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|85 reviews in total|
As an admirer of the Italian neo-realist film director Francesco Rosi, I was delighted when a friend mentioned that he'd obtained a copy of Rosi's long forgotten film, "More Than A Miracle." Released in 1967, it only lasted for a couple of weeks (which explains why I missed seeing it back then), before quickly disappearing from sight. Now, forty-five years later, I finally sat down to watch it. I knew that "More Than A Miracle" was a fairy tale set in 17th. Century Spain. And that it starred Omar Sharif as Prince Ramon and Sophia Loren as the peasant girl, Isabella who the Prince falls in love with. I'm not a huge fan of fairy tales. However, as this was a Francesco Rosi film, I figured it would be a cut above films tackling similar subject matter. Prince Ramon has refused to choose a bride from the seven marriageable princesses whom his mother has selected as most deserving of becoming his wife. Out on his horse he comes across a monastery, and meets friar Brother Joseph who amuses the local children by leaping into the air and flying about the countryside. The friar presents the Prince with a donkey and a bag of flour and instructs him to search for a woman who will make him seven dumplings. Despite trying to remain 'engaged' with the film, I soon found myself checking how long still had to run. Seeing a peasant girl picking vegetables, he orders her to make seven dumplings from the bag of flour he gives her. Which she dutifully does, but overcome by hunger, she eats the seventh dumpling. To punish her for her disobedience, the Prince feigns death and then disappears. While I understood that it was after all just a fairy tale, my attention was beginning to wander. I must have dozed off, as I was woken up by a sharp poke in the ribs from my wife. On the TV, Isabella was being rescued from a wooden barrel by a group of street urchins. By then, Francesco Rosi or no Francesco Rosi, I'd had enough and went to bed. Next morning, my wife insisted on telling me how it all ended. Apparently, Isabella ended up marrying the Prince and they both lived happily ever after. Born in 1922, Francesco Rosi directed some of the finest neo-realist films to come out of Italy. Such classics as "Hands Over The City", Salvatore Guiliano", "Moment of Truth" and "The Mattei Affair" Those alone elevate him to the Pantheon of Italian film directors. To me, "More Than A Miracle" was just a "glitch" and in no way detracts from his reputation as a great film director.
Anyone, even those with only passing interest in American politics, should see the HBO film "Game/Change" It's 2008. The polls show that Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain, is being outspent, and out manoeuvred by the Democrats nominee, Barack Obama. Worse, McCain has yet to decide on a running mate. Nobody is happy with the names being put forward for the Vice Presidency. McCain's strategist, Steve Schmidt, tells McCain that he needs a 'game changer' Despite his being the choice of the Republican Party to beat the Democrats, his stand on the issue of abortion, is anathema to the religious right whose votes he desperately needs if he wants to become President. Somehow, the name Sarah Palin comes up as a distinct possibility. Nobody in the McCain retinue have heard of her. Sarah Palin is Governor of Alaska. She is deeply religious, very conservative, anti abortion, and believes it's every American's right to use guns to defend one's life and property. Oh, she also likes to kill Moose. At first, it seems the McCain Camp has made the right choice. The religious right love her. It seems she can do no wrong. Sarah Palin however, is used to getting her own way. As Governor, she demands unflinching loyalty. Anyone who disagrees with her soon find themselves out of a job, ostracized, or both. Like the proverbial elephant, Sarah Palin never forgets. Every perceived slight, real or not, that's made against her: this includes the people who work for her, the reporters who write about her, in fact anybody - even those people most close to her, the day will come when Sarah gets her revenge. It isn't long before the McCain people begin to wonder whether selecting Sarah Palin was the right choice. Differences about how she sees her role as Vice Presidential and how the McCain people see her role begin to emerge, and soon, it's Sarah Palin who appears to be calling the shots. Still, it's too late now for McCain to even think about anything, except hoping it will turn out all right in the end. What makes "Game Change" really 'work', is the inspired piece of casting by having Julianne Moore in the role of Sarah Palin. Not only does she look uncannily like Sarah Palin (at times, I honestly couldn't tell the difference), but she seems to have Sarah Palin's mannerisms down to a't' - a remarkable piece of acting. Julianne Moore is ably supported by Woody Harrelson as strategist Steve Schmidt, and Ed Harris as John McCain. This is a terrific film. To my mind, the scariest about this film is that John McCain was seventy-two at the time he made his run for the Presidency. During the Vietnam War he was captured and severely tortured by the Viet Cong. He had had cancer, so his health wasn't the best not the ideal circumstances for taking the role of President of America. If he suddenly died while in office, Sarah Palin would have instantly become President. That's what's really scary. Thankfully John McCain lost. For that I am eternally thankful.
