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"The Colossus of New York" has aged rather well. It still evokes the same strange fascination it had back in the late 1950s, when its story and title character startled me. It was evident back then that the film was a low-budget production, and that it was not a masterpiece of fantastic cinema, but its variation of the theme of the scientist that creates a monster was interesting, and the appearance of the colossus was impressive. I have read a couple of commentaries from producer William Alland, in which he expressed that he was very unsatisfied with the results, and put all the blame on Eugène Lourié. Allan definitely did not paid too much attention to the limitations of the budget he administered forcing to reuse shots, and the inclusion of stock footage-, of Thelma Schnee's weak script, or the negligence of Floyd Knudtson's editing. But especially, Alland overlooked John F. Warren's images, some of which are remarkable. This is also due to Lourié's background: he was originally an art director and set designer, and it shows. The lightning, compositions and camera angles are effective most of the times, and compensate for the shortcomings. Where Lourié's lack of expertise shows is in the routine camera set-ups, putting the camera (and the spectator) in the same position, in scenes that take place in the same locations, but separate in time. This somehow makes the movie unfold too cautiously, an explanation to the speed up of some shots when the colossus moves. Otherwise it is a recommended, little cult film that will stick to your memory.
Last night I saw this film, which missed the possibilities of developing an interesting story, with endless dialogs and bad performances. But I wouldn't put the blame on Joe Dallesandro. After all he plays a tree or something like that, so he delivers his line as plant-like as possible. He is a beautiful tree to look at, though, and I believe this is what this film is all about, including his legendary derrière. Poor Katharine Houghton tries to deliver a dramatic performance in the line of a giallo fatal heroine to no avail; James Congdon as her husband is rather boring (especially with Little Joe around), and Rita Gam is simply having a good time. I lived in Puerto Rico when this film was shot, but I did not hear anything about it being made. It was fun to watch a few theater people that were my friends, playing minor roles (Esther Mari, the cook; or Orlando Rodríguez and Janet Gómez as the couple Houghton visits).
The Passion (summary of incidents related in the so-called «gospels» of the Bible, describing the ordeal experienced by Jesus of Nazareth, preferably from his baptism in the Jordan river, until his resurrection) has inspired so many works in painting, literature, sculpture, theater, film, etcetera, that one more will make no harm, even if the public knows in advance what to expect. And what is good news if that the new attempt is very good: I refer to «The Gospel of Us: The Passion of Port Talbot», a British film released in 2012 by Dave McKean, based on the play staged in 2011 by actor Michael Sheen in Wales. The film is mostly the record of the only performance, made that year during Easter all around Port Talbot. The most famous similar experience (with its respective film version) may be the one made in the Oberammergau, a German community that has been representing a «Passion» of medieval origin since 1633, first to ward off the plague and now to attract tourism. In Panamá, there was an equal experiment, when the Spanish priest José Ramón Condomines, repeated the strategy in the municipality of San Francisco de la Montaña, and I am almost sure that there must be similar projects in several places. I arrived to Port Talbot in a curious way: I watched the film version of David Haig's play, «My Son Jack» (2007), about the death of Jack Kipling (Daniel Radcliffe), son of writer Rudyard Kipling (Haig), during I World War, somehow triggered by the incendiary warmonger and imperialist spirit of his father. To my surprise, the role of Jack's best friend, was played by Welsh actor John-Paul Macleod, who thirteen years ago was cast as little Taliesin Jones in Martin Duffy's beautiful film, «The Testament of Taliesin Jones». I inquired what had been the evolution of Macleod and came across «The Gospel of Us», in which he plays one of the (8) apostles (no, this adaptation thankfully took creative liberties and avoided any sanctimonious loyalty). Actor Michael Sheen (seldom seen in leading roles, but often appearing in films, as «The Queen», «Blood Diamond», «Underworld», «Kingdom of Heaven», «The Four Feathers») returned to Port Talbot and, although the city is not characterized by its arts, he was able to recruit choirs, bands, singers, musicians, theater groups, carpenters and authorities. Then he summoned the people and collected their stories and experiences, and he wrote the text, adapting the main events of the Passion, to which he incorporated local dramas, as the disappearance of a sector of the city, following industrialization and progress. The final script was co-directed with Bill Mitchell. In the plot, the city is in danger of disappearing, due to the developmental projects of a powerful company that has decided that the city is unnecessary for its plan to extract minerals from the land. In this context, a man who had been missing for 40 days and nights reappears. He is called The Master, he sides with the protest and becomes a victim of the clash of two factions, reaching the dramatic resolution that includes torture, crucifixion and resurrection. In between scenes of the play performed live, Sheen inserted ingenious images and sequences, as the return of the dead loved-ones, the meeting of the Master with a daughter and ex-wife that he cannot remember, the conversion of Barabbas into a terrorist, the last Supper in a community center with musical acts, and the temptation of the Devil, evoked with simplicity and a 'demon' that is scarier for its resonance in our everyday lives and realities... Nothing like this was ever evoked by Pasolini or by Wyler, Scorsese, Jodorowsky, Morayta, Buñuel, Griffith, Ince, Zecca, Niblo, and much less by Gibson, Rice or Lloyd Webber. While the film has a strong documentary tone, McKean is not a mere illustrator, but an outstanding visual artist. For reference, see his other films, as his beautiful first feature «MirrorMask» (2005), his shorts «N(eon)» (2002) and «Tan-Y-Groes» (2012, included on the DVD, from images he took in Port Talbot), or Alfonso Cuarón's «Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban», for which he was the conceptual artist. All the digital possibilities to manipulate images are used by McKean to recreate a universe of high visual richness, with commendable restraint, without going to excesses. McKean made every effort to control the running time of the movie (fine deleted scenes are included in the DVD), but the third act (trial, torture , ordeal...) is a bit overlong, with gratuitous cellos, choirs and fake blood... although most probably the faithful followers of the Passion will think the opposite. In any case this is quality risky cinema, mixing fiction, documentary, animation and experimentation, and offering a product that I recommend for all its attractive, different and original beauty.
A good Austrian contribution to biblical melodramas, directed by Michael Curtiz, who would repeat the strategy six years later in the bad "Noah's Arc", after relocating to the United States. This film, though less well known than the American production, is more attractive than the story of friends who unite and separate during the war, topped with images of the flood. There's more passion in this story of Mary Conway, a young woman living the "vida loca" during the "jazz age" in London, who plays with the affections of four men. Even the link to the biblical book of Lot is established from the beginning, when we are introduced to the sculptor who has used Mary as a model for sculpting "Sodom", a marble representation of Lot's wife when turned into a statue of salt. An adopted daughter of a woman who uses her to pay the expenses of both, Mary rejects the love of sculptor Harry Lighton, flirts with old tycoon Jackson Harber, seduces her son Eduard who is studying in Cambridge and tries to do the same with his tutor, a fiery Catholic priest. Almost all the action takes place in old Harber's sumptuous mansion during an orgiastic celebration, when student and tutor unexpectedly arrive. In the large rooms, in various pavilions, crowds drink, dance and make love. But when events take a dramatic turn, the script introduces the biblical story, thousands of extras and enormous sets, in the middle of which the conflict focuses on the confrontation between Lot's wife (the same Mary) and the Angel sent by God (the same priest). Of course , true to the precepts of melodrama, Sodom falls and the film finds when it is adjusted to the values of bourgeois society .
