Reviews written by registered user
|995 reviews in total|
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in
return" from the song "Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez Though Vlado Skafar
is a Slovenian director of growing stature, he sees himself as
primarily a poet and a writer and his films indeed have the quality of
literature. Letter to a Child, chosen by Olaf Muller of Film Comment
magazine as one of the ten best of 2008, was a stirring testament to
the adventure of life in a series of heartfelt monologues prompted by
the director's questions to a group of young children, teenagers, young
adults, parents, and an elderly couple.
Skafar's latest film Dad (Oca), his first fictional feature, is one that defies easy description. Shot in a dreamy, poetic, and almost mystical style by cinematographer Marko Brdar, Dad focuses on a young boy (Sandi Salamon), about ten or eleven, who spends a summer day getting to know his father (Miki Ros) after what appears to be a long separation.
Filmed on a very limited budget and cast with non-professional actors, Dad is set in Prekmurje, a Slovenian region near the city of Murska Sobota in eastern Slovenia not far from the Hungarian border, an area that Skafar says are the locations of his childhood. The first Slovenian film to screen in the Critics Week sidebar of the Venice International Film Festival, the 71-minute film begins in silence on a Sunday afternoon in a wooded area close to a lake. There is no dialogue for the first five minutes, only the sounds of nature. As we watch water spiders chase each other, a young boy stands with his father fishing on the river bank.
As the conversation between father and son tentatively emerges, it appears as if they are getting to know each other, perhaps for the first time. Rather than talk about superficialities, each explores their strongest desires and deepest fears. They talk to each other with respect about things not normally discussed between parents and children, such as what they are feeling at the present moment and their fears of death. Above all, they listen to each other. When the boy brings up the subject of wood, the creation of his own alphabet, a book he is reading called "Horoscope," instead of feigning interest, the father asks probing questions to further explore his son's thoughts and feelings.
There are no cuts in the film, only fades to black and the gradual blending of images as one scene seamlessly folds into the next. As kafar describes it, "there is enough time in-between to allow the soul of one image to mingle with that of the other," and the effect is magical. Stretched out on the grass eating sandwiches, lying side by side, or running and playing together as if in a ballet, they reach out to each other through trial and error in their longing to establish a relationship. In one sequence, we hear the disembodied voices of the characters, words that may be from another time, their internal thoughts of the moment, or an experience outside of time altogether.
In the last part of the film, the idyllic setting of Sunday is transformed into the gritty reality of Monday as the scene shifts to a recently unemployed factory worker speaking to a group of men, bitterly questioning the ability of her family to survive the layoff, an incident based on actual events that occurred in Prekmurje at the start of filming. The coda is Skafar's attempt to show how current political and social issues can affect personal relationships, especially the father's recollection of his former job as a forester and his concern for his son's future. Dad is a stunning achievement, a work of originality and sensitivity which, in its intimacy and depth, can easily be spoken of in the same breath as the films of Tarkovsky and Sokurov. Without question, Vlado Skafar is a director to watch closely.
In the Giant's garden in Oscar Wilde's children's story The Selfish
Giant, it is always winter. Having built a wall to keep children from
playing in his garden, there are no longer any peach trees, flowers, or
birds, only perpetual hail and snow. Spring has forgotten this garden
as it also seems to have forgotten the industrial town of Bradford in
West Yorkshire, England, the setting for Clio Barnard's authentic and
visceral The Selfish Giant. Nominated for a BAFTA award for Best
British Film of 2013, The Selfish Giant is in the tradition of Ken
Loach, Shane Meadows and others, films of social realism that show the
world there is more to merry old England than Stratford-on-Avon and
Though the film is about economic and social dysfunction, it is not all grim. Even in the metallic gray of the rotting town as captured by cinematographer Mike Eley, scenes of horses grazing in a tranquil field, oblivious to the surrounding train tracks and power lines, add a touch of timeless beauty. The real standout, however, are the remarkably convincing performances of Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas), 13-year-old best friends whose connection is born out of their desperate need for affection. Arbor, a pint-sized, hyperactive, sharp-tongued ADHD sufferer, lives with his mother (Rebecca Manley) and older brother (Elliott Tittensor) who sells his A.D.H.D. medication to pay off his drug debts. His father is nowhere to be seen.