One of the best films about America's involvement in Vietnam is undoubtedly Emile De Antonio's "In The Year of The Pig." Similarly, "Millhouse: A White Comedy", is, I believe, the best film about the life of disgraced former U.S. President, Richard Nixon In 1974, Emile De Antonio turned his attention to the work of the "abstract expressionist" painters, who blossomed and flourished in New York, primarily between the years 1940 and 1970. The resulting film, "Painters Painting" has finally turned up on DVD. The film consists of interviews conducted by the filmmaker with such famous artists like William de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as famous gallery owner Leo Castelli, art critics Clement Greenberg and Thomas Hess, plus John Hightower, of the Museum of Modern Art, Henry Geldzahler of The Met, and collectors, Robert and Ethel Scull. Unfortunately, the film is let down by some very sloppy camera-work and the conversations, especially the ones recorded in the studios of the artists themselves, is very poorly recorded this may be due in part to the acoustics of the studios, with their high ceilings and cavernous floor space. The film jumps from colour to black and white for no discernible reason. Many of the shots appear to be repeated. The names of some of the artists have been omitted entirely. In short, what could have been a dynamite film about some of the giants of 20th. Century modern art is, overall, a travesty, which is a crying shame when one realises that the majority of them have long since died.
We first see Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) talking on his phone while he strides down the street. All of a sudden, Frank is run over by a bus and killed and is immediately transformed into a 'ghost.' Meanwhile, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) a dentist with appalling people skills (which might explain why he's still single) dies unexpectedly but is miraculously revived after seven minutes. When he wakes up he discovers that he has the ability to see ghosts. If that's not enough, these ghosts all want something from him. Even more infuriating, he has no way of avoiding them, either. Frank, meanwhile, is painfully aware that his widow, Gwen, is planning to re-marry. A situation Frank is extremely unhappy about, but powerless to prevent. However, Frank has a plan, Maybe, just maybe, he can persuade Bertram Pincus to strike up a friendship with Gwen, and, hopefully, break up the relationship. What Frank doesn't know is that Bertram Pincus is the last man he should have latched onto to accomplish this fraught and sensitive task. Gervais has some funny lines, but basically, Gervais is content to fall back on the routines that he first used in the English sitcom: "The Office." While Greg Kinnear as Frank is merely irritating. The denouement is as tired as it is predictable.
Films dealing with children struck down with a life-threatening disease can either be uplifting, or, as is the case with most of the films tackling this kind of emotionally-charged subject, become un-abashed tearjerkers. Jack Hagen (Tom Russell) a previously normal, healthy child falls ill and is diagnosed with leukaemia. There is a way to stave off this disease and that is to for the patient to have a bone marrow transplant. The snag is the donor's DNA must 'match' that of the patient, hence the film's title. Jack's parent's hope against hope that the surgeon Professor Nelson (Colin Friels) will find a donor whose DNA matches Jack's. The longer they have to wait, the more dangerous the situation becomes: something the mother refuses to acknowledge. It is then that Jack's mother Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) discovers that her husband, David (Richard Roxburgh) has been unfaithful, and not with just one woman, either. From that moment on, the film shows Jack's mother's frantic attempt to track down her husband's former lovers in the hope that he might have fathered an illegitimate child, and therefore would be the perfect 'match' for her son. To avoid "Matching Jack" becoming overly saccharine, the director Nadia Tass, along with first time writer Lynne Renew, have bent over backwards not to fall into that trap. Instead they have opted to introduce large chunks of levity into the film at the expense of empathy, and in so doing, have turned "Matching Jack" from being a serious, though not necessary boring, film about cancer, into one that is risible by anyone's definition. Two films that tackle the subject of children at risk from life-threatening diseases, without in any way being tedious or un-interesting, are "Life For Ruth" where a father refuses to let his child have a blood transfusion due to his religious beliefs, and "Lorenzo's Oil" where a father finds a cure for a disease for which no cure is known. The director of "Matching Jack" could have made a film with a strong, social message. Sadly, she didn't.
