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Stunningly Photographed Love-Story Set in New South Wales
In rural New South Wales, childhood friends and now mothers Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) live a secluded existence. Their life seems idyllic: Roz runs an art-gallery, while Lil apparently does not work but manages quite well to pursue a good life as a widow. As the film develops, however, so both women fall for the other woman's sons: Roz falls in love with Lil's son Tom (James Frechville), and Lil falls in love with Roz's son Ian (Xavier Samuel). Both women try to end their respective affairs - in the belief that they are somehow wrong - but find themselves incapable of doing so, leading to heartache and loss. There are several reasons for watching TWO MOTHERS: the first being the stunning photography of a rural seaside landscape (by Christophe Beaucarne), full of sandy beaches and azure-blue seas. It's hardly surprising that none of the four protagonists really want to leave the place, even though Tom moves briefly to urban Sydney to pursue a career as a theater director. TWO MOTHERS also boasts four excellent performances: Watts and Wright are quite outstanding as the two mothers, their faces beginning to show the signs of middle age, yet retaining much of their youthful vigor. Director Anne Fontaine's camera scrutinizes their features as they ponder the morality of what they are doing, and desperately decide what to do for the best, while remaining true to their instincts. At the end of the film, when they consider what they have done, they do not say much, but the sequence comes across as incredibly poignant: Wright in the foreground, and Watts in the background trying to explain why she did what she did. The third main reason for watching the film is the sparse script - by Fontaine and Christopher Hampton after a work by Doris Lessing. The film makes no judgment on the characters' behavior'; rather it encourages us to reflect on how human emotions work, often in defiance of moral concerns. Perhaps the film is a touch too long - the ending tends to drag a little - but the final image of the four protagonists sitting sunbathing on a wooden raft, the camera placed directly above them, is a memorable one.
Somber Retelling of the Sinking of the Great Liner from a Nazi Perspective
Banned by the Allies for its pro-Nazi perspective, but since readily available, this TITANIC retells the story with one or two significant alterations to the known historical facts. There are some significant deviations. Here, the English first officer - seized with some malady - is replaced by a German seaman named Petersen (Hans Nielsen), a paragon of experience and rectitude. Bruce Ismay (Ernst Fritz Furbringer), whose social life was justifiably ruined because of his escaping the sinking behemoth, is portrayed as a money-obsessed capitalist only interested in saving himself. The vessel's master, Captain Smith (Otto Wernicke), has to accept Ismay's views, but tries his best to control a rapidly deteriorating situation. Director Herbert Selpin portrays a class- conscious world in which social distinctions are so pronounced that it exacerbates the disaster; the upper classes care not one whit for those in steerage class - all they want to do is to save themselves. The owners of the White Star Line deliberately compromise on safety in the hope of breaking the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The propagandist elements of the film are to portray British society as being self-interested, greedy and not concerned for its citizens - as suggested in a comment at the end. This is not particularly radical; many books written from a British and/or an American perspective have said the same. This version of the Titanic is the full version, in which Petersen has the chance to criticize the White Star bosses in court, during the inquiry following the disaster. The film itself is sumptuously mounted, with a surprisingly high budget given the constraints under which it was made. The sequences where the ship sinks are extremely dramatic: Selpin intercuts between reaction shots of the horrified passengers and the ship rapidly sinking under the ocean. As a historical document, TITANIC is unique; in artistic terms, it is much better than many more well-known retellings of the tale (for example RAISE THE TITANIC (1980)).
Menschen am Sonntag (1930)
Fascinating Silent Drama Depicting Berlin in the pre-Hitler Era
Directed by Robert and Curt Siodmak from a screenplay by Billy Wilder, and with the participation of Edgar G. Ulmer, MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG is a drama filmed over four Sundays in 1929, involving a series of young men and women who flirt with one another, spend time at the beach, enjoy the pleasures of the recreational areas in and around Berlin, and resolve to meet the next Sunday. The plot is gossamer-thin, involving a series of sensual encounters between the semiprofessional actors; the camera focuses on their lips, their bodies and their clothing. Even in the most mundane situations there can be some kind of sexual exchange. More interestingly, the film offers fascinating glimpses of Berlin in the pre-Hitler era; the gorgeous eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture; the laid-back lifestyle of a people living their leisure time to the full; the camera pans of the stores, including a surfeit of Jewish businesses; and the teeming beaches and streets full of people blissfully unaware of what was to follow in the next decade. The film is almost prelapsarian in tone, portraying a world upon which - to use a term familiar in another socio-historical context - the sun appeared never to set.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
A Highly Literate Vampire Love Story
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE pulls no punches with its audience; it expects us to take note of the literary references peppering the script, to figures old and new, making us away of the transhistoricity of the love-affair between Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). In a world becoming increasingly disheveled and uninhabitable - the shots of a desolate Detroit are especially affecting - their love remains the only constant. However director Jim Jarmusch suggests that they need an outside transfusion of perfect blood to keep their affair going, something that can only be provided through a few sources, notably through Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who lives in a dark, dingy café in Tangier (another place deliberately chosen by director Jarmusch as the symbol of a place where trade and/or exchange has historically always occurred). When the blood runs out, so Adam and Eve have to resort to more direct methods of sustaining themselves. The ambiances evoked through this film are memorable; the zombie culture populated by Adam and Ava (Mia Wasikowska), the labyrinthine streets of Tangier, where sellers on every corner offer "something special" - which is not special enough for Adam and Eve. Within this ambiance the love-story is strangely haunting: we care for the two protagonists and their future, even though we are aware that their affair has continues for centuries. The film doesn't necessarily offer an optimistic conclusion, but at least it suggests that Adam and Eve will continue stay alive, at whatever cost.
