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Calamari Union (1985)
A homage to acclaimed 1979 Walter Hill film "The Warriors",(it even features a subway car), done in Kaurismäki peculiar, Godard inspired style, "Calamari Union" shows a group of uniformed named man, as opposed to uniforms of gang colors, fighting their way through Helsinki, trying to get to the promised neighborhood of Eira, not their native, but wishful place of living, where "there are no apartments". Along the way they meet and befall casualties to all sorts of transient enemies, asking for trouble as they go along. Their journey is futile, an attempt to overcome nonexistent and unseen boundaries, doomed from the start. Their resolve is even questionable and strong willed women are often derailing them from their unsure path, as the obstacles appear before them as a mirage.
Shot in typical Kaurismäki minimalist style, black & white photography, improvised dialog on a loosely based script, "Calamari Union", succeeds in bringing a viewer close to chaotic nature of the group's quest. This film is definitely worth repeated viewings, just for substance and style. Recommended.
The Disappearance (1977)
Canadian "Night Moves"
This film, done as a joint effort from the stellar cast and crew (script, cinematography, costumes, set design), is one of the best mystery, thriller-dramas, of the seventies. Ranking right along Arthur Penn's "Night Moves", "The Disappearance", in it's 91 minute, or better yet 101 minute director's cut, version is stylish neo-noir that glides perfectly through the story of alienation and betrayal, love and loss, mistaken emotions and gloomy memories, spanning between almost futuristic backdrop of Montreal, and rustic mansions and countrysides of Suffolk. Director's cut adds only a few nice linchpins to the story, explaining minor details, that are somewhat important to the plot, and without which, few things are left to our imagination.
Never really seen in it's real glory, as intended by the director Stuart Cooper, until the 2013 blu-ray release, that comprises both director's cut and 91 minute "third version" of the film,released in the UK, assembled by unknown author, as close to original as possible, retaining the feel, flashbacks essential to the film's structure and original score, director's cut and a "hatchet job" US version, "The Disappearance" is the best example of how a really good film can be mutilated beyond recognition, by an inept studio hacks. Making a linear plot out of non-linear story which is essential to the depth of the plot, is a true crime, and the rating that this movie holds on IMDb is the rating of the so called "US theatrical cut" which made this gem bomb at the box office after a single showing, and jettisoned into obscurity for over 30 years. The example of this, is also contained on the blue-ray in a horrid 15 minute long excerpt from the re-edited and re-scored U.S. release version of the film.
Now available as envisioned, (plus a non Hollywood ending) "The Disappearance" deserves it's place among the "must see" films. More than recommended, a true classic.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Intelligent, insightful and mesmerizingly beautiful
Clouds of Sils Maria is probably the best film of 2014. Insightful character study into the artistic and life defining moments in the life of great dramatic actress, featuring a career-defining performance by Juliette Binoche (one of her many), Sils Maria is meditation on power, desire, loyalty and the passing of time. Binoche and Moretz play actresses who are nothing like themselves: Moretz's Jo-Ann is talented, but a wild-child darling of the tabloids, while Binoche's Maria is frightened of aging and haunted by ghosts of her past.
Another area in which the film really excels is in its gorgeous landscape cinematography, courtesy of cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. The clouds of the English title (the original French title is superior, just Sils Maria) refer to the 'Maloja snake', a cloud formation that winds its way through the mountains of Sils Maria, which is beautifully captured on-screen in an inspired re-creation of a film shown within this film, Arnold Fanck's 1924 short Cloud Phenomena of Maloja.
In many ways, "Clouds of Sils Maria" is very similar to the mountain path that Maria and Valentine hike one morning, hoping to catch a peek at the ominous snaking clouds. It's winding, not all that clearly marked, and it sure takes time and patience, but by the end, you're left with quite a view.
Desperate Hours (1990)
Good, solid crime film
I liked this movie since it came out. The cast is really good, and their performances are strong all around. Cimino is good director, and I don't think that he made a bad movie. He was given a bad reputation by the industry since "Heaven's Gate" incident, simply because he wouldn't readily adhere to production guidelines, and wanted too much to be an "auteur", in a European cinema sense of the word. He was mostly not allowed to present his movies, as he wanted them to be, and the flickers of his talent just sparkle through the studio assembled films he made, visible to those who look for them, understanding visual poetry preserved in exterior scenery, his director's trademark.
