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It's great to go into a film knowing nothing about it before hand. This was
the case when I saw "The Sea." While you can easily see it was adapted from
a play the themes are consistent and handled cinematically for the most
The first thing that is apparent is that the casting in this film is ridiculously perfect. No actor feels out of place. Speaking of which neither are any of the scenes. It is rare to watch such a multi-character film and never be left confused about who's who. All the characters are sharply defined and they all illustrate the struggle amongst family, between the generations and the joining or avoidance of a globalized world.
The scenes in the pool and the scenes with the black sheep are accessible symbolism that serve comedic or story functions such that the audience is never lost. Another amazing thing is that even though all the characters have undesirable traits they're all funny and identifiable. The only place the film falters in anyway is that the father has a speech that's a little too long at the end. With the way the film cuts the framing of the story is very surprising.
The acting all around is great but those who stand out are Gunnar Eyjólfsson, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Hélène de Fougerolles, Guðrún Gísladóttir and Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir.
Whenever watching a foreign film, especially one from a culture I'm not that familiar with, I always look for two things: 1. does it seem indigenous and not overly influenced by Hollywood? 2. While being indigenous does it communicate a universal message and/or theme. "The Sea" succeeds in both cases.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ok, I admit it, when the networks fail to provide you with originality you
go to cable programming. While it may be on the head and didactic at times
it is funny and at times more honest than network dramas, barring
'Everwood,' of course. Being a fan and knowing that Disney has a track
record of ruining great things I had my doubts.
The first half of the film is seriously flawed in that the filmmakers didn't know whether or not this was a "long episode" or a "feature film." Detracting from the beginning are, in shopping list fashion so as not to be belligerent: 1) Ms. Ungermayer; 2) Miranda (Lalaine) getting written out of another story;
3) inconsistent cutting between storylines, inconsistent character behavior with the show (The MaGuires); 4)Disney's own marketing machine overplays its hand by pointing out that Paolo's accent is hammy and not authentic in their "Movie Surfer" segments;
5) There are also bad canned music choices and remixes;
6)The cartoon is back. 7) And other little idiosyncrasies that annoy the avid viewer (ie geek).
I gave this laundry list to point out that the second half of this film gets much better. It seems like the filmmakers finally figured out where the episode format could come into play, even though they forfeited the first act, unforgivably. The Dogme style of cinematography employed by Jerzy Zielinski added a dreamlike and surrealistic quality to many of the scenes that needed it, and it was a welcome choice unlike the changing of director from either the usual Savage Steve Holland or Steve de Jarnatt. The fuzzy images the Danish have given to the world work beautifully and of course shooting in Rome helps it almost have a surrealistic quality.
Stumbly direction aside the actors all eventually give their usual performances and some their all, Clayton Snyder (Ethan) is hilarious as ever playing his irreverent goof and Ashlie Brillaut (Kate) both foil and oppose the characters they were placed with (Gordo and Lizzie, respectively).
The filmmakers had an advantage when making this film. The subtext was in place. Everyone who watches the show knows these characters inside and out. So like Star Wars geeks we eagerly anticipate what we know is going to happen and hope it happens in an exciting and different way than expected. The first half of the film is stilted and awkward for a number of reasons perhaps due to the fact that the way the story was being constructed, the average viewer may need 2h30m to get into it. However, this is a niche film - not a blockbuster- so it should've been character all the way. And that's what it was in the second half. The new characters were set and the 'tried and true' felt comfortable again.
The latter portion of the 2nd act is pure Lizzie Maguire.
The 3rd act is pure visceral-cinema, in my mind that's the best kind.
So despite all its faults I give this film a 7 of 10.
While Disney cartoons all too often have a great sense of propriety to them,
as opposed to the Warner shorts that are loud, unapologetic and even
considered vulgar at times by todays reactionary and revisionist censors.
Disney has always been viewed as more boring and benign by most kids and as
more sly and underhanded by many adults.
Taking that into consideration "Funny Little Bunnies" is whimsical Disney animation at its best and its unapologetically funny. I almost hate myself for writing that first paragraph because people, especially after they study film take these cartoons too seriously. They're called "Silly Symphonies" for a reason. That's what they are silly all things we find offensive today were a norm in 1934. That doesn't make it right it just makes it a fact.
