The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

Movie Review

Poster Strangers

Never has Venice been more beautiful, photographed more sumptuously, or depicted with more foreboding since Nicholas Roeg’s, Don’t Look Now (1973). The Comfort of Strangers (1990), directed by Paul Schrader, is a horror movie but you don’t know that until the startling climax. That’s when you look back and see all the clues.

Venice

A young couple, Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) travel to Venice to try to rekindle what is left of their lukewarm relationship. They walk around the streets of Venice in what seems like a bored stupor. They get lost one night and are rescued by an older man dressed in white (Robert, played with understated menace by Christopher Walken) who takes them to a bar and regales them with stories of his family and plies them with wine.

Lost in Venice

“My father was a very big man. And he wore a black mustache. When he grew older and it grew gray, he colored it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara.” This we learn from Robert not once but three times. This is our first clue that something is not quite right with Robert.

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When Mary and Colin leave the bar, they get lost again and spend the night outside leaning against a wall. They make their way to a café on the piazza the next morning to order breakfast. Robert spies them and comes over and apologizes for abandoning them last night and invites them to his luxurious palazzo to get some rest. They accept. Later, they wake up naked in bed. It seems Robert’s wife,  Caroline (Helen Mirren), has hidden their clothes with instructions from Robert not to give them back until they accept an invitation to dinner. Caroline admits to Mary that she has sneaked into their room and watched them while they were sleeping. Another clue. Things get weird from there.

Christopher Walken

When Mary and Colin depart and go back to their hotel, they somehow find the spark that they were looking for and have wild passionate sex. They are lured back again to the mysterious couple’s abode and things do not end well.

CAROLINE AND MARY

A lot of things don’t quite add up in this stylish thriller but it is so interesting to watch you don’t seem to care. Excellent acting all around with Christopher Walken standing out as the creepy Robert. The film might best be summed up by the police detective investigating the crime at the end, “I don’t get it,” he says. I didn’t either, but I sure did enjoy it. Quite a literary pedigree, I may add, based on the novel by Ian McEwan and screenplay by Harold Pointer. Paul Schrader is known as a literary type of director and this is his kind of material.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Movie Review

Birds od Prey poster

Birds of Prey (2020)

Directed by: Cathy Yan

Starring: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as The Black Canary, Ella Jay Basco as Cass,  and rounding out the cast, Ewan McGregor as the Black Mask.

Some of you might be surprised that I went to see this movie. To be honest I am a little surprised myself.  First of all, I am not a big fan of Marvel movies. I agree with Martin Scorsese that Marvel movies aren’t really cinema. I know, this is a DC Comics picture. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, the same thing. So, what possessed me on a bright, sunny, Sunday afternoon to enter a dark cavern in a multiplex and witness mayhem at its finest? Margot Robbie, that’s what. Plus, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from right now and I have actually heard good things about this movie. So, I hustled there inside, and friends, I am here to tell you I am glad I did!

Harley Quinn

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

I don’t know much about the source material because I stopped reading comics when I was 12, but this movie has legs and stands on its own.

This is 109 minutes of pure entertainment! A tip of the hat to Quentin Tarantino for some of the action scenes sure looked familiar. If you are going to steal, steal from the best, I always say! Also, there were some memorable dialog, lines, cultural references, and T-Shirts, such as:

“You make me want to be less of a terrible person,” spoken by One Harley Quinn.

She has the word “Rotten” tattooed on her right cheek, and she sports at times a T-shirt that says, “Daddy’s Little Monster.”

At one point she refers to a character as “You Frida Kahlo looking mother fucker!”

Rose Perez sports a T-shirt that says, “I shaved my balls for this.”

And at the end Harley Quinn reveals her new calling cards: “Harley Quinn and Associates – Bad Ass Motherfuckers!”

Black Canary

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

Written and directed by women, with strong female leads, this movie is a towering monument to female empowerment.  Lot’s a diversity on display here too. Visually stunning, Gotham City never looked better as photographed by lensman Mathew Libatique. Add a killer sound track that perfectly matches the action and you have  movie that is solid entertainment and a lot of fun. Two thumbs way up!

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Movie Blurb

mishima

 

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.”

 

Top 10 Movies of 2019

This is a list of my personal favorites for 2019:

  1. Once upon a Time in Hollywood
  2. Joker
  3. Parasite
  4. Rocketman
  5. The Irishman
  6. 1917
  7. Uncut Gems
  8. Ford v Ferrari
  9. The Lighthouse
  10. Queen and Slim

Queen and Slim poster

The Lighthous 1

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Light House

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Victoria Meadows standing in front of a Rocketman Display

Once Hollywood

Joker

Joaquin Phoenix  in Joker

Parasite

THe Irishman

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Ford

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford V Ferrari

1917

 

The Breaking Point (1950)

Movie Blurb

Breakimng point poster

The Breaking Point (1950) starring John Garfield and directed by Michael Curtis is based on the novel To Have and Have Not written by Ernest Hemingway. This vehicle is more true to the Hemingway tale then the highly popular and entertaining movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In my view, in many ways, The Breaking Point is a superior product. John Garfield turns in a magnificent portrayal of a down and out a boat captain Harry Morgan. Phyllis Thatcher plays his world weary but loving wife who is still hot for Harry. Patricia Neal is the sexy temptress who Harry is attracted to but doesn’t go overboard for.

Breaking point 2

Michael Curtiz has created and directed a taught thriller with no extra padding. Excellent black-and-white photography throughout.

Because Garfield was associated with the communist party during the Red Scare Warner Bros. buried this film and it lost out at the bus box office

This is a must see film for all serious movie buffs. It has definitely stood the test of time. Highly recommend.

Marriage Story (2019)

Movie Blurb

Marriage story

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 & Slim (2019)

Queen and Slim poster

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 (2019)

Movie Blurb

The Lighthouse poster

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 Lighthous 1

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!

 

 

Le Samourai (1967)

Movie Blurb

“There is no solitude greater than that of a Samourai.”

Le Samaurai poster

Le Samourai is a brilliant evocation of minimalist movie making in the neo-noir tradition. The first ten minutes there is no dialogue. When there is dialogue it is spare. Even with the subtitles there is never a time when you don’t know the score. The picture is told almost entirely in visuals.

Alon Delon in Le Samourai

Le Samourai, directed by Jean-Pierre Mellville, is one of the most influential films in movie history. I immediately recognized the similarities in one of my other favorite films, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) directed by Jim Jarmusch, also about a hired killer working for the mob who lived by the strict code of the Samurai. Similarities included hot wiring of cars to drive to the hits to keen attention to detail of technical aspects of the job. In the final scenes (spoiler alert) of both movies after the showdown after both killers were gunned down it was revealed that their guns were empty. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this film has been imitated many times before.