Il Bidone (1955)

Movie Blurb

Il Bidone (The Swindle) Directed by Fredrico Fellini, starring Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart, Giuletta Masina. This is a movie about a group of con men swindling poor people out of their money which they in turn spend on flashy cars, booze, and prostitutes. You know, the usual. Shot in the neo-realism style in post war Italy it is indicative of Fellini’s early work. It is book-ended by two other films of a similar vein: La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabria (1957). These films comprise what has become known as the “Trilogy of Loneliness.” I always get a kick out of seeing American actors in some of these early European films. Broderick Crawford gives the performance of his career in Il Bidone. Not as good as the other two, but worth a look!

Broderick Crawford in Il Bidone
Richard Basehart and Broderick Crawford in Il Bidone
Giulietta Masina in Il Bidone

On the Criterion Channel and available on Amazon.

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Movie Blurb

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Directed by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish

Robert Mitchum Night of the hunter

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.

Night hunter

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Lady from Shanghai

Movie Blurb

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!

 

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Movie Blurb

Elevator Poster

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) is Louis Malle’s first feature film. A French Noir and an early entry into the New wave. Excellent entertainment that touches on several societal issues and displaying a gorgeous black and white portrait of Paris from the 1950s. Sizzling performance by Jeanne Moreau and a killer sound track by Miles Davis. There is absolutely nothing not to like here. Highly recommend!

 

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Jeanne Moreau

Maurice Elevator

Maurice Ronet

Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne M

Jeanne Moreau

The Act of Killing (2012)

The act of Killing

Movie Review

The Act of Killing is a documentary type of film that depicts former Indonesian death squad members reenacting their real life mass killings from the 1960’s. These older gangsters were encouraged to choose their own film genre in which to reenact these murders. The film was directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and Anonymous.  I found it very interesting that much of the rest of the crew was listed as Anonymous. The executive producers of the film were Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.

Act of Killing Fish

The resulting effect of the multiple genres chosen by the older gangsters was quite surreal and jarring. These gang members were common thugs who were influenced by American movies like Scarface and The Godfather. They imitated their movie heroes such as Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. The word “gangster” was said to be the Indonesian word for “free man.”

Act of kilking tiger

Many of the gangsters admitted the killings were wrong and some suffered from gruesome nightmares from the past killings. But some did not think what they did was wrong since they were never held accountable and were even praised for what they did and still receive praise to this day. They killed with impunity Chinese, communists, and whoever opposed the authoritarian regime of General Suharto. In one particularly chilling scene, a gang member describes destroying a village and raping its inhabitants, saying 14 year old girls were the best.

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A riveting and telling documentary some are calling a masterpiece is a must see film about events most people have either forgotten or have never heard about: the genocide of upwards of 1,000,000 people in Indonesia on the 1960’s.  This film is a grim reminder of the evil that lurks in men’s hearts and of the banality of evil that allows such horrific events to occur.

 

 

Antony and Cleopatra

A Review

Cleopatra

Sophie Okonedo as Cleopara

If you ever get a chance to see a production of National Theatre Live you should. The next best thing to live theatre is live telecast theatre. The play Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare is my fourth foray into this domain and it didn’t disappoint. Watching fine British actors like Ralph Fiennes who plays Mark Antony, and Sophie Okonedo  who plays Cleopatra, is a delightful pleasure like none other.

Harold Bloom, writing in his masterful work, Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human, says, “Of Shakespeare’s representation of women, Cleopatra is the most subtle and formidable.” And I would say Sophie Okenedo’s portrayal of her is by far the most superb interpretation of this magnificent creature. She is by turns moody, funny, bitchy, sexy, powerful, and above all regal. Ralph Fiennes holds his own with her as the Roman General who is in decline. Antony, like empires, is a study in decline and fall. The very hairs on his head rebel against the aging warrior. “My very hairs do mutiny; for the white reprove the brown for rashness, and they them for fear and doting.” You will see in him, one of the triple pillars of the world, transformed into a strumpet’s fool.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes as Mark Antony

In an interview Ralph Fiennes says of the pair, “He’s not an idealized warrior and she’s not an idealized princess. They’re full of temperament and tantrums and mood swings, and I think that combination is very moving to people.” Are Antony and Cleopatra in love? Well they certainly appeared to me to be in love. They certainly were not bored with each other.

Director Simon Godwin kept the action moving in this modern dress rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Costume designer Evie Gurney created designs for Cleopatra that were not just costumes but high fashion. They had to communicate not only her physicality but project power as well. The dyes used in the fabrics were made with Sophie’s skin tone in mind so that she would exhibit a golden glow. The Saffron dress was inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. So, it is not too great a stretch to say a costume fit for Queen Bey was also fit for Queen Cleopatra.