Anyway, if you shut your brain off for eight minutes you'll have a really great time. The story is simple and humorous without being too dumb and the animation- which I suspect was done on 3-strip technicolor is beautiful.
I dare you to enjoy it
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently saw this film for the first time in years and it struck me as kind of odd but simply because I wasn't watching it as it was intended to be seen. No matter what you believe about Disney and his subplots or pseudoplots all of his films are for children first and foremost, they're just not solely for children. Mary Poppins is probably one of his most simple and joyful creations.
The story is so unpretentious we forget what it is at times: Mary Poppins is a nanny on a mission to reunite the Banks family and she succeeds. In the middle she takes them on magical adventures with her assorted cast of friends.
This is the kind of film that the term suspend disbelief was created for. Things just happen in this movie and you have to accept them, like a child accepts them: Seeing is believing. Of course, this being a musical the songs are essential and they are fantastic, my favorite changes day by day or viewing by viewing.
The special effects, and mixing of live action and animation are years ahead of its time. The acting which some may critique is dead on the money. Dick Van Dyke, in dual roles, plays a caricature of both a chimney sweep and an old bank partner (at first I questioned the casting but now I see it was truly inspired and a surprise). None of the characters are meant to be played subtly and some, like Mr. Banks, require moments that are way over the top. Even Julie Andrews isn't as understated as she usually is (While on the subject I do believe the Academy feared having her win 2 consecutive Oscars even though she deserved it for the Sound of Music much more).
Ina film where old men shoot cannons off their rooftops at what they think are Hottentots, how can one question the reality of the situation or whether Stanislavski would've approved of the acting method? You can't it's a film of pure imagination for those who know how to use it. It is whimsical, touching and a pure delight. If you just sit back, relax and let this film take you into its world you'll have a great time.
"'Cidade de Deus' captures lightning in a bottle. Like many, if not all of the internationally reknowned Brazilian films of the past decade 'Cidade de Deus shows us a segment of the Brazilian population in near perfect cinematic simulacrum. A story whose structure is indebted to "Citizen Kane" and is just as intellectually stimulating, this films narrative moves circularly telling the tales of many characters who become the central figures in a 'favela'. Rarely is criminality portrayed in such dimension, there is not one 'no-nonsense, tough as nails, born a jerk will die a jerk in this but. The characterization separates and explains the motivations of each main cast member perfectly. The word circular works also to describe the nature of the story which is one of crime and corruption; it is something that never ends as we all know but the filmmaking is so captivating that we expect a 'happy ends' but love the truth the film shows regardless. The Samba-infused score and frenetic cinematography work hand in hand to add rhythm and emotion where it is needed but the cold, shocking and gut-wrenching scenes are left as is and work wonderfully. This is a film worth multiple viewings and careful examination and is a rarity a great piece of art that ALSO makes a socio-political statement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kidco is another one of those fantastical films of the 80s with a grounded theme. It was written by Bennett Tramer who went on to create probably the most famous television show that's "So Bad It's Good," called Saved by the Bell. This film tells the story of Dickie Cessna, played aptly by Scott Schwartz. We start off watching his Keno scheme at school which is busted by the principal. He's the quintessential 80s hero; anything for a buck but he's the little guy because who's gonna come after him? The crummy feds of course, to paraphrase Dickie. We first meet with these agents when they come to inspect his father's ranch because the board of taxation needs to appraise his assets. First, Dickie gives them bad directions and then when they arrive his sister's lead them to the barn where they supposedly live and put on this act of misery. Dickie's father tells him he has to stop running scams in school so he takes him up on the loophole. Yet then he stumbles on to a legitimate business opportunity when he sees they throw away piles and piles of manure everyday and all the local companies are complaining that Orville Peterjohn, the town tycoon, is charging them an arm and a leg for fertilizer. They are then charged with not paying sales tax, not having a seller's permit and not listing the contents of the product. Not only are they brought to trial but Dickie and Betty Cessna decide to defend themselves. This provides for some of the most hysterical moments in this film. At one point Dickie decides he needs to deliver a speech to state his case and says in closing 'The United States could've been the greatest country in the world but they had to go and bust Kidco.' This is also a film that deals heavily with the fundamental differences between children and adults and Dickie says "Youth is wasted on the young. Children should be seen and not heard. Your honor, if we believed in cruddy old sayings like that Kidco wouldn't have made a cent." While Dickie's