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In a Lonely Place (1950)
One of the Best ever!
Very briefly, if you love 'film noir', excellent writing, brilliant direction, powerful B&W imagery and inspired casting, IN A LONELY PLACE is waiting for you. The storyline and the characterizations are city street-smart and flawless. One of Bogart's very best!
Maangamizi: The Ancient One (2001)
A warm recommendation
MAANGAMIZI may be a modest production in terms of expenditure, but the storyline, the performances and some cases, just the faces make it memorable.
Initially it's the story of two disparate women. One is an African/American doctor starting an internship in a Tanzanian hospital. The other is a middle-aged tribal woman who hasn't uttered a word or a sound since surviving a horrific loss as a little girl. When the American doctor arrives to meet her new patients in a women's ward for the mentally ill, all patients but one are active, giggling live-wires. The patient in question sits transfixed, alone and ignored, stock still as if frozen, staring out a window on the far side of the room. Intrigued, the American doctor walks over to her. The camera shows what the patient sees outside: an ancient shaman woman standing in the long grass, staring intensely back up at her.
The doctor looks out the window. There's no one there. Then, as the patient turns slowly, silently, in her chair and looks up, the shaman's face is superimposed over the doctor's.
The shaman is Maangamizi (the 'Destroyer'), an ancient spirit whose presence becomes more and more real and who's powers begin to draw the other two closer and closer together in a series of supernatural experiences rooted in both of their tragic pasts.
Even the title Destroyer becomes debatable because in this case what is being destroyed via visions, dreams, memories and tribal magic results in healing and liberation.
Just because the film focuses on women doesn't make it a 'feminist' tract. That observation does this movie a disservice. One of the most positive presences here is the doctor's male colleague.
Anyone who longs for films trying to honestly and originally convey something about what it means to be human (combined with a tingling spine) should give MAANGAMIZI a chance. Maangamizi may haunt her subjects, her namesake may well haunt you.
Yadon ilaheyya (2002)
DIVINE INTERVENTION (Yadon ilaheyya) See It!
This powerful, manic, wholly original comic satire uses outrageous, often surreal, visual metaphors to show how absurdly difficult life in Jerusalem is for a non-Israeli (and especially for an Arab). DIVINE INTERVENTION has been praised and recommended by the world's best film critics.
In addition to winning two major awards at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, DI also has the dubious distinction of: 1. having been submitted as a possible nominee for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film then 2. being summarily rejected sight unseen by the Academy.
Why? Because of it's Palestinian origin. The Academy asserted that Palestine is not a country, therefor its entry was invalid. Interestingly, and hypocritically (with a capital 'H'), the Academy always has and continues to accept submissions from cities like Hong Kong and many other sources that are not nations.
Once it became apparent that there was an anti-Academy backlash brewing, they apparently did some swift back-pedaling and insisted that it was the lack of a film commission that swayed them. The controversy continues.
DIVINE INTERVENTION itself is not anti-anyone. It certainly doesn't deserve to be boycotted because of it's origin. The important point is that it's a GOOD movie, a fresh, engaging vision based on personal experience by a very talented director, cast and crew.
Do yourself a favor: See it!
Haengbokhan jangeuisa (2000)
Wonderful. wry and witty comedy
Korea seems to be comedy-central for smart, warm, human comedies that make you really laugh. Even when you aren't laughing out loud, you'll discover a wry little smile of pleasure that won't leave your lips. HAPPY FUNERAL DIRECTOR is all this and more: a true charmer about a town where no one has died for ten years and the future of the Funeral Director's beloved parlor is becoming more and more uncertain. Don't miss it.
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Seminal 50's Sci-Fi from a child's perspective. Great!
Don't be fooled by anyone who dismisses Invaders from Mars as a piece of retrograde schlock.
There may be a visible zipper or two on the monster suits and their weapons will look a little Dr. Seussy compared to a Trekkie phaser, but this movie has a lot to offer, including a completely unique child-driven story line. I can't think of another movie that so successfully captures the terror at the heart of every child's fear that their parents may not be who they say they are; that no one believes them because they're children (how many abused children have been fobbed off by well-meaning adults who should have listened?), or that they're entitled a a perfect, loving father and mother (the nurse and the astronomer), not the ones they've been born to.