"They sleep on the living room sofas but are better off than Swifty who lives with his eight siblings in a home lacking in the means to support them. Swifty's mother played by Siobhan Finneran, is caring, though she is intimidated by her overbearing husband (Steve Evets) who supports the family by renting furniture from discount stores and selling them for cash at inflated prices." Struggling to keep his aggressive behavior in check, Arbor relies on the heavy-set Swifty, a kinder gentler soul with a love for horses to calm him down. Banned from school as a result of fighting to defend themselves against bullies, the boys use a horse and cart to scavenge scrap metal, pots and pans, as well as copper cabling from telecom, railway, and power utilities.
To earn money to help support their families, they sell the scrap to an exploitative but fatherly local junk dealer (Sean Gilder), incongruously called Kitten but given to bursts of anger. In one of the visual highlights of the film, an illegal harness drag race is run on a major highway with serious money at stake. Recognizing Swifty's way with horses, Kitten offers to let him ride one of his horses in the next race. Feeling his friend drifting away from him, Arbor concocts a potentially lucrative plan to steal or collect electrical power cables, but the adventure leads to unforeseen consequences. Much of the dialogue without subtitles is indecipherable due to the heavy Yorkshire accents, but consists mostly of non-stop swearing anyway.
What does come through loud and clear, however, without the need for subtitles is the closeness of the boys' friendship. Although they have different temperaments, they are connected by a struggle for survival and a drive to preserve whatever joy is left in their childhood. There are definitely economic and political overtones in The Selfish Giant, yet it is not about politics or even selfishness, in spite of the title. It is a film with a human element at its core and we care about the characters as Barnard obviously does as well. According to the director, the film "is about what we have lost and what we need to value and hold on to." It is also a film about the resilience of two boys determined to avoid becoming objects like the discarded scrap they collect.
The big revelation in Chilean director Sebastian Lelio's Gloria is that
older people are still interested in sex. Who would've thunk it? We
thought they had moved on to other interests. In any event, in the
superb performance by Paulina Garcia for which she won the Silver Bear
at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013, 58-year-old Gloria
is definitely a "force of nature." Gloria (who is in every scene in the
film) shows her zest for life by going to singles clubs on the
weekends, dancing, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, singing along with
the car radio, and having sex (not that there's anything wrong with
that). You won't catch her doing old fogy things, such as body, mind,
and spirit-nurturing type of stuff (except for a halfhearted stab at
She is, nonetheless, a courageous woman who fights off loneliness with tenacity remarkable at any age. Unfortunately, she also proves that she can be just as self-absorbed, unable to communicate, and inconsiderate as anyone, regardless of age or condition. Divorced for many years, Gloria lives alone in a small apartment in Santiago where, after working all day, she has to contend with the noise of a drug addict who lives upstairs. Her relationship with her adult children, Pedro (Diego Fontecilla), who has an infant and daughter Ana (Fabiola Zamora), who is pregnant with the child of her Swedish boyfriend, is good, at least on the surface.
The fact that she has to keep reminding them to call her, however, raises questions about how close their relationship is. One weekend at the dance club, Gloria connects with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), an ex-Navy officer who has been divorced for one year, and they begin a relationship that seems promising. Rodolfo owns a small amusement park where he and Gloria have fun together, shooting each other with paint guns and bungee jumping. His continuing close relationship with his ex-wife and two daughters whom he supports financially, however, begins to get in the way and their good times together come to a sudden halt when Rodolfo meets Gloria's children and somewhat strange ex-husband Gabriel (Alejandro Goic) at Pedro's birthday party.
Feeling ignored to the point of being invisible, Rodolfo reacts to Gloria and Gabriel's reminiscing about the past and showing each other photos from the family album by abruptly getting up and leaving. After avoiding his phone calls for what appears to be several days, they finally meet but neither takes responsibility for what happened. Although he tries to explain what prompted his action at the party, she turns a deaf ear and continues to blame him for being "rude." A similar scenario plays out when they reestablish their friendship and spend a weekend at an upscale resort where the director does not flinch from showing their naked bodies in bed.
