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Microcosm of humanity on a cramped, overnight train, fleeing from city to sea, away from daily life, from normality to a heightened inner landscape. Crime thriller is almost incidental. Major themes include desire, loneliness and elusive love, set against a background of folly, sin, death, mortality and the general circus of life (like Fellini).
Screenplay, cinematography and acting all very fine and pulled together by strong direction and a unified directorial vision.
Many memorable shots. Perhaps the most memorable is the haggard, pitiable face of the murderer, looking up at his captors, as he kneels in handcuffs on the ground, a doomed soul lost amid the falling crosses of an old cemetery. Shots of the abandoned train in the end are haunting and spectral.
Movie is musical, lyrical, in its shifting moods. A man and a woman, wounded hearts, glance each other in a chance encounter. They dance with, against and around each other beautifully.
Soft jazz vibes add just the right touch of melancholy, sweetness, detachment and ephemerality.
Some scenes underlit, hard to make out. Don't know if this due to poor transfer to DVD or the original print.
Devil's Knot (2013)
See "Paradise Lost" trilogy, not this
This movie is pretty skimpy on details and fails to recreate the dramatic intensity of the real case. Everything about this movie is mediocre: the screenplay, acting, direction, etc.
The case is much more thoroughly covered and revealed in fascinating detail in the "Paradise Lost" documentary trilogy (1996, 2002 & 2011; Joe Berlinger, director). The "West of Memphis" (2012) documentary is not as good as the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, nor does it add very much new information, but serves as an interesting supplement, if you've already seen the original trilogy.
The "Paradise Lost" trilogy points a finger at stepfather Byers as the likely killer. But West of Memphis more or less convincingly exonerates Byers, and instead points suspicion at stepfather Hobbs as the killer. This exemplifies that what makes this case so interesting is the elusiveness of the truth.
The police and criminal justice system did not do their jobs to find and prosecute the killer. In fact, they seem to have done their best NOT to have done their jobs. The cops, prosecutors, and judge took the easy way out and frankly lied for personal gain. The court-assigned defence attorneys dropped the ball. The three teenage plaintiffs were almost certainly scapegoated. Meanwhile, the person or persons responsible for the horrific murders are still out there somewhere, which is disgusting and depressing.
The case provides a pretty good argument against capital punishment. We see that the criminal justice system is just too inept to exact such an irrevokable sentence.
Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)
Politically correct sour grapes, not musical history
Nice of these has-beens to spit at someone who can't defend himself, at Phil Spector. Just about every third or fourth song in the end credits was written by him. Without him these studio hacks would have been nothing. Check out "Phil Spector" on Wikipedia to see just how many hits Spector made and how many genres and decades his work spans:
More than just about any other producer in pop music, Spector had the golden touch and was a genius.
One of the singers blames Spector for taking advantage of her. She complains about the contract she signed. She admits she got paid handsomely, wore furs, and rode around in a Mercedes sports car, but did it ever occur to her to pay a lawyer to read her contract and negotiate with Spector on her behalf?
One of these self-inflated bims even smirks deprecatingly about Spector's famous "wall of sound." What did any one of these mediocrities ever accomplish anywhere near as brilliant? These morons even take pride in their ignorance, in their inability to read music or understand music theory, so much so that they oppressively silence the one white woman in their midst who can.
Almost every single one of these canaries tried to have a solo career and failed. Why? Because they didn't have a single hit, didn't have the vaguest idea of how to make a hit, and couldn't write, produce or arrange their own music -- Ray Charles and Otis Redding, for example, did all three. It was Phil Spector who did all of these things for them, and did it phenomenally well and phenomenally consistently.
As these expendable singers-for-hire weep and moan over their lack of "stardom," one should keep in mind that we're talking about POP music, not jazz, not classical, and not blues. Pop is by definition superficial, commercial and disposable. None of these warblers was truly innovative or original. None developed her own style or penned a single important song. From the point of view of the history of music, they are all a mere footnote.
Then there's the politically correct reverse racism. The dames speak of white backup singers, their contemporaneous competition, with thinly veiled racism and open contempt. The only white backup singer included in this film tells us these black singers didn't even allow her to speak, even though she was the only one who could read music and was educated in music (and was in fact working on her PhD in jazz). A pompous, black USC professor of "Critical Studies" in an ascot condescendingly explains black heritage.