Compared to so many of today's Sci-Fi disasters that are long on money and short on everything else, Invaders from Mars relies on atmosphere and expressionist angles, nightmarish sets that are just a little too big, too stark, too skewed (the Police Station is a perfect example).
And instead of Mars Attacks' little green gremlins that take such glee in splattering and fricassing everything in site; the Martians in IoM are insidious; relying on one human to lure another into a sinister sand pit (a metaphor for the threat of communism or the tactics of the House UnAmerican Activities hearings?).
How many future 'alien abductees,' sci-fi plotters and X-files authors have used the conventions here? Tiny implants inserted at the back of the neck. Friends turned into traitorous zombies. Humans kidnapped and set out on slab tables for experimentation? Alien tunnels spread like netting beneath the placid surface of the world's oblivious Earthlings. A hero with the truth that no one will listen to? And how many film makers, even now, would have the skill and the nerve to save the boy, start the ordeal all over again, and make it work? Because, as we all know, the monsters in the closet come back as soon as the light goes out again.
NOTE: the remake is a total waste of time that Tobe Hooper should be mortally ashamed of.
Brilliant ensemble cast on of the funniest shows ever written
I can't believe I'm the first person to write about this gem! I didn't discover it until after Phil Hartman had been killed and the show was in it's final year. A friend forced me to watch the late-night reruns; I was and am forever hooked.
The writing is the kind of inspired lunacy that flourished briefly in the 1930's--smart sharp and deliberately, hilariously dumb. Packed full of pratfalls, zingers, visual puns, inside jokes, sharp satire and side steps into the downright surreal.
All the actors were great, but especially Phil Hartmen (true genius); Dave Foley; Andy Dick (poor guy) and a generally underestimated, marvelous Steven Root. Maura Tierney, Vicki Lewis and Khandi Alexander all shine but it's the guys who really get the guffaws.
Nearly every episode has classic moments, but the corkers are The Titanic ; The Space Station; Mr. Jame's Balloon Flight; Bill McNeal in Bellvue (?); The Secret of Management and The Halloween Party.
While Phil Hartman was alive he and Jon Lovitz paired up in a few episodes and were wonderful foils for eachother, but after Hartman's death, no matter how hard Lovitz and the rest of the crew tried, the show just wasn't the same.
If you haven't watched this show do it. It's one of the last bastions of real laughs left on television and one of the rare cases where you can honestly say "thank God for reruns."
***Note Hartman's picture on 'Dave's' desk til the very end.
wonderful, compelling, deeply felt film.
Forget the English title. This is an amazing film. And one that next to no one in the US has seen unless it was via a festival or rented in the original language. A great pity too, since this is one of the most intelligent, genuinely moving and heartfelt films about the plight of women in rural China (and women in general) that has ever been made-and made by a man to boot.
It tells five distinct stories of five young girls, all friends, who have each experienced something so painful or humiliating or heartbreaking that they all decide to go to the mythical land where women are truly free. The catch is, this wonderland is only accessible by dying.
The acting is uniformly excellent-in particular the actor who plays the simple-minded shepherd who loves all five girls and wants to go with them. Of course he can't, so they tell him (knowing full well that he can only make it to ten before he has to start over again) to count his sheep and when he's done they'll be back.
Once seen, this film is impressed indelibly in your memory. It's a crime that no US distributor had the foresight or sensitivity to option it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Thank you Kevin Kline.
Kevin Kline's 'Bottom' seems to be the linch-pin here (no coincidence that Kline takes top billing) and that's both a plus and a very big minus. Bottom was never intended to be the primary focal point of the play, but here, Bottom (and Kline) top out to become both one of the only reasons to see this laconic meander, but also the reason the film drags out far longer than it should. The completely unnecessary and un-Shakespearean Bottom bits with bottles of wine poured on top of him to humiliate him, an unhappy marriage and a lot of gooey mood lighting in a lonely bedroom designed to show that this particular Bottom once had dreams(npi)of being far more than a weaver, are Hoffman/Kline conceits designed solely to pad Kline's presence.