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Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo

The set design by Hildegard Bechtler was imaginative and ingenious. It was fluent and moving as the scenes changed in a smooth fluid manner. The center stage revolved from one scene to another, actors walked off into darkness others appeared in light. It was a miracle of rare device, changing swiftly from Egypt to Rome and back again. And at one point a submarine conning tower miraculously arose from the stage floor. And in Egypt a turquoise tiled pool. This magnificent play plays superbly well when properly directed and acted. It is too large for just any stage, but London’s Olivier is just the ticket!

In the climactic scene Cleopatra asks, “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, that kills and pains not?”

The worm of Nilus in this production looked more like a giant coral snake, with vibrant colors of red, yellow and black, but I am sure it made more of a dramatic stage presentation than its colorless cousin the asp.

“Will it eat me?” She childishly asks.

“I wish you all joy of the worm,” is the answer.

When she is discovered by Octavius after the fatal bite, he says, “Cleopatra shall be buried by her Antony: No grave upon earth holds in it a pair so famous.”

This play is about war writ large, East vs West, and two flawed individuals passionately in love with each other and at times at war with each other too.

 

 

L’Avventura (1960)

Movie Review

L'Avventura poster

Lavventura (1960) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni is a film about boredom. Boredom of the Italian bourgeoisie. Ostensibly a mystery and a detective story it depicts the emptiness of the lives of a group of rich Italians as they go through their daily lives striving to find something to stave off their deadly ennui. Usually they do this through sexual peccadillo and intrigue.

Albert Camus in his celebrated essay on the Myth of Sisyphus posited that there are only two valid philosophical questions: 1) in the face of the absurdity of existence and a life devoid of meaning should I commit suicide? 2) if no, the how do I overcome ennui? This theme is fully explored in L’Aventurra. While Camus says that in a life devoid of meaning we must give our lives meaning by our our own actions the characters in this film are merely going through the paces of living and relieving their boredom in the most meaningless way possible. In in the end they are mere empty shells truly devoid of  any meaning.

Anna & Sandro

The group of wealthy Italians head out on a yachting trip to a deserted volcanic island in the Mediterranean. When they are about to leave the island, they discover that Anna (Lea Massari) has disappeared. Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) , who is Anna’s fiance and Claudia (Monica Vitti) , Anna’s friend, try without success to find her. While looking for Anna Claudia and Sandro develop an attraction for each other. When they get back to land, they continue the search with no success. Sandro and Claudia proceed to become lovers, betraying the missing Anna. They then search the Italian countryside and various cities in search of her and have an adventure and fling of their own while doing so.

Claudia & Sandro

Beyond the meaning of the film there is there is the theatricality and cinematic quality of the camera work which serves to support the themes of the movie. Antonioni is known for his geometric compositions, static camera, and long takes. This is what I especially admire in his films and this one is no exception.

When first viewed by audience at Cannes it was booed. Later it won the Jury prize and has become acclaimed as a masterpiece.

 

I rate this film 8/10.

PHANTOM THREAD

Movie Review

Phantom Thread

One measure of how good a movie is, I think, is how long it stays with you. I have been thinking about Phantom Thread ever since I first saw it a few days ago. There is much to unpack here. This movie is essentially a love story between two strong willed, eccentric people from very different backgrounds. There is also an element of a ghost story thrown in for good measure, hence the phantom part of the title. Early in the film the main character, Reynolds Woodcock, tells his sister Cyril, “It’s comforting to think the dead are watching over the living. I don’t find that spooky at all.” He sews different artifacts and relics from his dead mother into the lining of his clothes so that she will always be with him. He also sews little secret messages into the clothes he designs for his clients, the wealthy and the Royal.

This is a movie about a famous dressmaker working in 1950’s London. Another period piece for director Paul Thomas Anderson. PTA is fast becoming one of my favorite directors. He has a collection of very quirky but well put together movies to his credit. And this one is no different.  He has been nominated for five Academy Awards and has led seven actors in Oscar nominated roles: Burt Reynolds, Juliane Moore, Tom Cruise, Daniel Day-Lewis (2X’s), Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Leslie Manville. Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for his performance in There Will Be Blood (2007). My personal favorite movie of his, however, is Inherent Vice (2014), starring Joaquin Phoenix.