When Radio Caroline began broadcasting rock 'n' roll from a boat
anchored off the east coast of England in 1964, the BBC's virtual
monopoly of the nation's airwaves disappeared, virtually overnight.
These 'pirate radio stations' as the government so scathingly called
them, played the kind of music teenagers in England wanted to hear, but
had been denied to them ever since Guglielmo Marconi invented the
radio. It's almost impossible to describe how 'energizing' it was to be
able to turn on the radio at any time of the day or night, and hear
that good old rock 'n' roll blasting out of your radio's speakers.
Sadly, it couldn't last. In 1967, the government passed the Marine &
Broadcasting Act making it illegal for Radio Caroline to continue
operating, despite the fact that the boat was anchored in International
Waters, which should have made them immune to government interference.
"The Boat That Rocked" should have been a humdinger, considering the impact 'pirate radio stations' had on the British Broadcasting Industry as well as the major record labels at the time, not to mention how popular they were with listeners. Unfortunately "The Boat That Rocked" is anything but. Actors can only work with the script they've been given: a good script, a satisfying film. A bad script, and a film, just like the boat, will sink faster than the Titanic. Excluding the remarkable Philip Seymour Hoffman, (The Count) who hardly ever turns in a less than professional performance, by comparison, the other actors are less than believable in their roles: to be perfectly frank, they come across as mere one-dimensional caricatures. Richard Curtis, the director of such light, fluffy confections such as "Notting Hill", "Bridget Jone's Diary" is here clearly out of his depth. Quick! Throw him a life jacket, someone! The bulk of the film's running time is taken up treading water, as it were, with one comic set-up after another, none of which are all that funny. Only the last half hour or so makes "The Boat That Rocks" worth watching, but by then you can be forgiven for wishing that you'd baled out long ago.
Although "Tyrannosaur" covers much the same ground as Ken Loach does in his films - namely, people (usually men), who suddenly wake up one day and begin to wonder how they have ended up like they have, this film still packs one hell of a punch. It's worth noting that Peter Mullan who plays the protagonist in the film under review, also played the protagonist in Ken Loach's "My Name is Joe". Joseph is angry - very angry. Anything can set him off: rowdy pool players in a pub frustration at accessing his money at the Post Office (he's a widower, so it might be a pension of some kind). Plagued by violence and a rage that is driving him to self-destruct, he undergoes a life change after accidentally killing his dog. More often than not he wakes with a massive hangover. This of course, doesn't stop him whiling away the hours in the local pub. For Joseph one day is much like the day before and in the days stretching ahead of him. He spends a lot of his time wandering the streets, picking fights with neighbours or drinking. He is desperate to change his ways, but doesn't know how. For Joseph the light at the end of the tunnel grows dimmer with every passing hour. One day, with nothing better to do, he wanders into the local charity shop and gets into conversation with Hannah, a plain, Christian woman who believes in the rejuvenating power of prayer to her, nobody is beyond redemption, even Joseph. Joseph doesn't see it that way: he is automatically suspicious of anyone who offers the hand of friendship. Gradually however, Joseph and Hannah strike up a friendship of sorts. When Joseph discovers Hannah is married and lives in one of the more affluent suburbs, Joseph automatically suspects Hannah is just befriending him to relieve the boredom of standing behind a counter all day long. However, life for Hannah is far worse than it is for Joseph. When she turns up at work with a black eye, Joseph suspects, rightly it turns out, that her husband is to blame despite her repeated denials that she'd accidentally walked into a door. Inexorably, Joseph is dragged deeper and deeper into Hannah's world, a world that threatens to plunge him back into his former life. Peter Mullan puts in a stunning performance as Joseph. But the best acting honours has to go to Olivia Colman, as Hannah. "Tyrannosaur" holds up a mirror to a certain strata of English society, and it's not a pleasant picture.