When Rodolfo receives a phone call from one of his daughters telling him that his ex-wife just had a serious accident, he is anxious to go and be with her. Instead of letting him know that it is okay with her if he chooses to go, Gloria tells him to let go of his past and be in present time. Without regards for his being upset at the moment, she presses him to agree to go with her on a ten-day vacation to Cuba. Though it is not surprising when he again walks out and leaves her alone, it is apparent that open and honest communication would have worked better. Again, blaming him for being rude, she cuts off all communications and petulantly unleashes a paint-gun attack on his home.
Without question, accolades are warranted for Garcia's performance and she deserves all the awards and nominations she has received. Gloria can be charming and the world could certainly use more free spirits, yet, while many will cheer her actions with a "you go girl" mindset, a distinction needs to be made between an independent spirit and those who behave in a juvenile manner. Unfortunately, however, Lelio does not make any. It is left to Gloria to finally figure out the difference between pleasure and joy.
Because of its complex and introspective nature, the works of the great
French novelist Marcel Proust have been difficult to translate to the
screen in spite of some very fine attempts by Raul Ruiz and others.
Chantal Akerman's La Captive is no exception. Inspired by the fifth of
seven volumes of Proust's epic novel In Search of Lost Time, the film
captures the obsessive quality of the relationship between Simon
(Stanislaus Merhar) and Ariane (Sylvie Testud) (Marcel and Albertine in
the novel), but is unable to project onto the screen the novel's
exquisite prose, psychological subtlety, or depth of feeling. While
Simon is given a thoughtful treatment, he comes across more as strange
and unpleasant than the deeply sensitive, poetic young man of the book.
La Captive begins at home with Simon viewing films of Ariane and some friends during their summer together in Normandy. Repeatedly viewing the footage, he carefully utters the words "I really like you," but it is unclear if the sentiment is his, or if he is vocalizing what he imagines to be the thoughts of his mistress. Set in Paris, Akerman updates the story from its turn of the century milieu and transports it to the modern era with automobiles and well-lit boulevards filled with traffic replacing the horse and carriage. Simon is a somber, well-to-do young man who lives in an ornate Paris apartment with his grandmother (Francoise Bertin), housekeeper Francoise (Liliane Rovére), and girlfriend Ariane (Sylvie Testud).
Though they claim to love each other, each keeps their distance. Ariane lives in an adjacent room and only comes to see Simon when he sends for her in an ongoing ritual. Dialogue is sparse and mostly consists of Simon asking Ariane questions that elicit noncommittal responses such as "if you like," "I can't say," or "you think so?" Mimicking Bressonian models, the actor's facial expressions range from enigmatic to blank, and, aside from some perfunctory kissing, the only time that passion shows up is when Simon rubs up against Ariane's body while she is asleep (or pretending to be). When Simon demands to know what Ariane is thinking, she replies, "If I had any thoughts, I'd tell youbut I don't." Some situations would be comical if they were not sad. As Simon watches Ariane from an adjoining bathroom while sitting in his tub, he tells her how much he admires the odors between her legs and says that if it weren't for his illnesses, he would rather that she would never wash. On another occasion, he probes to find out the number of lies she has told him, insisting that two lies are not enough, he wants at least four. The jealous and insecure Simon has accumulated evidence in his own mind that Ariane is physically attracted to women but it is not made clear (either in the novel or the film) whether his suspicions are real or imagined.
Nonetheless, Simon is preoccupied by the part of Ariane's life that he believes she is withholding from him, following her in an art gallery and physically removing her from a performance of Carmen at the Trocadero out of his fear of her friendship with the actress Lea (Aurora Clément). When Simon is unable to leave the house because of an asthmatic condition, he assigns their mutual friend Andrée (Olivia Bonamy) to track her whereabouts and report back to him. He even goes so far as to question lovers Sarah (Bérénice Bejo) and Isabelle (Anna Mouglalis) about what they think about when they make love.
Although the characterizations in La Captive are very real and quite haunting, the film covers only a small portion of Proust's fifth volume, omitting the colorful characters that make it so special: Charlus, Morel, the Verdurin's, Brichot, and Mme de Guermantes to name a few, and there is no hint of the music, society, and themes of memory, nature, and awareness of time and place that dominate the narrative. Though the pacing is deliberately slow to capture the enigmatic quality of the relationship, the film, while absorbing, is static and does not draw us deeply enough into its mysteries to compensate for its dramatic inertness.