This first film by Frederico Machado is a good try at observational storytelling, but in the end it became a frustrating audiovisual experience to me. As the film opens, the first shot (early at night, a church with three crosses, a man enters the church and sees a woman sitting on a bench) evokes those 1960s poignant dramas about poverty and oppression in the Brazilian Northeast, embellished with folkloric overtones and magical suggestions it even takes place in the state of Maranhão, where Glauber Rocha made a short documentary in 1966. But then one, two, three beautiful mestizo girls with shiny hairs treated in beauty salons and designer clothes passing for poor garments, appear as peasants, play "ring around the roses", work very hard in their father's rustic yucca flour processor, and are lusted by the only men in sight, while the younger sister is visited by the ghost of her mother. As you try to process all this in your mind, the music of Béla Bartok and Alfred Schittke fills your ears every now and then, clashing with the images, but harmonizing with the secret plan of the highly educated director, producer, writer and cinematographer Machado: secret because it becomes a cryptic experience, but also because if you read what he intended to do (as descriptors, he mentions chess, sadism, Soviet cinema Russian in the original text, Dadaism, obscurantism, dogma, minimalism, sexuality, spirituality, universality, etcetera), he aimed way too high and his intentions were not transferred to the screen as he expected (and claims). As far as I am concerned, all the effort had an unfortunate estrangement effect on me, not in the way Bertolt Brecht proposes, but out of indifference to characters and situations. As a very beautiful poem by poet Nauro Machado (Frederico's father) closed the story, with images that may or may not have any connection to the verses or the early proceedings (it may work depending on your willingness to embrace the whole thing), I felt that this «existentialist thriller» had better intentions than results.
"Amer" is a cinematically clever visualization of a dramatic concoction, but in the end it turns into a too long exposition of the possible consequences of sexual repression among the Belgian rural bourgeoisie. As seen through a little girl's eyes, the first part dedicated to the childhood of a woman called Ana, is a fascinating tale filled with horror images that illustrate the child's fears: in the way horror films touch our most private emotions and evoke our childhood interpretations of reality, these images correspond to that phase in the woman's growth. The second part is perhaps the most erotic of the three phases in Ana's life, starting with the transition to adolescence, filled with visions of soft skin, pubic hair and a most curious ant that comes out of her belly button. This section is treated as a sunny melodrama of the aging Italian mother's jealousy of her pretty daughter, as young Ana attracts all the males' attention, while mamma dyes her hair in the local beauty parlor, and frustrates the girl's awkward attempts to connect with boys. For the third section, it is interesting that -in these days of shaven, tattooed males- the directors decided to illustrate the transition to adulthood with downy hairs, fuzzy male arms, as in the sequence in the train, where adult Ana is surrounded by male passengers. But this third part is inevitably the less attractive, for this time all the hallucinations are but the tired expression of Ana's repression. She has apparently let life and fulfillment pass her by, so her return to the sumptuous and beautiful villa by the sea, where she grew up, inexorably leads to tragedy. An unusual drama, intelligently told, but I would have been grateful for a shorter running time, especially in this third sad section.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As "Hoosiers" did with basketball, this sort of comic melodrama does the same with baseball, turning another personal story into a case of "All-Americanism", often incurring in cheap flag-waving and sometimes verging on chauvinism, but (as "Hoosiers") it was also crowned by the U.S. Congress as part of the National Film Registry. Sentimentality overrules everything else in this film that tells the story of two sisters who play professional baseball for the AAGPBL during World War II: Geena Davis is the natural sportswoman; while Lori Petty plays the sister who has to try harder to become a good player. You have seen this story many times before -there are no great innovations story wise, and it even includes the "classic" climatic game in which the two sisters/brothers/buddies, etcetera, play in opposite teams-, but real history saves the day, for if you frame the plot within the lives of the over 600 women who played baseball during that war, the film becomes something else, something bigger. Tom Hanks received top billing but he was only there to "add spice" (as the clichéd former sports star turned into an alcoholic), and Madonna had little else to do but play her alter ego version of the 1940s. Not in the league of the outstanding documentary "The Life and Times of Rosie, the Riveter" (also included in the Registry), but attractive enough to keep you (at least) amused, and make you shed a few little tears.