I haven't seen the original, but "Desperate Hours" of 1990 is no worse than any far better rated crime or thriller movies that were hailed as a "box office hit". The plot is not weaker, and there aren't any goofs to report on this film, which means that it was done professionally or simply done well. It's aim to entertain, and involve it's audience in the plight of the family whose home is invaded by assortment of thugs, the main one being a truly disturbed individual, is fully served, helped by fantastic performances of Anthony Hopkins, whose gentlemanly grace in a desperate effort to protect his family is essential, along with Ann Archer, who is simultaneously strong and beautiful, as the mother caught in between the failing marriage and threat to her family. To understand Lindsay Crouse's performance, often labeled as overacting, it is essential to know what kind of a female would join police forces and be prepared to shoot, and be shot at. Not a femininely damsel for sure. So she is what she's supposed to be, hard talking, and behaving awkwardly in a sense that she is a military man's spirit, inhabiting female body, all to serve the story in each and every aspect that it has. It is hard to understand today, that Mickey Rourke was a unique kind of character actor back in the 80's, but we have filmed proof, one of which is Cimino's very own "Year of the dragon".
This is a good solid film that didn't age at all, but preserved it's qualities, beautiful cinematography, fierce acting performances, intensity and atmosphere, 26 years on, looking and feeling as good today, as when I first saw it. Not many more films of the genre, with far better rating, reputation of their director, and income, could say that about themselves now. Worth revisiting. Recommended.
Insignificance of relativity
Maybe the best Roeg film since "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976), and surely his last good one, "Insignificance"rolls along gathering momentum, like some enigmatic ball, seemingly going nowhere yet arriving everywhere as it explodes in a shower of illumination.
The time is 1954, a year in which Marilyn Monroe's career was beginning to crest, divorce from DiMaggio was in the offing, and the mixed blessings of her self-improvement program via psychoanalysis and the Actors' Studio were already under way. So, in the delightful encounter imagined by Terry Johnson's play (performed at the Royal Court in 1982), Marilyn flees from the gawking spectators and lowbrow frustrations of filming the subway grating scene for The Seven Year Itch to drop in unannounced on a shyly startled Einstein in the hope of intellectual stimulation ('Gee,' she sighs contentedly after being lectured sternly on the dangers of merely pretending to understand, 'this is the best conversation I ever had'). But just as a despairingly jealous DiMaggio is on Marilyn's trail, so McCarthy is hounding Einstein to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and in a valiant attempt to rescue the manuscript of Einstein's latest opus from being impounded as subversive, Marilyn gets punched in the stomach by McCarthy, causing her to abort the baby that might have saved her marriage. Significant events that are insignificant, in that physically Marilyn could never have borne the child anyway, while Einstein himself cheerfully throws away the manuscript he has already destroyed four times. Relativity. At the end, absently watching Marilyn go through her lines for himonly she hasn't any, Einstein sees a nuclear holocaust only there isn't one.
Faithfully filming this scenario adapted by Johnson himself, Roeg has completely transformed it by placing it under his familiar sign of time and the stars. The opening image, of a wrist- watch spiraling in free-fall through space, has many ramifications: in its formal use as a device providing each of the four principals with childhood memories defining both the drives that turned them into stars and the inhibitions that burned them out; or in the more general symbolism of the timepiece stopped forever when a childhood experiment of Einstein's went wrong and which, for 'the Daddy of the H Bomb', signifies the guilty past horror of Nagasaki and the guilty future horror of what he has glimpsed next in his exploration of the precise nature of the universe.
Will Sampson, a mysterious Indian serving as a lift-boy addresses Einstein in a scene that seems like straight from David Lynch films: 'I know you. You're a Cherokee,' the elevator man had told Einstein, in a double-edged reference to the Cherokee belief that wherever he is, there is the center of the world. The thread of significance (or insignificance) has less to do with getting back to ancient wisdoms than with Einstein's complaint that people, though seeing themselves at the center of the universe, 'won't take responsibility for their world, they want to put it on the shoulders of the few.' The point is that, revered as the world's greatest repository of knowledge, Einstein knows that knowing is nothing, and thinking is what makes us significant.
Far better than the original
One of the greatest Hollywood rogue & maverick directors, represented in grand persona of Bob Rafelson, (who was given a free hand by Lorimar on this one) did a mighty good job in adapting famous Cain novel for the big screen. Packing a whole lot more wallop then the original, constrained in studio system - censorship dictated, straight jacket, Postman of 1981 is the movie with outstanding performances, that let us feel every throb of passion and excitement, overflow in doomed love story, of two lost souls, Frank and Cora, that are brought together by sinister faith, their carnal desires and bad luck. They plan and go through the murder fueled by greed and sexual desire. The murder plot is almost silly but it's dictated by the level of their intelligence.
There's something about the irony of two people who are caught by passion to begin with, and then transcend it, but can't elude the karma of their passion. That is very attractive to viewer who understands and feels their despair. They escalate each other's thoughts all the time,neither of them is capable of doing that audacious as murder, or even conceiving of their lives as anything but what they are, without each other. They're equal partners in their crime, their adultery and their murder and their love for each other.