Merry Clayton's take on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" reveals a defective and/or dishonest mind and soul. She twists herself into a pretzel to justify her taking money to sing on that recording, saying the song was defiant of Alabama, when in fact the song was a proud anthem of the Deep South, which clearly told Canadian Neil Young, who excoriated the south in his song "Southern Man," to go to hell. The movie shows the video of the original Skynyrd appearing on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" (BBC2), where a huge Confederate flag was lowered behind the band. In the height of hypocrisy and irony, Clayton is seen in another video clip, singing Young's "Southern Man."
More politically correct bigotry: The film's female chauvinism is nowhere as obvious as in the praises it sings for Tina Turner and her provocatively, scantily clad singers/dancers, while ignoring Tina's husband, Ike Turner, who's standing right there behind them in the band. Ike is infinitely more important to the history of American music than Tina, or anybody else in this movie. Among his other accomplishments, he wrote, performed, recorded and produced the first rock 'n roll record ("Rocket 88"), and was Sam Phillips's A&R man and talent scout at Sun Records in Memphis, one of the most important record labels in American music (where Elvis, Johnny Cash, & Carl Perkins, among others, were first recorded). Ike Turner was also the first to record Howlin' Wolf, and one of the first and few to lure the distrustful Elmore James into the studio. One wonders if anyone associated with this movie even knows who Sam Phillips, Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf or Elmore James were.
The femmes all blame somebody else for their lack of "stardom," but, if truth be told, the open market is ruthlessly honest about choosing its music. (Whether we've had an open musical market since the mid 1990's, however, is a separate question, best left for consideration in a different place, a different time -- hint: see the book "The New Media Monopoly" by Ben Bagdikian and consider that AOL-Time-Warner owns more than 70 record labels and a large chunk of the internet and cable TV, over which music is distributed.)
Too bad this movie is such a distortion, so faint-hearted, and so dishonest. Instead of dealing with the roughand-tumble, creative chaos of commercial pop and rock, it gives us milksop, ethnocentric political correctness (producer Harvey Weinstein's specialty). Worse, it is afraid to ruffle the feathers of its highly egotistic, preening divas to get at the uncomfortable, but infinitely more interesting, truth. This is sex, drugs and rock'n roll without the sex and drugs.
Side by Side (2012)
Digital and Analog Should be Complimentary, Not Mutually Exclusive
Imo, film should always be kept available, not completely phased out, because the more tools, the more options, the better. There is no reason analog and digital technology should be mutually exclusive, instead of complementary, as in the making of Samsara.
The visually arresting Samsara was shot on 65 mm Kodak film, which was developed but not printed, due to budgetary constraints. Instead, an 8k digital copy was made from the negative, which was then used for post-production coloring, editing, soundtrack, etc. A 4k copy was made of the final cut, for digital exhibition. This combination of analog and digital technology recalls the ADD musical format, music initially recorded in analog, then digitized, in order to both preserve the advantages of analog and optimize those of digital.
There's no DP alive today, it must be said, that can replicate the great B&W work of masters like Joe MacDonald, James Wong Howe, Josef Von Sternberg or Gregg Toland. Truly, the art of B&W film is dead. Movies that resurrect B&W, like A White Ribbon, Raging Bull, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Turin Horse or The Artist, look sterile and too analytical, flat and dull. The luminescent magic of movies like The Lady from Shanghai, Shanghai Express, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) or Gilda is gone, never to be seen again. Thus one should worry that DPs will retreat from the creative challenge of film cinematography into the safety of technical "perfection" with digital. One has to worry that digital will limit the imagination, as it has in music.
Point of reference: There isn't one film in the world which compares to the perfection of the use of only ambient and natural light by Kubrick in Barry Lyndon (1975). Kubrick customized the already near obsolete, bulky Mitchell cameras with his own lenses in order to shoot the entire film by daylight or candlelight. There isn't one, not one, movie set in the past before the advent of electric light that looks as good or as right. And this, of course, without any computers (and with obsolete cameras).
Another point of reference: It pays to remember how much Ridley Scott accomplished with hardly, if any computers in 1982 in Blade Runner. Most of the people interviewed in this movie, e.g., Lucas, Nolan, Cameron or Soderbergh, couldn't accomplish a tenth as much with all the computers in the world -- their imaginations are simply not rich enough. In the end, celluloid is just a means to an end. It's the filmmaker who makes the movie, not the cameras.
Occupy Unmasked (2012)
Occupiers are the Pigs of Animal Farm
This short doc exposes the fact that the OWS events were all carefully staged by unseen hands and made to look spontaneous and innocent, when in fact they were cynically orchestrated and exploited by experienced interests, like well-organized anarchists, unions, the Anonymous hackers, and old radical leftist groups. For example, unbeknownst to college students tricked into participating in the events, union thugs and organizers were bused to events and ran events; and the public was tricked by a New York Times journalist who into attending the NY "occupation" by the lie that the rock group Coldplay would be there.