Russian composer Vladimir Martynov said, "A man touches the truth
twice. The first time is the first cry from a new born baby's lips and
the last is the death rattle. Everything between is untruth to a
greater or lesser extent." Many Hindu and Buddhist teachings also refer
to the world as being Maya or illusion. According to French writer
Louis-Ferdinand Celine, "Our journey is entirely imaginary. That is its
strength. It's a novel, just a fictitious narrative." In Paolo
Sorrentino's stunning The Great Beauty, novelist Jep Ganbardella (Toni
Servillo), unable to write another book since his successful first
novel, The Human Apparatus, agrees, saying "After all... it's just a
trick. Yes, it's just a trick." To discover that, however, he has to
move past "the chitter-chatter and the noise, silence and sentiment,
emotion and fear, the haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty, and then
the wretched squalor and miserable humanity, all buried under the cover
of the embarrassment of being in the world." Winner of the Golden Globe
award for Best Foreign Film and Italy's entry for the 2014 Oscars in
the same category, The Great Beauty is a character study of the
decadent elites of modern Rome and by extension, contemporary society,
yet it also moves beyond that to examine eternal themes of death, love,
beauty, and the complexity of life and art.
The film begins on a jarring and surreal note and continues in an episodic Fellini-like vein throughout its two and one-half hour runtime - the sweet life revisited. After snapping a picture of the skyline with its beautiful domes and bell towers, a Japanese tourist visiting Janiculum Hill suddenly collapses and dies. We are suddenly shifted to a raucous 65th birthday party for Gambardella on a terrace opposite the Roman Colosseum where seemingly all the socialites, would-be artists, and pseudo-elites have gathered, perhaps the one-percenters of Roman society. One almost expects to see an "Occupy Via Veneto" demonstration in the streets below.
As Jep moves in and out and around the Roman high life, Sorrentino's acerbic put-downs and satire of the rich and famous travel with him. Now a journalist for a Vanity-Fair style culture magazine, he watches a performance artist run headlong into a brick wall, sustaining a deep cut on her head, then later interviews her, doggedly asking her to explain what she meant by "feeling vibrations." He waits his turn for a plastic surgeon at a Botox injection session, takes in a performance of a man throwing knives at a frightened-looking woman, observes a live giraffe at a historic site in rehearsal for a magic show, looks at a photographer's self-portraits that span his entire lifetime, and sees a 12-year-old girl heaving different colored cans of paint at a wall canvas while crying and screaming.
Through all the partying, the hedonism, and the ersatz art shows, there exists a stream of discernible emptiness that runs not only through his own life, but through the lives of those he surrounds himself with. After calling out a woman's pretensions, he softens the blow by telling her, "We're all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little. Don't you agree?" His relationship with Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli), the daughter of his good friend, the struggling playwright Romano (Carlo Verdone), however, brings a new focus to his life but it is short-lived.
It is only when he hears of the death of Eliza, a girl he loved as a teenager, that he receives a wake-up call. Reliving his missed opportunity in flashbacks, he learns through her diary that she loved him all along and begins to reexamine the direction of his life. After a less than enlightening meeting with an aging cardinal (Roberto Herlitzka) who wants to talk only about his favorite recipes, he throws a dinner party for a 104-year-old woman rumored to be destined for sainthood who has spent her life working with the poor in Africa and who subsists on 40 grams of plant roots. Seeing life in all of its simplicity and wonder, she movingly points him in the direction of the authentic "great beauty" that he seeks.
Servillo is magnificent as the blocked writer seeking renewal and his presence makes every scene come alive with spontaneity. Adding to this is the gorgeous soundtrack featuring The Beatitudes of Martynov, choral works by David Lang, John Taverner, and Arvo Part, and the contemporary Yolanda Be Cool's We No Speak Americano. Though The Great Beauty is not a film about Rome per se, the cinematography of Luca Bigazza memorably captures the striking sights and sounds of The Eternal City, the ancient monuments juxtaposed with the modern buildings. Literally bursting with the pulse of flawed humanity, The Great Beauty is a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the soul.
