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A verbose supernatural melodrama with an agenda: to warn us spectators of the "dangers" of occultism and to avoid practicing spiritualism. It includes a long, wordy scene where a spiritualist leader explains the excellences and virtues of this practice, its connection to all religions, or the link between good spirits and classical music. But outside of those dark rooms and into the house of a middle-class Mexican family, the story that is told is far more interesting than all the proselytizing, or the sessions with Ouijas and fainting mediums: a young man asks his parents to mortgage their home to open a crop dusting business. He does so after the party of their silver wedding anniversary, when the father had finally given his wife the title deeds as a present. Against what she was warned during the first séance we see, the mother, who is a domineering, manipulative and ambitious woman, tells her husband to do what their only child says. Trouble follows, and pretty soon the mother is asking the Devil for money, bringing tragedy to her family. Using the W.W. Jacobs' tale "The Monkey's Paw" to round up the script, in its scariest moments the movie sometimes made me remember Maurice Tourneur's "La main du Diable" and Robert Florey's "The Beast with Five Fingers", but quite often it is the typical family melodrama with tearful histrionics the Mexicans cherish. Unfortunately the script takes so much time to give lectures about spiritualism, that there is not much left for the "real thing", and the final act is incredibly fast. The copy by VCI Entertainment in Spanish is very good, but Augusto Benedico (as the priest) has disappeared from the prologue. The movie begins when the husband goes to church to tell the priest what has happened. Benedico is only seen in a brief close-up that dissolves to the past, as the husband narrates what happened to his family. Director Benito Alazraki, who made an auspicious debut with the motion picture "Raíces" (Roots) in 1954, was no stranger to horror. He had made before (also for producer Guillermo Calderón) the cult classic "Muñecos infernales" (The Curse of the Doll People) that went for pure horror, but in "Espiritismo" he was subject to the Calderón's fore-mentioned agenda.
Fine low-budget action drama that pits the moralistic urban view of "hillbillies" against the philosophy of people from the mountain (in this case of Irish ancestry) who live by simple rules. Robert Mitchum plays Luke Doolin, a stubborn man who is a war defector and also in charge of the illegal moon-shining business run by his family for 250 years. On top of this he has against him a ruthless intermediary who wants to control the business in the area, including the county where the Doolins live and operate. I found most interesting the way innocent lives were taken up to a point: in our times, both Luke's singer girlfriend and his brother would have been killed in the middle of act 2. Sandra Knight, James Mitchum and Keely Smith are convincing in first big roles.
«Le salaire de la peur» has not aged very well. In spite of the fact that the solid performances by the four leading actors and Armand Thirard's cinematography remain effective (and in spite of the criteria of the Criterion company, which has become some sort of "film Bible" for many unbaptized in the immensely wide scope of world cinema), the flaws are more evident now. To start with the 39- minute first act is quite hard to follow, especially for a Spanish- speaking person like me: in the novel the action takes place in Guatemala (Central America) , but where does this movie take place, where is this place called Las Piedras that by 1953 still has creoles talking with Spaniards' accents, where indigenous dress as Andean people or undress like Amazonian tribes? The closest town to Las Piedras seems to be Caracas (capital of Venezuela, South America) as seen in a sign of plane fares, or it could be Tegucigalpa (capital of Honduras, Central America) according to a dialog: you take your pick. All this mishmash is possible, yes, but at least I could not deal with the endless parade of offensive "Latino" stereotypes, from the taxi driver who stops his car precisely in the middle of a mud pond, the barefoot venal black immigrant officer or the sweaty and greasy owner of "El Corsario Negro". Then take act two, which as Georges Arnaud's novel is also the weakest dramatic section of the movie, since the characters have been well established in the first act. So this is mainly a block of action sequences in which the nitroglycerin-loaded trucks go from one obstacle to the next, to reach their goal, the oil field in flames. Admittedly a couple of the pieces are real gems (the long sequence of the rotten-wood platform or the solution to take a huge boulder out of the road), but it is just that, a chain of obstructions and how to deal with them. The last act centers on the persistence of the two surviving truck drivers, leading to a surprise ending that seems too moralistic after everything we have seen before, when all the characters we have seen since the beginning deserve a similar conclusion. As for the critic of American companies in foreign lands, today that is no news and it can also be said of European and Asian enterprises in those alien territories, as well as the local companies: they all give similar ruthless treatment to workers (and the land itself). This is the kind of commercial "macho movie" that asks for a remake among the action film crowd. There have been a couple of those and a few imitations, the more remarkable being William Friedkin's «Sorcerer» (1977), in which he wisely reduced the running time from the original 142 minutes to 121.