The Sweeney (2012)
Good for Nostalgia Buffs, But Otherwise a Routine Thriller
Way back in the Seventies THE SWEENEY was seen as a groundbreaking police drama, its gritty stories and violent sequences setting a standard that few rival series could match. The series made stars of John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, and spawned two films, neither of which really approached the television drama in terms of quality and sharpness of writing (from Troy Kennedy Martin). Nick Love's remake adds some more earthy language, but basically keeps close to the structure of the television series, with the use of realistic London locations and deliberately washed out color photography. Ray Winstone's Regan is perhaps more world-weary than John Thaw; the way he mumbles his lines is reminiscent of an English Marlon Brando. Although this kind of role is made for Winstone's craggy features, he seems a little too old and portly for a tough, no-nonsense cop. Ben Drew, as Regan's sidekick Carter, doesn't have too much to do other than to reveal an enduring loyalty to his superior - he seems a little colorless, as if believing in his heart of hearts that he could not match Waterman's characterization in the television series. Damian Lewis turns up as Haskins, the Flying Squad's boss - once again he seems too young for the role, lacking the gravitas that Garfield Morgan brought to the television series. The direction is fast, and there are plenty of action sequences to cover up some of the more implausible aspects of the plot (how Regan gets sprung out of jail is anyone's guess). But in truth this SWEENEY is just a routine cops 'n robbers thriller, lacking in both style and polish.
Canavarlar Sofrasi (2011)
Grand Guignol-esque Satire of Contemporary Capitalist Society
With more than an intertextual nod to films such as LE GRAND BOUFFE (1973) and THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989), the MONSTER'S DINNER focuses on four bourgeois characters, none of whom actually have any names but are known by their initials. They spend an evening together talking about sex, masturbating, sucking one another's blood, eating meat like cannibals, beating up a little child, laughing maniacally at the casual violence taking place outside their apartment, and indulging in racist and sexist chat. Director Ramin Matin uses the entire film to satirize capitalist society and its tendency to destroy everything as well as sucking the blood out of their victims as well as themselves. Not much happens in the film; what we see on the whole is the four protagonists talking among themselves. The violence is implied rather than stated: gunshots ring out on the background, the characters are heard vomiting in the bathroom while the conversation continues uninterrupted in the living-room. Shot in deliberately washed-out colors, the film portrays a dark world with absolutely no hope of redemption. While understanding the director's perspective, I think the satire is a little obvious; although only eighty-five minutes long, THE MONSTER'S DINNER begins to drag after an hour, almost as if the screenplay had run out of things to say. Shot in English - rather unusually for a Turkish film - its message should be comprehensible to anyone.
Winter's Tale (2014)
Saccharine Fantasy/ Romance That is Oddly Affecting
It is often a cliché to say that "they don't make movies like that anymore." This is a phrase often expressed by those who believe - without justification - that movies of the past are invariably "better" than those made in the present. In the case of WINTER'S TALE, however, there is a distinct echo of classic fantasies of the past such as HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941) and SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1979). In 1916 Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) falls in love with rich girl Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), who is dying of consumption. However the course of true love never did run smooth: Peter is perpetually pursued by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who turns out to be the Devil's messenger. The only way Peter can escape is through a miracle - given form in this film through the appearance of a white horse. Sadly Beverly passes away, the victim of one of Pearly's evil strategies. The action fast forwards to 2014, and Peter reappears, apparently immune to the ravages of time. He encounters Beverly's younger sister Willa, now a hundred-year-old matriarch (Eva Maria Saint); by the help of another miracle, he understands his true destiny. Meanwhile Pearly is destroyed forever in a climactic scrap with Peter. The message might seem rather simplistic - human souls never die, even if the body decays - but the film boasts a clutch of convincing performances. I particularly liked Pearly's exchanges with the Devil Lu, played with lip-smacking relish by Will Smith.