Bouli Lanners, a name unknown to me, directed this rather intriguing film. The story tells of a friendship among three teenagers, two of who are brothers. The other teenage has an older brother who sells and uses drugs and regularly beats up his younger brother for hanging around with the other kids. All three kids live in the house belonging to the two brother's deceased grandfather. They are bored out of their minds, whiling away the hours, smoking joints, going for joyrides in the grand father's car and when they're hungry, stealing food from the neighbour's cellar. Eventually, what little money they have, finally runs out. Later, when the older boy introduces them to a man who offers them money if they'll let him rent the house in order to grow marijuana, they reluctantly accept. In a way, "Les Geants" explores the same territory as "Lord of The Flies" William Goldman's classic tale of children left to fend for themselves. While the children in "Lord of The Flies" eventually turn feral, the children in "Les Geants" manage to cling onto some form of normality, by rejecting their upbringing and finally, choosing adventure above familial security. Bouli Lanners gets terrific performances out of the cast, especially out of the three main characters. The film is beautifully shot long close-ups of grasses waving in the breeze, the sun glinting off winding rivers and glorious sunsets. The pace is unhurried and no shot is wasted. This is not a great film by any means, but it's a lot better than the dross that passes for film making these days.
You may not remember his name, but actor Timothy Carey has one of those
lugubrious faces that once seen, you're not likely ever to forget. No
actor in Hollywood had a visage like Timothy Carey. His career as an
actor spanned nearly half a century. His first acting part was in 1951
his last role was in 1990. In all, he appeared in a mixture of shorts,
feature films and television shows: 87 titles in all. In the late
fifties, Timothy Carey decided to make his own film. He would write the
screenplay, play the lead character and direct it himself. That film
was "The World's Greatest Sinner" In it, Carey plays a disgruntled
insurance salesman named Clarence Hilliard, who quits his job to go
into politics. First he forms a rock band, which in turn becomes a
religious cult; where everybody has to address him as God Hilliard.
Eventually he manages to form a new Political Party. Considering "The
World's Greatest Sinner" was made in 1962, it was quite daring for its
time, especially when it came to the scenes of older women being
seduced by the Clarence Hilliard character to get them to hand over
their savings. (Six years later, Mel Brooks treads a similar path in
his film "The Producers" by having one of his characters romance older
women for cash).
"The World's Greatest Sinner" reminded me of another, similar film, Elia Kazan's "A Face In The Crowd." which came out in 1957. The Kazan film is about an itinerant drifter named Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, who is plucked from an Arkansas jail, and ultimately rises to great fame and influence on national television. He soon discovers that fame has a price, and eventually his world come crashing around his ears. If Timothy Carey didn't go and see this film, he would have most certainly known about it. After all, both films explore the same theme, namely megalomania. "A Face In The Crowd" was distributed a major Hollywood studio. On the other hand, Timothy Carey distributed "The World's Greatest Sinner". He also funded the film entirely out of his own pocket, so it's no wonder the film took three years to finish. And, as the film never had an official release it quickly disappeared from sight. That said I found "The World's Greatest Sinner" extremely tiresome. The main problem being that Timothy Carey the director was at a loss on how to control Timothy Carey the actor who has a penchant for over acting. So we are subjected to Carey bellowing out his lines in scene after scene, or throwing back his head and laughing maniacally: "The World's Greatest Sinner" runs for just eighty-two minutes. The camera work is appalling, many of the shots are too dark, or poorly lit the film so it seems to run for twice that length. Additionally, the editing is so erratic it is hard to follow the plot. It's just a shame that a director of the calibre of, say, an Elia Kazan wasn't given the opportunity to direct "The World's Greatest Sinner" and turn what to me is at best a curiosity, into a film of some substance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The latest film from The Dardenne Brothers, "The Kid With A Bike" is once again about lower class life in Belgium, this time focusing on the story of Cyril, an eleven-year-old boy living in a state-run facility after being abandoned by his