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Classic Italian, 23 February 2017

The film dramatizes about a dozen vignettes from the life of St. Francis and his early followers - starting with their return in the rain to Rivotorlo from Rome when the Pope blessed their Rule and ending with their dispersal to preach.

Rossellini had a strong interest in Christian values in the contemporary world. Though he was not a practicing Catholic, Rossellini loved the Church's ethical teaching, and was enchanted by religious sentiment —- things which he felt were neglected in the materialistic world. I can appreciate this. While I am also not a practicing Catholic, I was raised in the tradition and love the rich history of the Church. Though the tenets are not for me, the values are universal and it is interesting to see how they have been carried out, in this case by creating an entire Order of priests.

The look of this film is beautiful, the black and white as stark and striking as the best Scandinavian films. In the era of the neo-realist Italian film, this really has the perfected look, and can be enjoyed both for its great storytelling and just its glorious imagery.

Intervista (1987)
A Later Fellini, 23 February 2017

Cinecitta, the huge movie studio outside Rome, is 50 years old and Fellini (Sergio Rubini) is interviewed by a Japanese TV crew about the films he has made there over the years as he begins production on his latest film.

Something about Italian cinema... they are really good about making movies about making movies, or often movies with movies within, breaking the fourth wall. This is a bit different, as it is something of a documentary. Except for the fact it is completely fictionalized, beyond the actors who are essentially playing themselves.

I do love these sort of films, because it really shows the Italian love of cinema. As an American, I would be silly to deny the dominance of Hollywood, but no American comes to mind as being on the "artist level" of the classic Italians: Fellini, Rossellini, etc.

Can-Can (1960)
A Fun Musical, 22 February 2017

Montmartre, 1896: the Can-Can, the dance in which the women lift their skirts, is forbidden. Nevertheless Simone has it performed every day in her night club. Her employees use their female charm to let the representatives of law enforcement look the other way - or even attend the shows. But then the young ambitious judge Philippe Forrestier decides to bring this to an end.

Musicals are hit and miss, as are most films. This one is rather successful because it has a great cast, a nice plot (a risqué criminal plot!) and music without an over-reliance on the songs. (May be it is just me, but some musicals get to be too overbearing because of the abundance of music, even when it is good.) Although I do not find it convincing that Sinatra is French, he does a fine job as a devious defense attorney!

Stripped (2014)
A Positive Look at Change, 22 February 2017

Comic strip artists discuss the state and future of the art form with the decline of the newspaper medium.

What I really appreciate about this film is how it takes a positive look at the comics industry. The story of newspapers dying and comics dying with it is an easy story to tell, but as this film points out, that is only half the story. It's not a "death", it's a change.

Just as with the news, some papers will die, others will evolve, and new sources will spring up... the idea of news does not die. Certain models float to the top. With the Internet moving in where newspaper was, will some strips fade away? Yes. And it is truly a sad story for those who lose their jobs, but unfortunately it is always this way in all industries.

Arrival (2016/II)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Great Film, But Too Much Drama For My Taste, 21 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Everything about this film is great: the look, the science, the acting, the sound. I especially loved how much linguistics played a role in the story, and how it was explained the various parts of language in thought, as well as the advantages of a written versus spoken communication.

I also thought the idea of the non-linear use of time was very clever, and fairly well-executed. I actually figured out the twist about halfway through, but that didn't make it any less interesting or intriguing. Certain aspects call to mind causality, and put them into question: could the Chinese general say and do things in the future that would assist in the past? Under a strict timeline, no. But yet, for the film, it works.

Which then raises the question: if the timeline is not linear, not causal, how can Louise access the future at all? Would their not be an infinite number of possible futures? By knowing of her daughter's illness, does not that very awareness open the door for her to choose not to have children and avoid all her visions becoming reality? Or is she doomed to "choose" a path that is the only one fate allows her to take?

So why do I only give the film a 7 rather than the higher number most people feel it deserves? Simply put, I found the drama a bit heavy-handed. As a science fiction film, it is great, but really diminished by the emotional aspects attached. And while those may be important to certain points the film is trying to make, it still seems like too much focus is put on them. This really brought me out of my enjoyment.

Colors (1988)
An Important Piece of American History, 19 February 2017

An experienced cop (Robert Duvall) and his rookie partner (Sean Penn) patrol the streets of East Los Angeles while trying to keep the gang violence under control.

Looking back now (2017), this film seems so normal, something that could be included in a long list of L.A. gang movies, with the Crips and Bloods fighting it out for turf. We all know about "gangsta rap" and Compton and South Central and all of that. But then you look at the date this film was released -- 1988 -- and you see that all these things we take for granted had never been explored in any detail before. (Merriam-Webster, for example, does not even think the term "gangsta rap" was invented until 1989, even if Schoolly D and Ice-T were already around.)

Although it is probably not true that "Colors" is the first film about gang violence in Los Angeles, it was probably the most influential at the time it came out. Allegedly, some reviews found it even hard to believe that gangs existed in L.A. -- that is just how novel the premise was. Director Dennis Hopper does an excellent job in laying out what these neighborhoods are like and really tackles the crack epidemic head on.

The original script by Richard DiLello (best known as a Beatles historian) actually took place in Chicago (the traditional gang stronghold) and was more about drug dealing than individual gang members. Hopper ordered changes, so Michael Schiffer was hired and the setting was changed to Los Angeles with the focus of the story becoming more about the day-to-day world of gang members. This switch may be the single best decision Hopper made while developing and shooting the film.