This film exposes: 1) the sinister motives of these groups and individuals namely, the violent overthrow of American society, with complete disregard to both the rights of the individual and the Bill of Rights; 2) the complicity of the liberal media in falsely portraying the events as benign, spontaneous, populist events and; 3) Obama's blessing of this violent, lawless movement.
Andrew Breitbart, who produced and narrated this movie, will be sorely missed. The movie is an act of courage, a statement of truth in the face of unscrupulous people who don't care what means they have to take in order to accomplish their extremist, undemocratic, nihilistic ends.
A torinói ló (2011)
Alcoholic Eyes: Tarr is Intellectually and Morally Bankrupt
Raskolnikov, the anti-hero and protagonist of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, has a dream of a horse being beaten to death by its drunken owner and bystanders as it is forced to pull a load that it cannot pull (Part One, Chapter Five). In the dream Raskolnikov is a little boy who cries for them to stop. It represents his innate Christian compassion, which he has to suppress in order to commit murders, in order for him to assert his will and reason.
Raskolnikov prefigured Nietzsche. He tried to fashion himself into a Nietzschian Superman (based on Napoleon), above morality, above guilt, above society, immune to Christian charity, who could exercise his naked will to power, superior to all men who were constrained by mere values and compassion for their fellow man. So it is sadly and very fittingly ironic that Nietzsche, by expressing compassion for an abused horse, in the end himself broke down and gave into Christian pity, when all his life he claimed to be above and did all he could to negate such "weakness."
Let us not forget that Nietzsche led directly to Hitler. Contrary to what "scholars" claim, Hitler WAS a Nietzschian Superman, literally lifted off the pages of Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals. Let us not forget that the moral nihilism of Nietzsche also led to existentialism, which is really the negation of morality by the French, a rationalization and philosophical justification of French moral cowardice, in the wake of French collaboration with the Nazis.
So now we have this broken down Bohemian hipster, Bela Tarr, who, with rotten teeth and alcoholic eyes, dressed in fashionable black, wears his existential despair like a fashion accessory (see DVD extra of interview of Tarr at Berlin Film Festival). He misunderstands the meaning of Nietzsche's breaking down and crying for a horse. He doesn't get that Nietzsche's breaking down gives the lie to the anti-Christian, pagan Superman entirely.
So now we have this European hipster, Tarr, a dyed-in-the-wool existential atheist, making a movie about, of all things, the End of Days. Like Nietzsche, he ironically, unwittingly capitulates to the Christianity he has spent all his life negating. The joke is on him.
Just as Nietzsche led to Hitler, the moral vacuity of Tarr's existentialism and fashionable posture of impotent despair fits in perfectly with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Hungary and Europe. A culture which coddles such bankrupt artistic elites, which celebrates such a morally and intellectually vacuous filmmaker, certainly cannot protect the innocents in its midst from the oldest, most barbaric human hate. Night has truly descended on Tarr and Hungary.
The Future (2011)
Performance Pieces Do Not a Movie Make
As director Miranda July explains in the DVD commentary, the basic concept for this movie occurred to her while she was making her last movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and going through a tough romantic breakup. The heartbreak of losing her lover resulted in a performance piece that she did at the Kitchen in NYC in 2007, consisting of the paws of a talking cat and the T-shirt dance piece. These were later expanded into a movie.
Sophie (a composite of July and one of her close friends) and boyfriend Jason drop out, quite their jobs, in search of meaning and truth. Sophie's inability to fulfill the promise she makes to herself (and her email friends) of creating 30 dances in 30 days reflects the dislocation of July from herself and time due to the devastation of losing her lover. A heart-broken lover wants to stop time and withdraw from life. The talking cat, Paw Paw, is a metaphor for waiting, esp. waiting for love, for belonging to someone, for being rescued and redeemed by another, a condition of stasis, paralysis and being out of time (the central metaphor of the movie). Literally, Paw Paw is tiny voice coming out of July herself.
The movie as a whole is meant to tell the story of Miranda losing and finding herself, her withdrawing from life and re-emerging in it, finally willing to accept the unknown and no longer passively, helplessly waiting, like Paw Paw, to be loved by someone, to be discovered and taken care of by someone. Paw Paw disappears because waiting is no longer needed, not because an actual cat dies because he is forgotten by its owners.