vocabulary is lacking he is always brutally honest and has no problems insulting a lawyer which is always fun to watch and what this film has which I think is great is a triumphant defeat. They get out of the sales tax because their father has already paid sales tax on the hay and oats the horses ate that became the manure. It's a great moment because you see it coming and Dickie says "Your honor we're getting taxed at both ends!" The judge under heavy media and political scrutiny to be easy on the kids quickly dismisses the charges. Then the prosecutor reminds him the other charges still stand before the court. There is a plea bargain struck because there's really no way they'll be absolved. They'll be given a special seller's permit and must pay practically all their profit's worth in fines. The triumphantly they walk outside. There is a gathering of thousands of kids and Dickie gets up before them and starts talking riling them up. Neil, a cub reporter who's been helping them out give him a box full of orders for Kidco T-Shirts then Dickie grabs a bullhorn and says: "And we wanna tell you, you just made us enough dough to pay our fine and buy supper for ever kid in San Diego! Maybe now those bozos will pick on someone their own size" then he announces plans for a new shirt with his picture on it. And the kids chant 'Kid-co, Kid-co, Kid-co.' Some of the details in this film are really what make it work instead of baseball pennants over his bed Dickie has Pennants of Ford, Standard Oil and General Motors. And at the very end there are protest signs that read: 'In Kids We Trust,' 'Peter Pan Lives," "Children's Coalition," "Kids Liberation" "Suffrage for Kids" and "Equal Rights for Kids." These signs are fantastic. The whole tone of the movie is perfect. In many films made in the United States children are given little or no respect as people they are portrayed as stupid, whiney, troublemakers. Few and far between are the films that treat them with any respect. This film screeches for and demands that respect. Not only that but it's a great portrayal of big business in the 80s where kids were also looking for money and identifying themselves with corporations. Kidco might be a strange and unusual little film but it is most definitely funny and it is definitely a film of the 80s,a nd I think it's great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is impossible for me, having been exposed to The Birdcage first, to not
compare the original and the remake. Almost from the word go I sensed a
great disparity within the two films even though the remake ended up being
and uninspired copy and paste writing job. The first thing that lends
to creating a different tone is the music composed by Ennio Morricone. The
music in the Birdcage by Mark Mothersbaugh and Jonathan Tunick is
forgettable seeing as I've seen the remake three or four times and can't
remember a single note while I've seen the original once and can still
remember Morricone's score.
Ennio Morricone's gentle music takes us into a world that we shouldn't be afraid of. The key word to thinking about his music is sensitive. It exudes softness, tenderness which is aped by the action and the actors who are not ridiculous characterizations but with real people and real emotions. Due to the fact that all scenes include practically the same dialogue it is a huge complement to Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault that they made their characters more three-dimensional and real than Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
The American interpretation of this film is also vastly different than the French. Due to the fact that this film deals with homosexuality which is a topic that still is tinged with taboo here Americans have to turn the film into a farce of a farce. In other words the movie has to be ridiculously over the top to be accepted. The pathetic part of the remake is that it perpetuates stereotypes and while the stereotypes do exist (for how do stereotypes come into being?) by merely making them more human we can see beyond a stereotype to the person portrayed. A perfect example of this is the opening scene. They are the same in both films. Renato (Armand in the American version) tries to get Albin (Albert) onto the stage to perform his act. In the American version Nathan Lane makes his character seem like a whining melodramatic pain-in-the-you-know-what because of this the scene is very funny but emotionally superficial. In the French version practically the same dialogue is spoken but because of the way Michel Serrault delivers his lines and because of the more subdued expression he has on his face the words take on weight. They have meaning they come across as real concerns for the relationship as opposed to a paranoid delusion and an excuse not to go on stage. It made me believe the affair was a possibility all over again and made me forget about the son and his impending marriage.
The deception of the possibility that Renato is having an affair is aided by the son's appearance. In the American version he was clean-cut and Ivy League here the son in full 1970s look long hair included.
La Cage aux folles in 1978, even in France, was a more progressive film depicting a gay relationship, a gay couple who had raised a son and how the couple still had to pretend in certain social situation while longing to be completely honest. By 1996 in the United States homosexuality was not such a hot topic of controversy yet a slapstick-esque context is the only way the mainstream will be able to accept gay characters. Dramas about homosexuals are sole dominion of the art houses.