What makes the film valuable today, besides its historic aspect, is seeing just how great the casting was, too. Don Cheadle before he was widely known. Tony Todd before "Candyman". Damon Wayans before his entire family became big stars. Even a young Mario Lopez shows up. The idea of having a white kid (Courtney Gains) in a Latino gang seems strange, but as Gains himself says, that was written into the script and he just happened to be lucky enough to get the part.

Thanks to Shout! Factory and their Shout Select label, we now have the full, uncut film on Blu-ray, looking great and sounding fantastic. The Herbie Hancock score is dynamite, to say the least. Special features are a little bit slim, unfortunately -- no commentary and not a single actor interview -- but we do have a look back at both the writing process and the gang situation in 1980s Los Angeles.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fast-Paced Tale of the Devil Inside, 17 February 2017

A struggling painter (Ethan Embry) is possessed by supernatural forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas (just north of Austin), in this creepy haunted-house tale.

First and foremost, this film deserves credit for working in the metal-horror connection. You don't have to enjoy metal to enjoy this movie, but I think it helps. One reason the 1980s were a great decade for horror is because it was also a great decade for punk and metal. "Devil's Candy" doesn't try to be an 80s throwback, but does offer something of a modern equivalent.

Leading us through the film is Ethan Embry. Like many others, my love for Embry is strong. Not to pigeon-hole him, but he has been in a number of horror films in the last decade (such as the brilliant "Late Phases") and as part of the horror community I'd like to claim him as one of ours. Fans of "Grace and Frankie" may fight me, but we would all agree he is a great actor and truly underrate. Casey Affleck an Oscar contender? Really? Embry emotes with his eyes in way that few others can -- we have seen him sensitive, petrified, terrifying, and everything else. Some of that we see in this film (though luckily for us he is more on the good side this time around).

And countering Embry is Pruitt Taylor Vince, who unfortunately is probably best known as a "character actor" who has one of those faces you have seen 100 times but don't know the name. If this is you, make this the movie you start remembering Vince for. Holy smokes. He has had a handful of "idiot" or "incompetent" roles, but he really turns it on here, making us wonder just how much he is tormented inside and having pity on him, even though we know within the first five minutes that he is a tool of the devil.

The plot is thin, but not necessarily in a bad way. Rather than get bogged down or become too cerebral, "Devil's Candy" prefers to keep the pace moving so we can get punched in the face over and over again in its relatively short running time. You like cerebral horror? Great, we can watch "Frailty". This is not that film. But it is one filled with rich atmospheric cinematography and a dark, yet vibrant color palette (if such a combination is possible). With all due respect to writer-director Sean Byrne, it is cinematographer Simon Chapman who sold me on this film.

The only thing that left me wondering, is why did the film take so long for a proper release? Beginning in 2015, it was floating around film festivals, receiving praise. The journey continued throughout 2016, and we finally see a release from IFC in March 2017. I suspect maybe it was securing the music budget, as getting the rights to put Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" on DVD is probably not cheap. But what do I know? Regardless, IFC must be thanked for getting this out to the masses. Perhaps not the best horror film coming out on home video this year, but I assure you it is far from the worst. Any horror fan who has 90 minutes to spare would be investing their time wisely with "The Devil's Candy".

A Fun Comedy, 17 February 2017

A reformed bank robber (Nick Nolte) is taken hostage by a desperate man (Martin Short) during a bank hold up, but is forced to go on the run with his captor when they are both mistakenly thought to be in cahoots.

A confession right up front: I have never cared for Martin Short. I couldn't say why, but his brand of humor just does not appeal to me. And yet, I really enjoyed this film and thought he was pretty sharp in it. Maybe Nick Nolte is the right "straight man" to keep the balance? It appears so.

There are some emotional moments, but nothing overwhelming that turns this fro ma comedy (with slight action) into a tear-jerker. What works great for the comedy-action balance is how quickly we get right into it. We learn about the characters as we go, rather than waiting twenty minutes for things to take off. This script decision was brilliant.

Made (2001)
Two Buddies and the F-Bomb, 17 February 2017

Two aspiring boxers, lifelong friends, get involved in a money-laundering scheme through a low-level organized crime group.

Whether you like this film or not really depends on how much you like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau being friends and being rude to each other. For me, it sells the picture. Others may not be so impressed. My biggest concern, actually, is the sheer amount f F-bombs. I could have used a reduction on that, but oh well.

As far as mob stories go, I'm not sure if this even really counts. These guys are on the edge of some sort of mob deal... but they never quite know what it is, and therefore neither do we, the audience. Somehow this lack of story makes for a great story, just the same.

Solid Film, 17 February 2017

The Tang emperor is betrayed by one of his generals, who installs himself as emperor in the East Capital. The son of one of his slave workers escapes to the Shaolin Temple, learns kung fu, and sets out to kill the traitor, who killed his father.

Apparently, the movie's popularity swiftly encouraged filmmakers in China and Hong Kong to produce more Shaolin-based movies. Further, the film spawned a revival of popularity in mainstream martial arts in China. What it was about this movie as opposed to earlier martial arts movies, I have no idea. That is sort of the strange thing about these films for me -- maybe because I am not initiated, they tend to blend together (much like westerns also blend together for me). I don't quite see the nuance.

Which is not the say the film is bad. In fact, it is quite good and draws a firm line between romance and Buddha. And the scenery. Wow. I don't know if these are real locations or sets, but it is world's better than the one-dimensional scenery we find in the Shaw Brothers movies.

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