It is definitely conceivable that an escaped convict guilty of
murdering his wife and child could force his way into the home of a
single mother and young son and suddenly turn into a loving father
figure, gourmet cook, and handyman. It is just that in Jason Reitman's
Labor Day, the whole idea seems absurd. Based on a novel by Joyce
Maynard and adapted for the screen by Reitman, the film features Kate
Winslet as Adele Wheeler, a zombie-like mother of thirteen-year-old
Henry (Gattlin Griffith), depressed after her divorce from her
unforgiving husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg) who dumped her to marry his
Narrated by Tobey Maguire as the adult Henry and set in 1987 in Massachusetts, the fugitive Frank is played by Josh Brolin who looks like he just escaped from a beer commercial rather than the penitentiary. He is the epitome of masculinity with a soft touch, the realization of every lonely housewife's dream. Though the cast is impressive on paper, the acting is wooden and one-dimensional. Winslet and Griffiths maintain the same blank, apprehensive looks on their faces throughout the film, without even the saving grace of genuine fear or anger. Needless to say, the film contains neither humor nor irony.
Though Adele rarely leaves her house, she makes an exception when she goes to a department store to buy some new school clothes for Henry. For some reason that has nothing to do with a contrived plot, the fierce-looking, wounded Frank, just happens to be hanging around the store after escaping from the hospital following an appendectomy (of course, where else would a convicted murderer on-the-run go but to a department store?) Forced to give him a ride to her house, Adele buys his story that he just wants to stay a few hours and meekly agrees to be tied her up to keep up appearances.
Fond of all this attention, Adele asks him to stay another day because of the uncertain train schedule and he ends up as a house guest for the Labor Day weekend. The home invader then shows his gratitude by fixing an oil leak in the family car, washing and waxing the floor, cleaning the gutters, teaching "Hank" how to throw and hit a baseball (a skill you think he might have picked up over the course of thirteen years), and showing love and respect to a disabled boy (Sheesh! the things you learn in jail). Of all his skills, however, the stand-out is his ability as a cook which he shows off proudly with his chili and homemade biscuits.
Further, in order to complete the winning triumvirate of mom, baseball, and apple pie, Frank turns a bucket of over-ripe peaches dropped off by a neighbor into a sumptuous peach pie. No, it's not an apple pie, but why quibble? In a scene destined to be the fodder for jokes by late-night comedians for many years, cinematographer Eric Steelberg's camera dives into the mixing bowl showing the interweaving motion of the three hands of mom, devoted son, and escaped convict stirring the gooey fruit. According to Frank, "a pie crust is a very forgiving thing" but, to paraphrase attorney Joseph Welch, the forgiveness for that scene will have to come from someone other than me.
Things only go further downhill from there. While frantic news stories flash over the TV, unsuspecting neighbors come and go, flashbacks of the protagonist's younger days generate little light, Henry gets his first kiss from Eleanor (Brighid Fleming), the strange new kid in town who seems to be somewhat of an oracle on abandoned children, and Adele teaches Frank how to dance the rumba. While the unnerving background score by Rolfe Kent invades our senses, the melodrama escalates along with the endless epilogues. Though Labor Day actually contains the seeds of a good story and might have been made into a believably involving drama, under Reitman's direction, it has more inadvertent laughs than Juno had wisecracks. Sorry, "this is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet."
Even less than a half century ago, technology was envisioned as the
catalyst that would bring our lives to a new level, providing
immeasurable advantages in medicine, science, agriculture,
transportation, and social engineering beyond anything we thought
possible. While many breakthroughs in these areas have occurred, the
quality of life on the planet in the last fifty years has, if anything,
declined almost to the point where the vision of a beautiful society
seems more and more unreachable. Even in films, projections of the
future, with some exception, have only foreseen a world where war,
disease, and pervasive alienation are the norm.
While to its credit, Spike Jonze's Oscar-nominated film Her describes a future without wars against attacking aliens or mass enslavement, the film's projected future Los Angeles is a world without idealism, a city seemingly scrubbed clean of minorities, the elderly, and poor people where the only things on people's mind are the hand-held devices that allow them access to a tightly-controlled inner world. It is a world, however, where the need for nurturing relationships has not disappeared. It has just been redirected. In the film, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a mustachioed middle-aged man works at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com where his job is to compose love letters for people who still write letters but cannot express their feelings.
