prophetic and presage things that are to come. The whole thing is brilliantly constructed and a marvel to watch. One of Schrader’s best works.
Mishima believed himself to be a Samurai warrior and created his own private army. He wanted to restore Japan to Imperial Rule. He also had peculiar ideas about beauty. He thought one should live until he reached perfection then destroy oneself before he decayed. Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide) on November 25, 1970.
“The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids.”
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018) is a very trippy film by Gan Bi. Very dreamy and trippy. I wasn’t quite sure what I was watching here for a while as I was mesmerized by the mise-en-scene and the technical virtuosity of the camera work. Time is definitely out of joint here in the noirish nightmare taking place in the small Chinese town of Kaili. Highly recommend this unusual film.
Marriage Story (2019) is written and directed by Noah Baumbach and stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Everyone is at the top of their game. To say I wasn’t expecting this to be as good as it was is an understatement. I mean, I was expecting it to be good given the parties involved, but this movie pretty much blew me away. This movie realistically depicts the pain and drama of a marriage dissolving and the subsequent divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, two actors I adore, have never been better. There are standout performances from other actors as well, Ray Liotta, Wallace Shawn, Alan Alda, and Laura Dern.
The writing plays a starring role as well. These characters are fully realized as their lives unfold before our eyes on the screen. Baumbach reminds me somewhat of Woody Allen in his more serious mode or a later version of Henrik Ibsen. A masterful storyteller who presents to us the drama of ordinary domestic life about characters we ultimately come to like and care about.
Two thumbs way up!
Queen and Slim (2019) is one of the most emotionally satisfying movies I’ve seen this year. It’s the story of a first date gone wrong. Very wrong. And a couple on the run. Part crime drama, part road movie, and all love story, this movie resonates. It seems a little underwritten and disjointed in places, and you wonder about some of the decisions the characters make, but for me that just adds to its charms. Sort of a cinema verité of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It has a gritty feel and is very watchable.
Outstanding cinematography by Tat Radcliffe. Clocking in at 132 minutes some critics thought was too long but I was totally caught up in the story and didn’t notice the time.
The movie was directed by Melina Matsoukas and was her first feature film. She has been known for her TV work and music videos, most notably Beyoncé’s Formation. Excellent work for a debut film.
Acting performances were very solid. Daniel Kaluuaya of Get Out fame played Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith played Queen in what may be a breakout performance for her. I just loved these two characters!
With a killer sound track, a compelling story, and characters you root for and care about this is a must-see film.
The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson is a richly unique film taking place on a desolate landscape. Shot in 1.91:1 aspect ratio in black and white it is really more like 50 shades of grey, so to speak. To say it is bleak would be to understate the barrenness of the rock on which the Lighthouse is situated. Shooting inside the cramped cottage below the lighthouse where the men live and drink together creates a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere.
The brothers Robert Eggers and Max Eggers, who cowrote the screenplay, seem to channel their inner Herman Melville as they spin out their whale of a tale of two “wickies” spending a four week shift together tending a lighthouse on a desolate rock. “Let’s see if we can make this even more strange,” they seem to be saying to each other as each turn of the screw in the movie gets weirder and weirder as each new scene unfolds. But, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, “As weird as things have been, they still haven’t been weird enough for me.” So, I didn’t mind. I just sat there transfixed. There was mermaid sex, masturbation, a calling up from the deep demons and depraved spirits and a variety of mythological creatures not to mention an angry seagull. It’s bad luck to kill a sea bird, we are warned. Poseidon makes and appearance and at the end (spoiler) we are treated to a Prometheus like figure lying on a rock as seagulls eat out his liver. What does it all mean? Who knows, but it was one helluva ride!