Calamity Jane (1953)
Fun Musical That Provides a Fascinating Snapshot of Fifties Attitudes Towards Gender
First and foremost, CALAMITY JANE is a fun musical. The 29-year-old Doris Day thoroughly enjoys herself in the central role as a gun-totin' tomboy, the fastest draw in the city of Deadwood, South Dakota - apart from Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel). She demonstrates an apparently limitless capacity for telling tall stories, as well as a unique ability to ride a horse. She and Keel make a lovable double-act, especially in their song "I Can Do Without You" - which is of course completely ironic in tone. They clearly cannot do without one another, as proved at the end of the film when they celebrate their nuptials. Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's score contains at least two classics, "The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crack-Away," which opens and closes the film, and "Secret Love," a typically schmaltzy Day song that topped the charts on its initial release. Yet perhaps the film's most interesting aspect today is the way in which it embodies early Fifties attitudes towards gender. Calamity Jane's decision to don male attire is perceived as something aberrant; she is tolerated by her fellow-citizens of Deadwood, but no one really takes her very seriously. It is only when she is 'educated' in feminine ways by visiting singer Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie) that she understands what her 'proper' role should be. She should accept that females (unlike males) are capricious in nature, apt to make spontaneous decisions without rhyme or reason. In a ball scene towards the end of the film, Calamity appears in a long gown, her blonde hair neatly tied at the back - the male guests stare at her in disbelief, as if they cannot believe they have a "true" woman within their midst. Calamity feels uncomfortable in the role, and returns briefly to her male attire; but when the citizens refuse to speak to her later on (punishing her for her decision to banish Katie from their town), she understands the "error" of her ways. At the film's end she wears a bridal gown and tosses her six-shooter away, in symbolic acknowledgment that she should no longer try to adopt masculine attitudes. Rather she should accept her designated role as wife and (probably) mother.
Lone Survivor (2013)
Run-of-the-Mill Representation of American Warfare in Afghanistan
I wish I could get enthusiastic about LONE SURVIVOR. Peter Berg's direction is both terse and non-partisan, portraying the sheer hell of Americans trying to fight in an alien territory against an elusive opponent. Led by Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), a small group of troops are left alone to fight for their lives in an atmosphere fraught with danger; this is memorably evoked through fast cuts and the use hand-held cameras emphasizing the peril that they are faced with. The actors are excellent, especially Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch as his fellow-soldier Taylor Kitsch. On the other hand LONE SURVIVOR is inscribed within wearyingly familiar binarist terms; the Taleban are represented as both savage and ruthless, as opposed to the more humanist American forces. The fact that the Americans are invading another territory is conveniently overlooked. The motive for the mission - to kill a notorious Taleban leader Ahmad Shah - is justifiable (from an American perspective), but experience might demonstrate that a so-called "terrorist" from an American perspective might fulfill a quite different role in other contexts. Nor does the film actively question why the American forces are in Afghanistan; what their motives are; and what the final outcome of their occupation might be. The focus instead is on the bravery of a few men rather than looking at the broader political implications of their action. Director Berg opts for a thick-ear approach, with the script regularly peppered with curses and/or gunshots in familiar war-film mode.
Al midan (2013)
Extremely Brave Record of an Apparently Unending Conflict
THE SQUARE is a raw, uncompromising documentary charting the Egyptian revolution that began with the overthrowing of Pressident Mubarak, and continues to this day. President Morsi was elected and overthrown; and the people are perpetually at war with one another. The film tells the stories that have often been neglected with the reporting of the conflict in the western media. Using five different people of different ages and different backgrounds as their subjects, director Jehane Noujaim shows the spontaneity of the so-called "Arab Spring" - it began as a popular movement among young people and continues in similar vein to this day. They are not only frustrated with the established forces of government, as well as the army, but they are searching for a more democratic form of living. Despite repeated - and often violent - attempts to suppress them, their will to resist remains unshakable. The film includes several violent sequences attesting to the brutality of the army's treatment of the revolutionaries. What gives THE SQUARE its true originality, however, is its refusal to be constrained within western-inscribed intellectual boundaries. Revolutions are supposed to be decisive, with one government supplanted by another; this film shows that the revolution in Egypt is a long one, and is still by no means concluded. The actor Khalid Abdalla, one of the main protesters, makes this point; after two years, certain reforms have been achieved, but the protests need to continue long-term. Revolutions are also supposed to be about ideology - the Russian Revolution, for instance, helped usher in communist rule. In Egypt, as with other countries in the region, the protesters don't necessarily have a coherent ideology (even though their concerns are obviously ideological); they are just looking for a form of government in which their voices can be heard. And perhaps most importantly, the subject-matter of THE SQUARE is not just about Egypt, but can also apply to other countries who have experienced similar protests - Tunisia, Syria and Turkey. If filmgoers want to learn more about the consequences of the so-called "Arab Spring" (a term which has been embraced by the west, but seems to me misleading), they should watch this film. Essential viewing.