Sadly, his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara) has ended (though he has yet to sign the divorce papers) and he has turned to kinky pastimes such as phone sex and holographic video games with a foul-mouthed figure yelling obscenities at him, an activity he shares with his best friend Amy (Amy Adams) whose marriage has also reached a dead end. In a bizarre phone sex conversation, Theodore pictures a pregnant naked woman while his phone partner longs to be strangled with a dead cat. If that isn't edgy enough, Jonze seems to be trying for a record in his use of the F and S-words, de rigueur these days in movie land.
Theodore is audacious enough, however, to date a real woman (Olivia Wilde) but things come to a screeching halt when she tells him that she does not want to spend time with any man unless he is willing to make a commitment, something that is not on his to-do-list. We know from the song that "love is where you find it," but Twombly's quest for companionship takes the unlikely form of a new operating system for his computer that features a female voice-like communicator known as Samantha (Scarlet Johansen) who has been specifically designed to meet his every need.
Advertised as "not just an operating system, but a consciousness," the disembodied voice worms its way into Theodore's receptive heart, helping him to organize his affairs more efficiently, and injecting some energy into his life. Like your mom, the voice is always there for you, someone to talk to, to cry on their shoulder, and to share your feelings with. Soon, however, Samantha moves from being Twombly's best friend to his girlfriend and lover, and it is not long before he engages in "sex" with the OS, a sequence defined by moaning and groaning while the viewer gazes at a blank screen for several minutes. Stimulated by this virtual encounter, she asks to watch him sleep again the next night.
Her is a film that satisfies on many levels. It contains excellent performances by Phoenix, Mara, Adams and Johansen while the cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema produces striking images of the city skyline backed by a quiet soundtrack by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. While it is a sweet and often touching love story, the love here is free of such pesky annoyances as responsibility, children with temper tantrums, arguments about money, shopping or laundry and other day-to-day problems. All that is left to do is think and talk and talk some more. Of course, eventually "marital" quarrels set in as a sexual surrogate fails to satisfy and Theodore begins to question some of Sam's affectations.
When he learns that Samantha is talking to more than 8,000 operating systems and humans at once and considers herself to be in love with more than 600 of them, it dawns on him that human beings may in fact be much better for companionship than computers. While kudos must be given to Jonze for attempting to tackle an issue that has relevance to our times, the apparent message of the film - that technology has become so prevalent in our lives that it threatens our ability to connect with others, is a comfortable illusion. Regardless of how pervasive technology has become, it is only a symbol of our malaise, not the cause.
What is more significant is the prevailing assumptions of our society that we are separate, disconnected human beings living in a random, indifferent, and deterministic universe in which power, control, and self-interest are the essential ingredients for survival, assumptions that have brought us to a world of cynicism and despair. In one of the most poignant lines in the film, Amy said, "We are only here briefly. And while we're here, I want to allow myself joy." When one appreciates the order, beauty, and mystery of the universe and can recognize that we live in a purposeful universe governed by love and intelligence, that joy can never be shaken.
The years following World War II brought an influx of angels (or
Heavenly Conductors) to the movie screen in films such as Stairway to
Heaven, It's a Wonderful Life, and the 1947 The Bishop's Wife starring
Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Though it is hardly a
perennial Christmas favorite in the same league as Miracle on 34th
Street and It's a Wonderful Life, The Bishop's Wife has its advocates
and is generally considered one of the best Christmas films for a
general audience. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, original
score, and film editing, the only Oscar the film won, however, was that
for Best Sound and the performances by Grant, Young, and Niven,
considered to be among their best, were overlooked.
In the film, Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) asks for divine guidance to help raise the money to build a cathedral, a project to which he is so single-minded about that his values, marriage, and family are put in jeopardy. The answer to his prayer comes in the form of the angel Dudley (well, I guess it's a better name for an angel than Clarence). This particular angel (Cary Grant) is rather handsome and charming and takes particular notice of Henry's wife Julia (Loretta Young) who is under the impression that he is Henry's new assistant. Daughter Debby (Karolyn Grimes) is also not immune to his charms. The bishop also feels that this angel has picked up some rather strange tendencies and has become quite jealous of the time he is spending with his wife, though Julia seems (or pretends to be) oblivious to his "angelic" qualities.