Sophie's temporary infidelity to Jason, with a man named Marshall, represents Sophie sinking into oblivion, her being lost in sterile suburbia, passively surrendering to Marshall, and allowing him to take care of her. Sophie wakens from her sleep when she is called upon to take care of Marshall's child, Gabriella, a selfless act that pulls her out of herself. The T-shirt dance represents a farewell to Marshall and Sophie reclaiming her identity.
The T-shirt dance piece marks Miranda's finally being able to reintegrate and express herself in dance: she can now be true to her inner self because her outer self is hidden from view and thus not subject to the critical judgment of others or self-censorship.
Jason's journey echoes Sophie's. Jason is an appendage, a variation, of Sophie, not an independent character of his own. This is a major weakness of the film: it is one-sided, onanistic.
The problem with the movie is that it IS a movie and NOT a performance piece. Performance pieces are stand-alone, abstract, conceptual works, which usually occur on a bare stage. These do not readily translate into a feature-length movie because movies require a cohesive story with characters, settings, etc. that have to be integrated into one sustained narrative. Performance pieces extract and distill meaning from its context. Movies do the opposite; they create contexts, their own worlds, for their meanings.
This movie fails because it feels like a bunch of performance concepts loosely strung together, not an integrated, whole narrative. July somehow is unable to move from her performance roots to fully embrace the language of cinema. In addition, she is not always able to translate the deeply personal and subjective into universal art. The most that can be said for this movie is that some of the episodes are intriguing, even if hard to fathom or integrate into a plot. It too often comes off as being quirky just for the sake of being quirky, an indie affectation.
Viva Riva! (2010)
Portrait of a City - A Big Fat Slice of Life
I am surprised no one, not in the message board or reviews, seems to mention that that this is not only a gangster action thriller, but a portrait of a city, Kinshasa, Africa's 3rd largest, a city of 11,000,000 where running water is scarce and blackouts frequent.
And it's a devastating portrait: everyone, absolutely everyone, betrays everyone. All segments of society are included and thus indicted: the clergy, military, government officials, police, ordinary working class, street children (of which in real life there are an estimated 20,000), merchants, businessmen, gangsters, smugglers and prostitutes. Corruption is ubiquitous.
The very family is seen disintegrating, as both Riva and his partner, J.M., abandon and turn on parents, wife, and even children. We learn that in the past their parents have in turn betrayed both Riva and his love-interest, Nora. No social relationships are lasting or even reliable.
The titular protagonist, Riva, embodies classic African fatalism, which few posters on IMDb seem to appreciate or understand. Further, he represents a coldly indifferent nihilism, perhaps the worst disease of, even as it may be the most appropriate response to, the social chaos and breakdown that is Kinshasa. There is nothing certain or fixed in his life, not even death; the best he can say is that he THINKS he's in love. He exists moment to moment in an empty vacuum, passing from thrill to thrill, sensation to sensation; his entire world is indifferently organized around money and self-gratification. (Nora prophetically comments that money kills.)
The main characters, always unpredictable and evolving, walk a fine line between being reprehensible and sympathetic, so one is never quite sure how one feels about them, because one is never quite sure how they'll turn out. This uncertainty and flux keeps one hanging, keeps one in the film. This open future keeps the film from falling into a flattening, dull hopelessness or cynicism, as so many European movies do, e.g., Melancholia and The White Ribbon. In this Viva Riva! is also better than City of God, which it otherwise resembles, in that the characters of the latter are fixed, predictable and too often vile.
The plot and writing are tightly wound, with no extraneous or wasted word or shot. The characters are all internally consistent and real, with no false notes, posturing or self-consciousness. There is no deadening Hollywood or European self-reflexive irony, self-indulgence or specious manipulation. There is no arty shaking hand-held camera, no cinematography for the sake of cinematography, no acting for the sake of acting, no cheesy CGI, and no distracting excesses of colorists or production designers. Instead, it all looks natural, gritty and immediate. And it all unfolds very briskly, lightly, with a calm, unblinking, burning, unrelenting intensity that never misses a beat from start to finish.
Not Italian Neorealism, nor is Accattone "Despicable"
Contrary to the claim stated in just about every single review here on IMDb, "Accattone" is not primarily an example of "Italian neorealism." It is not a social, but an abstract, poetic, even quasimetaphysical narrative. It may resemble Italian neorealism in its use of locations and harsh social conditions, but only marginally, only superficially, only as a point of departure. It is hardly "realistic" at all, but a heightened, unrealistic, symbolic and metaphorical drama.
When looking at the arc of Pasolini's entire cinematic output, one sees that it became with time only more and more abstract and artistic, less and less realistic, and that its concerns were always primarily moral, philosophical and aesthetic, not sociological or political, despite Pasolini's own explicitly stated Marxist sociopolitical opinions.