Quite good werewolf movie, without those ugly and tacky transformations a la "An American Werewolf in London" and "The Howling". This time the writers added a different approach to the legend of the wolf men and women, providing a fine line in their half human-half animal essence that determines their behavior, giving them dignity and royal lineage, and proposing a new era of peace and less violence in their interaction with humans. The usual annoying elements that you find in commercial films are also here: editing striving for effect, too much music and a romantic musical video as some sort of plot point, when the young leading characters (a female "loup garou" and a young man) make public their attraction. But this is not the typical product providing cheap thrills. It is a fine genre motion picture, with good performances by Olivier Martínez and the young cast.
When I was 7 years old I saw the ads of «Tamango» in the press and the cinemas as I passed them by, but when I was old enough to see it (it was classified "for adults only") it had vanished from sight. Now that I finally watched it, when it was finished I was in awe. What a good film! Of course it does help that the final 10 minutes are simultaneously tense and poetic leading to a highly dramatic ending. But six decades after its original release, it is still a motion picture of strong content and great visual impact (although the copy I saw is not in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the colors have faded). Released in 1958 it is an adaptation of Prosper Mérimée's 1829 homonymous novella (before he wrote his most famous «Carmen»). Significant changes were made for this screen version, but the final plot is also set in the early 19th century. In the coast of Guinea, warrior Tamango (Alex Cressan) and a sizable group of men and women have been sold to Reinker, a Dutch slave trader (Curt Jürgens) and they board the ship Esperanza that sets sails to Cuba, where they will be sold again, this time in the slave market. On route the violent conflict between the Caucasian sailors and the black slaves intensifies, the interracial sexual liaison between Reinker and a beautiful African woman named Ayché (Dorothy Dandridge) breaks, and Tamango leads a mutiny against the slavers. In the interpretation by director John Berry and his fellow scriptwriters, Ayché and Tamango are no longer lovers, he does not sell her but the two are victimized, and instead of surviving in Kingston the warrior fights until the end. These script changes turn Tamango and Ayché into icons of racial struggle, while the sincere, intense passion Reinker feels for Ayché is one of the first screen recognitions of the Europeans' desire for Africans. In the time it was made «Tamango» must have been some kind of a political and educational «audiovisual pamphlet», invaluable for those who were involved in the fight for the civil rights of Afro-descendants in the United States and elsewhere. No wonder it was banned in a few countries, and surely not only for the Reinker-Ayché relationship. I saw the English-spoken version: it becomes a bit hard in the first scenes to accept Dandridge as an African girl, with her American accent, but one gets used to it and thankfully she only has the necessary dialogue. Cressan, a medical student from Martinique that only made this film, is a magnificent emblem of African male beauty; and Jürgens, as usual, is fine as the villain with a soft heart. Director Berry was black-listed during the witch-hunting craze led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and, after directing the cult film «He Ran All the Way», he went to Europe as Joseph Losey, Cy Endfield and Charles Chaplin. Berry also directed the romantic comedy «Claudine» about a couple of African-American workers, but he remained in France until his death.
I understand very well the value war veterans or many military persons can give to their memories of what they experienced while being in battles or accomplishing missions during war at different fronts. But cinema is something else, and depicting them on screen with fine results from both the artistic and commercial angles is not an easy task. More often than not the products resemble a long recruitment ad, an exaltation of a warmongering spirit, or a justification of actions which are ethically questionable as violating the national autonomy of a foreign country under the guise of "fight of democracy", no matter how realistic or vivid these products seem, and make these men and women revive their past experiences. Some are expensive productions, many are low-budget, some are very good and some are very bad. This American-Filipino co- production is a good example of cheap, proto-fascist cinema, with a formula script supposedly inspired by soldier George R. Tweed's "heroics" during Japanese invasion in Guam, turned into adventure non-sense, loaded with bad dialogue and "exotic" touches by the Filipino actors. Unfortunately, the make-up department had no pancake for them, so while Jeffrey Hunter sports a glorious tan, the others are all made-up with obvious powders intended for Caucasians. Add the U.S. Army propaganda, the scratched war footage, the shaky sets, and a score that goes from pompous to soapy, and you have a dreadful product. And it's true, maybe this story deserves a good remake.