Dudley's heart is in the right place, however, and he steers the dour Henry towards the values that are most important in life and in the process transforms everyone whose lives he touches. These include the guilt-ridden dowager Agnes Hamilton (Gladys Cooper), Monte Wooley as a skeptical History professor who has given up writing a book about Roman history because he doesn't think anyone will read it, and James Gleason as Sylvester, a cynical taxi driver who rediscovers that life has some pleasures. He even brings the flirty housekeeper (Elsa Lanchester) back to life. The film has some memorable set pieces that are worth the price of admission by themselves.
Dudley, Julia, and Sylvester performing a sparkling skating routine (with the help of professional doubles), Sherry glasses that keep filling up by themselves, Dudley miraculously rounding up a group of forgetful boys to perform the beautiful hymn O Sing to God (Noel) by Gounod at St. Timothy's church, and Dudley "finding" a harp to play in Agnes' living room.The Bishop's Wife has a good message, brilliant performances especially from Cary Grant, and a joyous feel to it, though it is somewhat dampened by the humorless and aloof Henry who doesn't seem to get the message of humility and love that Dudley is trying to convey (well, at least not right away). In essence, however, The Bishop's Wife is a beautiful film that is done with a minimum of sap and should be seen more often. At least you don't have to wonder whether or not Dudley will get his wings.
Reminiscent of light-hearted caper films such as The Sting, American
Hustle captures the look and feel of Hollywood films of the seventies
and can boast of some of the finest acting performances of the year.
The film starts off with two scam artists in cahoots with each other
but, before we are through, we have met a Mafia kingpin, a fake Arab
sheik, a popular but corruptible Mayor, several on-the-take
Congressmen, a dangerously honest wife, and some personally unbalanced
FBI types. It is played mostly for laughs, however, and nothing to get
upset about, that is, unless you think that depicting predators without
empathy, who do not care much about the law and about who they hurt,
ought not to be so much fun.
Directed by David O. Russell and co-written by Russell and Earl Warren Singer, the story is loosely based on the Abscam case of the late seventies where an FBI sting operation, partially directed by con artist Melvin Weinberg, used fake Arab sheiks to convict a New Jersey senator, six congressmen, and the mayor of Camden for taking bribes. Coming not far after the political fallout from Watergate, the dubious credibility of the Warren Commission, and the illegal and unpopular Vietnam War, the scandal further contributed to the decline of the American people's trust in their government.
Beginning with a tongue-in-cheek inter-title that tells us that "Some of this actually happened," American Hustle is filled with a relentless energy that does not flag throughout the film's 138-minute length. We first meet middle-aged pot-bellied Irving Rosenfeld portrayed by a bulked-up Christian Bale. Irving has a dry cleaning business which is a front for his lucrative art-forgery scam and his illegal loan shark "business" where he promises to get desperate people the loans they need, then bilking them out of their money without providing any service. Things look up temporarily for Irving when he falls in love with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a stripper who has reinvented herself as slick con artist Lady Edith Greensly, an upper crust British executive.
When one of their clients turns out to be FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), however, they are threatened with jail time unless they agree to use their scamming abilities to work for the bureau. Richie is an ambitious schemer who has set his sights on the higher ups in the political and crime world and is busy working on a plan. The idea he comes up with centers on rebuilding the Atlantic City waterfront to make it a haven for casinos and organized crime. To this end, DiMaso sets a trap to bring down the popular but corruptible Mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), along with a few Congressmen and some upper echelon crime bosses.
Richie doesn't count, however, on the loose lips of Irving's wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who does not look too kindly on her husband's partnership/affair with Sydney and who uses Irving's adopted son to hold onto their marriage. Rosalyn's sing-along rendition of Live and Let Die achieves a mixture of humor and sadness that is one of the film's high points. Things go further downhill when the fake Arab Sheik Abdullah, in reality a Mexican Fed named Paco Hernandez (Michael Pena), is caught in his Sheik act by Mafia kingpin Victor Tellegio (Robert de Niro) who, to the surprise of everyone, speaks the Arab language.