For the rest, with the exception of a luminous Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, once the film is over, Kline is all you remember. The casting is so bland, (in plucky Calista Flockhart's earnest case, so ill advised) that everyone else retreats into a mildly pleasant melange of faces, costumes and decor.
Obvious characteristics, spelled out clearly in the play, are ignored even as they are spoken: the magic flower is called 'purple' innumerable times, but the flower Puck picks is bright red. Helena is supposed to be the physical opposite of Hermia--tall, and insecure about her height, as opposed to a dainty little doll (in Peter Hall's version: statuesque Diana Rigg versus petite Helen Mirren). But here Helena and Hermia could swap clothes in a nanosecond and if anything, Hermia would have the tight squeeze; so the protracted insult swapping (while mud-wrestling no less) about their vastly different statures is meaningless.
Granted the production is "pretty" but even it's prettiness is belabored and inconsistent. The movie opens with a long shot of a Tuscan villa and its valley, proceeds to the outdoor preparations for a wedding feast and then, when the meat of the play should be set outdoors, it shuts itself up in a very theatrical set with fake foliage, foam monuments, bogus boulders, and paths so fake and unmanageable that the lovers would've been ill advised to take them on foot let alone on rattle trap bicycles. (And whose dopey idea was it to practically dedicate the entire production to the invention of the the very un-Elizabethan bicycle?)
You end up witnessing a very stagey play on an obvious set, and the result--far from the magical, ethereal other-world of fairies, is claustrophobic, heavyhanded, achingly artificial. The scale of everything is out of whack. On stage, you have to have life size human beings portraying fairyfolk, but Hoffman seems to have forgotten that film is a magical medium. Here all are obviously earth-bound humans, ungainly, leaden, in some cases, gross. You're better off renting 'A Fairy Tale' for a portrait of believable fairies.
Even the excellent Stanley Tucci is obviously a male actor in his forties pretending to be a sprite. And Rupert Everett, who does deliver a decent Oberon, has been so 'out ' in his public life and most of his prior roles, that having him demand Titania's little boy added a nuance Shakespeare never intended. It doesn't work.
Hoffman never gives you the sense that Oberon, Titania and Company are anything but homosapiens (do fairies pee?) in glitter and gauze, then poof, when Bottom finally wakes, his golden asses' crown barely fits on his thumb and we're asked to believe his bower with Titania was a tiny birdnest.
Better that this version had been called 'Michael Hoffman's and Kevin Kline's Midsummer Night's Dream' than Shakespeare's. There are far too many contemporary liberties taken, clunky additions and omissions made here, and every one of them would've made Will wince.
A Viagem (1998)
Mult-media miracle; pure magic
This is one of the most remarkable films I've ever seen. A seamless blend of live action and computer generated images based on a series of early Japanese screens that depicted the first arrivals of the Portuguese in Japan.
It is film elevated to the most enchanting, breathtaking, sublime level of true art. Absolute magic.
The only comparison I can think of is that it's early antecedent might be the work--sadly forgotten know, of the late, great master animator Karel Zeman whose stunning version of 'Baron Munchhausen' (currently out of 'print') has never been bettered.
Gràcies per la propina (1997)
This is one of those gems that somehow slips through the floorboards and is missed by critics, distributors, etc. throughout the rest of the world.
The story here is simple: two young boys are orphaned and then taken to be raised by their bachelor uncles (one of whom is gay).
Both are determined to do their best by the boys and the result is a wonderful, warm, intelligent and often very funny movie that follows the boys from early childhood through to young adulthood. All the performances are excellent; the photography is beautiful and evocative.
There are some remarkable films being made by Catalan film makers these days--nearly all unjustly ignored and/or undiscovered by non-Catalan distributors and critics. If you get a chance to see this one, don't miss it.