This movie shows all this and it shows it vividly, the way 1946 version never could. That's why, Rafelson film is the ultimate embodiment of James Cain novel. Cain never wrote about very intelligent criminals. He wrote about desperate outcasts. Frank and Cora are those in the truest sense, and only Nicholson and Lange, could make you not only see, but feel their emotion, hopes, dreams, and their ultimate loss.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Beautiful story of poetic soul trapped in time before his time, an antiquated, band-lead world of the early 1960's music scene. Rich in Coen symbolism, Inside Llewyn Davis portrays an every talented man, unadjusted to society that doesn't appreciate his obsolete poetry, soon to become world wide trend for the next decade and a half. Nothing he tries seems to work and all his endeavors turn to dust.
But Llewyn fights on, led through stormy seas of his life by destiny that he desperately tries to hold on to, loosing a grip on it whenever he looses the cat, his mystery companion.He gets a beating from his bad luck, in the alley behind the Gaslight Cafe, posing as his "friend", after the performance where he takes a pity on himself singing "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" from depth of his troubled mind. Every person he meets is another piece in the jigsaw of his redemption waiting to happen. As the cycle of his downfall makes a full circle, he is back where we found him, but something has changed. Slim silhouette with a slightly husky voice, takes the stage and opens a new era in popular music, making "never new", and "never old music", the voice of a generation. Llewyn says "Au revoir" to shadowy ugly figure of his bad luck, that speeds away from him, in a yellow cab. The Times They Are a-Changin' and his destiny has led him out of the tempest of life, that had kicked him around.
Certainly one of the best films in the Coen canon, Inside Llewyn Davis will always let you find a new layer on it. It will make you laugh it will give you hope, and the music is beautiful and moving, with unsurpassed performance of "Please Mr. Kennedy" shining through. Worth of repeated viewings.
One-Trick Pony (1980)
Purely by chance I came across this little film, and seeing Simon's only previous role in Annie Hall, didn't have an idea what to expect. It turned out to be inspiring look into the world of music industry, which is condensed into a few sketches of life of former folk/rock star underlined by a low key but very consistent and steady acting and musical performance by Paul Simon and his great band of true rock legends (Eric Gale on lead guitar, Richard Tee on piano, Tony Levin on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums). His dilemmas are visible, both on musical and the great stage of life. He tries to pick up his family life where he left it off, a decade ago, while staring into the abyss of new musical trends threatening his very existence. But the quality is never out of fashion and that is visible throughout the film, in Simon's performance and his refusal to subordinate his art to mass tastes on FM radio, not showing any respect or awe towards those who can remake or brake his career. Hi is doing his thing, as in reality and that's why he remained himself on the scene. Not great but rather good film, you won't regret seeing every now and than, having in mind that 50% of the cast are non professional actors. The soundtrack is even better and makes it all more multi-layered than it already is. As Simon sang in one of his greatest songs: "Everything looks worse in black and white"
La piscine (1969)
Pool of conscience
This fine French crime drama, is not appreciated as it should be. The cast may be the reason, but there is no one, that comes to mind of contemporary French actors, at the time, that could have added something more to this. The centerpiece of this tale, of moral and emotional decadence is the swimming pool by beautiful villa, somewhere near Saint-Tropez and it radiates summer passion, it's turquoise waters filled with guilty conscience, calling for trouble between three old friends and lovers. Burden each of them carries, would lead to crime even without "sweet Jane" stirring it up to boiling point. Her presence is so light and she almost appears as a mirage, in between scenes of old passions, lust and grudges not forgotten.
The film is everything but slow paced and boring. There is no surplus scene, and I can't imagine how it could be done differently. Of course such films in general are not for audiences of ready-made movies, but for those who will savor Jacques Deray's fine direction, and beautiful cinematography of Jean-Jacques Tarbès. They did a fine job in submerging a willing viewer into exquisite beauty of Romy Schneider, Alen Delon's cool in portrayal of insecure, troubled man that finds his life utterly pointless, Maurice Ronet's subtle acting performance of a successful composer who is afraid of his success, and Jane Birkin's girlish naiveté, ruffle the pool of love and hate. Interraction between Schneider, Delon and Ronet adds another level to it, and the story glides well with every scene serving the story of superficial, emotionless people trapped in their small worlds, in witch they are suffocating. Beautiful film, worth every minute of your time, and not just in cold winter months.
Tony Arzenta (Big Guns) (1973)
Crafty action thriller with NO Hollywood ending
Alain Delon is great as usual in the genre that fits him like a glove. Tony Arzenta, a Euro-crime action thriller is directed in style and in a manner of a true craftsmen. This is the first Duccio Tessari film I had a chance to watch, and I was mostly drawn to it by knowing what Delon plays best and that is Le Samourai type character, a professional in his emotionless job. In this one he is attached and detached and drives the story to the conclusion that wouldn't stand a New York minute in Hollywood factory of dreams. That's why I love him and Franco/Italian crime films. Highly recommended to all the fans of this genre. You'll enjoy it, no doubt.