I must admit I am a fool for films that deal with children's problems and dilemmas while growing up, especially contemporary films, in which we spectators can watch, sometimes in awe, how children adapt to societies that have lost almost every ethical value, and how they are prepared to face a violent future, no matter to what social class they belong. Sometimes their problems have to do with sexual orientation and marginality (as "The Blossoming of Máximo Oliveros", from Philippines), absence of mother and her affection ("Kauwboy", from Holland) or political situation in their countries ("Black Bread", from Spain; "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation", from Brazil, and "Clandestine Childhood", from Argentina). "Kid" is a rather different film: it is the case of a very intelligent boy everybody knows as Kid (Bent Simons), whose father has gone, and who lives in a beautiful and big farm, with his kid brother Billy (Maarten Meeusen) and passive mother (Gabriela Carrizo), whom he adores. As Kid goes to school, plays with his rascal friend Misty (a funny character played by little Sander van Sweevelt) and enjoys the countryside, his mother conforms in silence, while she is dispossessed of stock and equipment by creditors, and threatened by criminals for a debt (most probably her husband's): the possibility of selling the farm, move somewhere else with her children and start a new life is never considered, as we are neither told what her husband did, why he left and why he eventually returns bleeding. Those details are apparently irrelevant to what the film is concerned about. More than finding ways to survive in capitalist societies, recurring to its formulas, "Kid" is more like a portrait of desperate characters, most of them dehumanized and deprived of compassion. Furthermore, it is a revealing display of European people in despair and hopelessness, who have reached a stable economic situation, and face a bleak future. The old folks sing hymns in church, the young are jobless, and the children adapt as they grow and watch. Kid is a silent observer. He takes a radical decision, but it is not a surprising one. "Kid" belongs to the category of observational cinema, so if you are looking for action, formulas or industrially digested and sanitized stories, this motion picture is not for you. If you are open to different cinematic experiences, don't miss it, watch it.
The horrible, manipulative English DVD title and packaging of Ray Müller's "Die Macht der Bilder" should not prevent you from watching this portrait of a fascinating personality, beautiful woman and polemic figure. Beyond all ideological or emotional reactions to Leni Riefenstahl's films, this works proves beyond doubt that she was a masterful filmmaker. The careful conception and framing of the persons, objects and events she filmed, the beauty of the resulting images, the inventiveness of her "mise-en-caméra", her passion and vision, make Riefenstahl a major figure of film history and one of the greatest contributors to the evolution of film expression. The complete 200 minute version of Müller's documentary includes four sequences that were cut from the international edition. Two of them are in the second part, and they are chronologically disrupting, for they were inserted before showing her photographic work with the Nubas in Africa, and the underwater shootings during the final part of her life. One sequence in particular (a most embarrassing and decadent montage in Las Vegas, visiting her magician friends Siegfried & Roy) damages the documentary, for it shows --for no dramatic reason-- Riefenstahl's least appealing and most frivolous side, right after the tragic account of the trials she went through after the war ended. On the other hand, the extensive footage filmed in Tokyo, where the exhibit "Leni Riefenstahl - Life" opened in 1991, though out of place, is welcome for it shows that her work was reinstated and recognized in some places during her lifetime. The exhibit was one of the first comprehensive displays of her photographic work, mainly consisting of photos of or by her, of enlarged frames of films she played in as an actress and of films she made herself. There is also a section of Riefenstahl posing for photographs. For a complete portrait of Riefenstahl these sequences add another angle, and although Müller's work loses some cohesiveness, the negative effect of these sections is not powerful enough as to erase the impact one experiences before and after, in this approximation to Leni Riefenstahl's impressive, tragic and rich life.
Hilarious occurrence from the 1940s (probably a B movie to play in double features), "Zombies on Broadway" is better than more prestigious RKO products starring more prominent performers, with Wally Brown and Alan Carney as two press agents working for a "reformed" gangster who wants to open a night club featuring a real zombie. When a powerful radio commentator announces that he will denounce the fraud if they pretend to use a fake walking dead, Brown and Carney are sent to the island of St. Sebastian, searching for Dr. Renault, a scientist who has made extensive research on voodoo practices. As played by Béla Lugosi, the doctor is both menacing and funny (what a gem that brief moment when Lugosi searches for a little monkey in a chest of drawers!), while Darby Jones reprises his scary role in RKO's "I Walked with a Zombie", with Sir Lancelot also on hand to sing a little song about the joys and menaces of the island. A few can complain about the black stereotypes (especially Nick Stewart as a frightened janitor), but that is how the American audiences and films were (and sometimes still are). With a tight script of fast, concise dialogs and scenes, "Zombies on Broadway" was a real good find and a fine addition to my list of horror comedies.
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