father. Thomas Doret, who plays Cyril, gives a performance that's distressingly believable. Any parent, who has taken on the onerous task of raising a child single-handedly, will no doubt empathise with the anguish Cyril is going through. Mind you, sometimes Cyril's self-destructive behaviour is enough to try the patience of a saint. The film opens with Cyril trying to call his father on the phone dialing and re-dialing his number, while one of the members of staff tries to wrestle the phone away from Cyril, yelling at him to hang up, as the phone has been disconnected. Tiring of Cyril's tantrums, two of the staff members finally take Cyril around to the apartment where he and his father used to live to prove to Cyril once and for all that his father doesn't live there anymore. Cyril ignores them and keeps ringing the doorbell, but nobody comes to the door. Angry and upset, Cyril manages to elude both men and flees the building, determined to locate his father. When Cyril meets Samantha a childless hairdresser she surprises herself and Cyril by offering to take Cyril into weekly foster care. This doesn't sit too well with Samantha's boyfriend, who suspects, justifiably so, that Cyril poses a threat to his role as the male of the household. When Cyril sees a kid riding what he believes to be is his bike, he immediately gives chase. The kid riding the bike swears he bought from of a man. Cyril doesn't believe him. What father would sell the very bike he had given his son as a present? Samantha agrees to buy the bike back for Cyril. With his bike back, Cyril is free to roam the streets looking for his father. Instead, Samantha offers to drive Cyril around to help locate his father. When she stops for fuel, Cyril happens to notice an advertisement posted in a shop window, offering a car for sale and below that, a push bike; Cyril's push bike. Cyril is devastated. Visibly upset and feeling betrayed Cyril becomes sullen and un-communicative. Samantha, unsure of just how to comfort an eleven-year-old boy trying to grapple with the fact that his father, the one person who he ought to be able to trust the most, has rejected him, holds her tongue and concentrates on driving. When Cyril and Samantha finally do locate his father working in a restaurant, Samantha waits outside while Cyril confronts his father about why he deserted him and put him in the care of a Children's Home. His hapless and immature father is clearly uncomfortable as Cyril follows him around the kitchen, demanding to know why he can't be part of his father's life anymore. His father manages to fob Cyril off, but Cyril won't take no for an answer, and returns later to plead once more for his father to take him back. When Cyril happens to see a youth brazenly steal his bike, Cyril tries to snatch it back, but the youth evades him and proceeds to taunt Cyril by letting Cyril catch up then cycling away at the last moment. The youth is part of a gang led by a local petty criminal named Wes, who watches Cyril get the better of the youth who stole his bike in a fight. Wes instantly recognises in Cyril, a younger version of himself tough and fearless. Offered a way of making easy money by committing a robbery, Cyril accepts. The older boy instructs Cyril on what to do. Things though, don't go according to plan. Cyril is recognised by the son of the owner. When Wes pulls up in his car and sees what's happened, he refuses to take the stolen money and demands that Cyril not tell anybody that he was involved, before accelerating away. Cyril panics. Next thing, Cyril finds himself outside the restaurant where his father works. He wants to give the money to his father. The father refuses: it could get him into trouble. Samantha takes Cyril to the police. The matter is settled on the undertaking that Cyril apologises to the victims. The victimised father reluctantly accepts and they shake hands. The victimised son however refuses. Samantha is so angry and upset with Cyril she's at a loss for words. She finally demands Cyril explain himself, but Cyril doesn't have an answer for her. The son catches Cyril by himself and attacks him with the result that the latter falls from a tree. Since it looks serious, the father and son discuss what lies to tell to the police. However, the situation is not so bad as it seems, and Cyril walks away. It's a testament to the skills of filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne that they make no attempt to pass judgement on the characters who populate their films and why they act in the way they do. Their camera just observes the events as they unfold before us. It's as if the film makers have just happen to be passing through town, and have stopped to record what's going on. "The Kid With A Bike" is film making at its most rewarding.
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