Accattone is cast in the form of a morality play, of a classic parable of a lost soul, the tragic life of a doomed sinner. The inscription at the beginning of the movie sets it in terms of Dante's Purgatory; what follows is a philosophical and moral examination of human life and society (blinded, however, to the redemptive value of human labor by its Marxism). Like "Accattone" (1961), Pasolini's next movie, "Mama Roma" (1962), repeats "Accattone's" basic formula of the impossibility of redemption on earth for the sinner, who is bound in this life to suffer for his or her sins.
The dialogue of "Accattone" is often highly literary, anything but literal or realistic. The characters say the most unlikely things that make sense only in the context of the underlying themes of the movie. A bleak, ironic black humor runs through their poetic banter, for example, that of the cynical prostitute ironically called "Amore" or the idle café chatter of Accattone's fellow scroungers, and the hardened paeans to crime of the thief Balilla. Accattone's three confessions of his own miserable worthlessness are hardly realistic, but Dostoevskian; even if drunk, why would he cry and declare his self-loathing in the arms of Neapolitan gangsters? Religious symbols and references abound, for example, the "'Orate fraters'" mockingly, but ironically, tossed out by one of Accattone's fellow jackals loafing outside a café, or the cross that looms above him before he dives off a bridge.
Some characters are more symbolic and representational than real, such as the all-seeing Kafkaesque police, the Madonna-like Nannina, and Stella, who represents virginal purity, innate human goodness. The movie is littered with children, who, like angels, stand mutely by and witness the folly of mankind.
Another misconception repeated in the reviews here is that Accattone is "despicable." Far from it, he is an entirely sympathetic character, sympathetic because he, more than anyone, suffers from his own evil. More than anyone, he is totally aware of his failings. He struggles uselessly against them; despite his best efforts, he seems destined to be a parasite, a pimp. He embodies true Christian charity and pity in his support of Nannina and her 5 small helpless children, who would otherwise starve and be homeless. After throwing Stella to the dogs, he repents and shelters her alongside Nannina. Even as he steals a gold chain off the neck of his young son, he comments mournfully on his debasement. His self-loathing expresses itself in self-destructive and suicidal behavior: he jumps off a bridge on a bet and runs to throw himself off a bridge when drunk. In his dream, he walks precariously on the railing of a bridge.
Accattone's death is repeatedly prefigured in other ways, as well. When he hops on a borrowed motorcycle to come to the aid of Stella, a prostitute shouts after him that he will get killed if he's not careful. Accattone throws himself three times into fights with a self-destructive bravura. References to cemeteries abound. When asked what inscription he'd like to see on his tombstone, Accattone replies, "Try it yourself."
At the end, Accattone is relieved to be released from his mortal coil -- as he lies dying, Accattone says, "I'm fine, at last" -- in keeping with his doomed, tormented struggle for redemption and the strong religious themes that run throughout the movie. Pasolini may mock or satirize Catholicism, but Catholicism is his fundamental frame of reference, even if only in opposition.
The movie is hardly an objective commentary on society, but a highly subjective account of one salt-of-the-earth Everyman's experience of it.
Inconsistent Mix of Humor and Sadistic Violence
Like Oupuu's "The Temptation of St. Tony," "Autumn Ball," suffers from an uneven, inconsistent mix of humor and disgusting, unnecessary violence.
Director/writer Ounpuu seems to have a sadistic streak in him, a need to punish the audience.
"Autumn Ball" is mostly an episodic study of alienation and anomy, told with a Roy Andersson studied detachment and mixture of humor and pathos, and a beautiful strong visual style. But at the end, WHAM, a little girl is molested and the dirty old man who did it just laughs. A restaurant "doorman," who up till then was a seriocomic philanderer rejected by women because of his low social class, brutally beats a drunken customer, a director/writer of "relationship comedies." In an excruciatingly long shot, the doorman's bloodied fists endlessly fly through the air as he pummels and pummels his poor victim, blood spraying the doorman's face and chest. (The victim, thankfully, is off screen, no doubt due to Oupuu's limited ability to execute special effects).
In "The Temptation of St. Tony" the tone also abruptly shifts, from an Aki Kaurismäki-Bunuelian surrealism and funky Marxist social satire to sadistic sex, self-mutilation, cannibalism, and the burial in snow of the limp body of a dog which has been stabbed.
Artistic license is a poor excuse for this lack of cohesion. Rather, it suggests an imbalanced mind or, worse, intentional, calculated cruelty.
5/10 stars as in "Temptation of St. Tony," strong visual style doesn't redeem content that turns feculent