The fastidious dressmaker in Phantom Thread is Reynolds Woodcock played with just the right amount of fussiness by Daniel Day-Lewis. He brings to the role the same level of obsessiveness in creating the character of Reynolds Woodcock as Reynolds Woodcock brings to creating those beautiful dresses and gowns of his. It is a match made in heaven. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs the business side of things. Reynolds is a confirmed bachelor and goes through a string of girls and drops each one as he tires of them. Then one day out for breakfast he meets a strong willed young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who catches his fancy. She moves in with him to become his muse and lover. She is more than he bargained for. His once controlled and planned life is now disrupted by love. Reynolds can be cold, domineering, moody and loathe to be interrupted in his work. Alma, finds an interesting way of getting his attention and securing his love.

The film is beautifully shot by Paul Thomas Anderson and is a wonder to behold. The original score by  Johnny Greenwood  perfectly compliments the film and drives the action.

I highly recommend this magnificent motion picture and give it a 9/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Movie Review

Orient express 1

A fun ride on the Orient Express. Old fashioned crime drama, based on the novel by Agatha Christie of the same name, with an all-star cast. Don’t expect any surprises here as this is a remake after all, but I am betting there are plenty of people who have not seen the original film directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 , or have not read Christie’s novel.

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Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

Kenneth Branagh has done a masterful job bringing this material to the screen. And what fun it is to watch your favorite stars strut and fret across the stage. Michelle Pfeiffer never looked more beautiful, so glad to see her back. Then there is Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench and Johhny Depp to round out the cast. Kenneth Branagh stars as the inimitable detective, Hercule Poirot. He had to occupy two berths on the train, one for him and one for his mustache.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett

The movie was shot on 65 mm film by Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and is quite beautiful to look at. The train is luxurious and the exteriors were fabulous! The film was shot first in Istanbul (actually Malta) then later in the mountainous region in Italy for the snow sequences. Each frame was composed and lit like a Renaissance painting.

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Michele Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard

There are worse things you can spend 114 minutes on and this film is a winner!

 

Paterson (2016)

A Movie Review

 

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One of the better movies to emerge out of  the 2016 crop of movies is the small slice of life film, Paterson, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Had I had a chance to see it earlier it would have appeared on my Top 10 List for best films of 2016. I happily add it now.

Paterson is a movie about the daily life of a bus driver named Paterson driving a bus in a town named Paterson, played by an actor named Driver. Oh, the irony abounds.

This is a small, quiet, little movie about the daily routine of the main character, Paterson as he goes through this daily rituals of getting up the same time every day, eating a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast and then walking to work. He is a city bus driver for New Jersey Transit. He stops for lunch everyday at the Great Falls located on the Passaic River in Paterson. Paterson eats from a lunch box prepared lovingly by his eccentric wife, Laura, and writes his poetry in a secret notebook that he has been composing in his head as he makes his rounds in the bus. The words flow like the waters from the falls. Paterson writes about the small, little, mundane things in life, but as the imagery picks up speed it sometimes explodes into a passionate torrent of love for Laura, his wife and muse.

Paterson comes home everyday after work and is greeted by his wife, a stay at home creative type who is into making strong and bold visual statements of black and white patterns, swirls, and circles as she designs and paints curtains and clothing and paints every available surface in their modest home with her bold designs. It is obvious that they love each other and accept each other for who they are. Laura encourages Paterson in his poetry and begs him to make copies so he can share them with the world.

After dinner Paterson walks Laura’s dog, Marvin, an English Bull Dog with a lot of personality. But Paterson and Marvin are not exactly best friends. Paterson stops each night on his walk at a neighborhood bar called, The Bar. He ties Marvin out front and goes in for exactly one beer. Here we meet more interesting characters from the city and learn more about Paterson. Posted on the wall behind the bar are pictures of famous people who are from Paterson or who are associated with Paterson in some way.

On the bus we and Paterson overhear snatches of conversations as the passengers talk about everything from historical events to famous people who hail from Paterson. There is an animated discussion about the boxer Hurricane Carter who was arrested for a triple homicide that took place in a bar in Paterson. Turns out the Hurricane was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was wrongfully convicted of the crime. Bod Dylan wrote a song about it and Denzel Washington played him in the movie.

This is a deceptively simple movie that actually has lots going on. Paying close attention to the background details will pay off in dividends. On Paterson’s night stand is an copy of Moby Dick with the name Melville splayed across the cover. In the basement we see the Earlier Collected Works of William Carlos Williams and many other books by other poets and writers.

Paterson, played to perfection by Adam Driver, is a basement poet who loves literature and observing the small details of everyday life and interacting with the interesting characters that inhabit Paterson, New Jersey. His favorite poet is William Carlos Williams, also from Paterson.

In the end, this movie is really a poem. A poem about the city of Paterson and the people who inhabit it as seen through the eyes of a bus drier. Brilliant!