This is a film that does something very difficult to do. It takes a situation that is rich with comedy and imbues it with humanity and warmth. Making this a layered comedy which is something rare regardless of the country the film is made in. Le Cage aux folles is a really fun film which takes a serious look at human relationships and society's perception of people's lifestyles without putting any one down or getting preachy. It's a lot of fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unlike Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Cité de enfants perdu which never has a period, or moment of greatness, Amélie manages to be great and wonderfully inventive for about the first half hour until Bretodeau gets his box back. After that it's as if we've watched the origin story of a super hero and then watch her go about her daily routine (changing from Clark Kent to Superman, so to speak). The film then hits a structural snag, whereas, now Amelie has satisfied the desire of one man she goes off and tries to help everyone almost at once and we are told of these incidents simultaneously. The film had its greatest grip on me when we were focused on one story, there would've been nothing wrong with vignettes after all it was good enough for Truffaut in Small Change. Amelie begins wonderfully, with voice-over narration of her early life which the French seem to be masters at, the best example of voice-over being in Leolo a Quebecois film. Her childhood full of its strange events come across as hilarious whereas other cultures might have botched them making them distasteful, the death of her mother being a perfect example. The quirky humor is about the only thing that never leaves the film from the ticket taker who now punches holes in plants, the stuffed dog, the traveling gnome etc. When Bredoteau finds his box we flashback to what memories those items held for him in what are truly beautiful moments of the film. This is my moment of highest involvement, that sequence was a pinnacle which the narrative never achieved again. Part of the problem is the predictability the film later runs into. I'm terrible at guessing the ends of movie but once we were introduced to Nino and told of his past I knew that he and Amelie would end up together. So obviously, it was nerve-wracking and annoying that she was so painfully shy and prolonged the movie unnecessarily. Then there's the almost American complication in the relationship between Georgette and the bar drunk by her talking to Nino were so uncalled for. Then we also have the "Glass Man" and Amelie pondering Renoir's painting. While in the beginning it's commenting on Amelie is subtle it becomes more and more overt as the film moves on. The there are Jeunet's shots of Amelie smiling to extract her cuteness for some affect and frankly she's not all that cute and the shots are inorganic which is even worse. The special effects also eventually become pedantic when the key in her pocket shines, it makes me wonder what kind of film this would've turned into if Jeunet had been given a Lucas-like amount of special effect allowances in the budget. The cinematography in this film is quite spectacular but in certain instances the effects downplay what they have been able to do with the camera. The change in structure of this film ultimately creates a domino effect. While I can't re-write the film I wonder if I would be nit-picking so much if there hadn't been such a shift in the way the story was told. In the end Amelie is an enjoyable experience that may just have indulged its premise a bit too much-6/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Casablanca what is most noticeable is the way separate filmic elements
join to create a whole. Under the supervision of Michael Curtiz all the
necessary ingredients to make this film successful come together magically.
I use the word successful because that's what the film is. It does what it
sets out to do. It's fun to watch and not high art nor the most involving
and deeply moving experience in film history but it works.
Curtiz's direction deserves to be mentioned first with all the ballyhoo and
trumpet-tounged praise this film receives I had never known the name of the
man who directed the film. In this film not only does he construct a very
well-told visual narrative but he also provide some frames that floored me,
most noticeably an establishing shot of The Blue parrot including an actual
blue parrot, and the shadow used to establish La Belle Aurore. His
insistence on his casting decisions also made the film what it is as a
landmark in Hollywood history. Changing any one of the actors would likely
have made the studio's prediction of it being a flop-come-true.
Humphrey Bogart could not have been better suited for his part. For through
most of the film we see Rick Blain as cool and unflinching. Only in the
flashback do we see his more emotional and less pragmatic side. Slowly we
see revelations he helps the Humgarian girl he also quarrels with Ilsa over
their failed love affair. Even in this film we find Bogart in his persona of
the heroic loner which we would find in many of his films.
In what is probably the best piece of casting was Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa.