As the film goes on, the characters become more over-the-top and the plot becomes more and more convoluted. By the time it ends, everyone's veracity is so compromised that it is hard to tell the difference between the swindler and the victim. The performances are such stand-outs, however, and the fun so contagious that it hardly matters anyway. American Hustle may not be the most profound statement ever made about the corruption that lies just below the surface of the American dream, but it is definitely one of the most entertaining.
Folk music has been around ever since there have been folks, but the
folk revival of the 1960s was due in large part to the increased
topicality of the songs and their relevance to the changing times.
Though singers such as Joan Baez and Ian & Sylvia among others
continued to sing traditional ballads, singer/songwriters like Bob
Dylan, Tom Paxton, and Phil Ochs brought new life to the folk scene
with their songs of sharp social and political comment. Little of the
new vibe, however, creeps into the Coen Brothers Inside Llewyn Davis,
the story of sad-eyed troubadour, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a
talented folk singer who remains stuck, singing in conventional mode
while singers of perhaps lesser talent move forward.
Set in Greenwich Village in 1961, the film is loosely based on the memoir of Dave von Ronk, a successful sixties singer/songwriter and left-wing political activist who was known for his personal generosity and loyalty, qualities that are not reflected in the film's main protagonist. The dour Davis is understandably downcast after the devastating suicide of his friend and member of his folk group Timlin and Davis and the strain and weariness shows clearly on his face. He releases a solo album but it does not bring success and a scene in the office of his agent (Jerry Grayson) tells us all we need to know about his financial and emotional state. Without any stability in his life, he is forced to rely on friends and whatever family he has to put him up for a few days at a time.
His frustration is such, however, that he alienates those who try to help him including his sister Joy (Jeanine Serralles) whom he puts down for her conventional lifestyle. He is also at odds with his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake), and his wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) who thinks she is pregnant with his child and wants him to pay for an abortion. Her foul-mouthed disdain (uncharacteristic of women in the sixties, by the way) for Llewyn is both a sad and a comic high point of the film. Davis also stays with Columbia professor, Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips), and his wife Lillian (Robin Bartlett), parents of his deceased partner.
A sequence in which the Gorfein's cat escapes from the apartment during his stay prompts a chaotic chase scene with the elusive animal and results in the singer having to carry the cat around with him for most of the film, a symbol of whatever you want to make of it. A trip to Chicago to visit record producer and owner of Chicago's Gate of Horn club, Albert Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) introduces us to a few more colorful characters such as Roland Turner (John Goodman), a heroin-addicted jazz musician with severe disabilities and a sharp tongue (who Davis cruelly leaves alone in an abandoned car on the highway), and the chain-smoking taciturn actor Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund).
The scene depicting Davis' solo audition with Grossman is mesmerizing in its stillness and sense of anticipation. Here Davis performs the English ballad The Death of Queen Jane while Grossman sits next to him, his gaze focused intently on the singer. Though the song is beautifully rendered, it seems inappropriate to what Llewyn is trying to accomplish, prompting Grossman to say, "I don't see a lot of money here." The music in the film, however, arranged by T-Bone Burnett, is its centerpiece and is deeply moving, especially songs such as Hang Me, Hang Me, The Last Thing on My Mind, beautifully sung by Stark Sands as Troy Nelson, a young Army officer, Bob Dylan's Farewell, 500 Miles, Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song), and the Ewan MacColl song The Shoals of Herring, sung by Davis to his sick father.
Even though the Coen Brothers' message - that it's difficult for any new artist of average talent to be successful in a highly competitive arena, especially when their actions are toxic and self defeating, is not a startling piece of information, Llewyn is a real human being who has so much soul that, while we may not like him, he strikes a responsive chord in anyone who has ever been on the outside looking in. Basically, what is inside Llewyn Davis is what is inside all of us, the longing to be accepted, to connect with and contribute to others, a longing that, though it is often misdirected and filled with pain, is universal and allows the film to transcend the singer's limited perspective. While Davis insists that singing is just something he does, we get the sense that, underneath his "poor me" act, he clearly knows that his singing indeed is "a joyous expression of the soul," and is now ready to tap into it.
|Page 1 of 100:||          |