The biggest value of Ron Mann's documentary "Altman" is the compilation of Robert Altman's interviews, home movies, unreleased shorts and testimonies by family members and colleagues. All that material was unified by close-ups of several actors who define what the adjective "Altmanesque" means, but a few important ones were left out, people as Altmanesque as can be, as Shelley Duvall, Paul Dooley, Carol Burnett or René Auberjonois. In general, Altman's film work was somehow standardized in this documentary, as if all had the same significance and weight. As an effect of leveling the value and quality of his movies, what we have is a promenade through a life and peculiar oeuvre, that did find obstacles, as it is stated, but with little curiosity for the reasons and motives, and the conceptual and ideological genesis behind Altman and his cinema. When Mann covers Altman's years at Fox, he only gives «3 Women», the peak of that period, a few reflections about acting illustrated by photographs of the shooting and Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule (the tree women of the title). Any unsuspecting fellow will never know that this is one of Altman's masterpieces, as such recognized by anyone who knows a little about films. And let's not mention the approach to «Nashville», which is almost reduced to a corollary of a testimony by Richard Nixon about folk music. From the vantage point given by the time that has passed since the releases of «HealtH» (which didn't even have a proper release), «Quintet» and «Popeye», neither does Mann question or evaluate what was written and said about them. He does quote Altman telling a story about «Quintet»: in a meeting at Fox Grace of Monaco questioned Alan Ladd Jr. for letting "that Altman person" put her friend Paul Newman in that "dreadful film". Ladd told her to shut up and quit Fox. Today «Quintet» is seen as an apocalyptic science- fiction dreamscape that completes Altman's surrealist trilogy, after «Images» and «3 Women». Robin Williams died without understanding that in «Popeye» he had given one of his best film performances. Neither Mann seems to understand the film and, in return, concedes valuable time of the documentary to a clip of an unmentionable television film critic who could only mutter nonsense about Altman's vision of E.C. Segar's universe the morning after the film premiere. It must be added too that the appreciation of «Popeye» has improved with the years. As Mann lightly approaches other interesting works, as Altman's theater adaptations («Fool for Love», «Streamers», «Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean», «Beyond Therapy», all underrated), the biopic «Vincent & Théo», the drama «Kansas City» that follows the structure (if any) of a jazz session, or the comedies he made after his heart transplant (the delirious «Dr. T and the Women» and the moving «Cookie's Fortune», for example), Mann spends more than enough time in «Secret Honor», the television series «Tanner» or »Brewster McCloud» which Altman called his favorite film in an interview in "Film Comment" when he was about to make «Short Cuts». And so goes this work, in which, yes, we can perceive the admiration for the filmmaker, but that in general, as we have stated, misses in its reflection and analysis of the work of one of the greatest American filmmakers of the twentieth century and part of this one (above a few overrated defenders of the status quo), who talked about and filmed his fellow people, his country, its history, its cities, towns, politics, cultures, vices and virtues. And there lies his greatness.
A too virile and dry story on the surface to be sure, so it would not be surprising to see many viewers detract attention from the drama unfolding. But behind the cold calculations and handling of the situation (what follows when a cargo ship belonging to a big Scandinavian company is hijacked by modern-day pirates), there is the intense drama of the hostages, their families, the hijackers and the negotiators. The realistic treatment of the film gives equal prominence to the almost dispassionate, sinister and calculating ways the economic system rules to the point of sparing one or two human lives to save a couple of million dollars. Very good performances, tight direction and real settings all help and contribute to the effectiveness of this motion picture.
For a moment I thought of stopping the player Subtitles were reading like this: "I thought you were coming the day you " or "I saw you when you were " The lines of dialogue were incomplete! But then after a couple of minutes trying to fill the gaps, voilà, the subtitles appeared in full for what a beautiful movie!!! Maybe a bit sentimental here and there, but at the same time gripping, strong, touching, especially in those very spiny moments when individual politics clash with love, family and friends. A very good cast of unfamiliar faces is a big plus, because you don't waste time seeing how much your favorite star has aged. I recommend it highly.
"'71" contains, at least, two masterful moments under the direction of new filmmaker Yann Demange: the mise-en-scène and hand-held camera of a sequence of an extremely violent riot on a Belfast street, between British soldiers and Irish civilians, followed by the evasion of the protagonist (Jack O'Connell), a soldier who is abandoned by his platoon in the middle of the riot, while members of the young faction of the Irish Catholics chase the soldier to kill him. Brilliant. Then, there is a moment that leaves us spectators astonished, when a bomb explodes in the middle of the night, right behind the soldier, who falls on the pavement and then slowly stands up and enters the place in flames, while sound is low, as if he and we have been left partially deaf by the explosion. Equally brilliant. My only complaint against the film is that the conflicts between England and North Ireland contain so many nuances that it is sometimes difficult to follow. In the film the British soldiers are mostly working-class men who are nothing but "meat" for the posh and highly corrupt officers, the moderate Protestant Irish, the terrorist Catholic Irish, Loyalists, the antagonistic young and old IRA activists. It may be clear for the United Kingdom audience, and surely for those who are well-informed about world politics, but many of us simply cannot "read" it with clarity. Fortunately the film goes beyond these specificities: it deals with intolerance, army corruption, the distortion of libertarian ideals among the struggling people, and these topics appeal to all persons. It is a very well made motion picture that fluidly achieves moments of high tension. Highly recommended... and I must say that I am not particularly into this kind of cinema.
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