Aesthetically Bergman has one of those faces that was just made to be filmed
in black and white. She is luminous. She plays Ilsa to a tee and truly makes
the love affair back drop of the film both during the flashback sequence and
when she pleads in tears for Rick's assistance. In every film romance both
actors have to be equals and suited for one another, this pair
The secondary players were also crucial. In such a way they can scarcely be
called secondary characters. The most artistic part of Casablanca is that
Curtiz both in the beginning and towards the end takes us amongst, little
vignettes, snatches of the lives of the people who live their temporary
existences in this town that's merely a gateway to Lisbon, then America.
With the dual story of refugees and the love stories the secondary
characters take on even greater importance. Claude Rains, when he's on the
screen it's like there's no one else around. His excuse for closing down the
café was the only dialogue that stuck in my head after so many years without
having watched it. Rains plays his character in such a way that his change
of heart at the end is justified and, as written, he is the most complex of
all the characters. Peter Lorre, played Ugarte, he was absent through much
of the film but Lorre with that voice always leaves an impression with the
audience. He also seems to exude a kind of helplessness in this part. Syndey
Greenstreet seemed to be the Fat Man out of The Maltese Falcon but in the
end he helps his share of people and does a good job also.
What made itself apparent to me this time as opposed to the first time I
saw the film was the omnipresence of propaganda in Casablanca. Propaganda is
often regarded as a four-letter word, and that's not always the case but it
should always looked at with suspicion. In this film it's handled so
intelligently and it's Positive-Propaganda, meaning that it's a call to
action rather than a character assassination or anti-something. Rick is told
"Isolationism isn't a practical policy.' He's the only American character of
the major figures this is a call to action for the American public to
support the US war effort in Europe. The propaganda in this film is so
incisive, intelligent and organic to the plot that it shows what a powerful
medium film really is. It's interesting to note also that the film was made
up of cast and crew mostly from Europe, director Micheal Curtiz, Peter Lorre
and Paul Heinreid (Victor Laszlo) were born in the Austro-Hungarian empire,
Igrid Bergman was Swedish, Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet were English
and Colonel Srasser was played by a legend of German cinema Conrad
What we have in Casablanca is film that can be enjoyed from any angle you
look at it. It is a film that will transcend generations for years to
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Man and a Woman" is about the simplest and least pretentious romantic story you are bound to find. This statement is important because most often the problem with the romantic comedy or the straight romance is that the story is often too contrived, far-fetched, and/or lacking in true human emotion. In this film we see how two people fall in love and better yet we don't even get a happily ever after type of ending but rather we see that these two people are willing to love again after having lost their first spouses. This film is also interesting in the way director Claude Lelouch structures his narrative. Not only do we never over-deal with the fact that they both lost their first loves we also find this information out at different times in the story and the information in the film is also communicated very visually which is interesting as opposed to hearing dialogue which if poorly delivered would come across as ham-handed. The psychological focus of the tale is definitely Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimée). She is more the focus because we see both her falling in love with her first husband, Pierre, while "Samba da Bênção' by Toquinho and Vinicius was played. On a side note, the addition of Samba to a French film shows how much broader their cultural horizons are than ours are. It matter not that they might not understand Portuguese for they recognize the Samba as probably the most wonderful sound ever created. We see Anne meeting her first husband and also how he dies. Then as she consummates her relationship with Jean-Luc we see her thought process as she flashes back to her time with Pierre and how difficult loving another man is for her. One of the best parts of the film on Lelouch's part was when Valérie (Valérie Lagrange), Jean-Luc's first wife, is in the hospital after his accident. We see not only her strife but the passage of time through a series of jump cuts. I found this technique much more effective than a series of dissolves or on very long take. In this sequence we also see how sometimes telling can be more effective than showing as we do not see her commit suicide but rather hear Jean-Luc say it with sadness in his voice. Another interesting technique in this film was alerting between color and black and white. In the very beginning of the film it was used solely to differentiate between a flashback and the present tense but rather in a reversed way. The flashbacks were in color. This presents the present as more gritty and not as joyful whereas the flashbacks may not have been happier they certainly were more colorful as they are with most people. What's impressive about 'A Man and a Woman,' as is often the case with a lot of French films is it's simplicity. We deal with real people in a real type of story, plot devices and formulas are completely thrown out the window. And in this film what we get is a much more enjoyable experience than any Hollywood formula could possibly provide.
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