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El viaje de Carol (2002)
Left Elbow Index
CAROL'S JOURNEY is a pleasure to watch for so many reasons. The acting of Clara Lago is simply amazing for someone so young, and she is one of those special actors who can say say much with facial expressions. Director Imanol Urbibe presents a tight and controlled film with no break in continuity, thereby propelling the plot at a steady pace with just enough suspense to keep one wondering what the nest scene will bring. The screenplay of Angel Garcia Roldan is story telling at its best, which, it seems, if the major purpose for films after all. The plot is unpredictable, yet the events as they unravel are completely logical. Perhaps the best feature of this film if to tell a story of the Spanish Civil War as it affected the people. It was a major event of the 20th century, yet hardly any Americans know of it. In fact, in 40 years of university teaching, I averaged about one student a semester who had even heard of it, much less any who could say anything comprehensive about it--and the overwhelming number of students were merit scholars, all of which speaks to the enormous amount of censorship in American education. So, in one way, this film is a good way to begin a study of that event, keeping in mind that when one thread is pulled a great deal of history is unraveled. The appreciation of this film is, therefore, in direct relation to the amount of one's knowledge. To view this film as another coming of age movie is the miss the movie completely. The Left Elbow Index considers seven aspects of film-- acting, production sets, character development, plot, dialogue, film continuity, and artistry--on a scale for 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. CAROL'S JOURNEY is above average on all counts, excepting dialogue which is rated as average. The LEI average for this film is 9.3, raised to a 10 when equated to the IMDb scale. I highly recommend this film for all ages.
Left Elbow Index
This film seems to meet with some success, but a first time film about Africa made by a New Yorker who was born in Korea, lived in rural Arkansas, and dropped his plans for Yale medical school appears an ambitious challenge. As it is, Lee Isaac Chung does a remarkable job with two inexperienced actors, who are also in their first feature film. It seems, however, that films should be a combination of structure and theme. The theme relating to long term emotional damage resulting from genocide is froth with emotion and confusion, not unusual for civil strife of such magnitude. One is left feeling that the struggle between the Hutus and Tutsis is far from over and that Rwanda is someday due for more of the same. Yet, it seems that once one accepts the emotional aspects, the film offers little. As a debut, the film appears passable and should stand on its own merits. The Left Elbow Index considers seven aspects of film--acting, plot, character development, artistry, film continuity, production sets, and dialogue--on a scale of 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. The acting appears uneven at best, with some bright moments. The plot seems uneven probably caused by a lack of focus as to what the purpose of the visit might be. Walking in and out of scenes seems to provide little basis for this. There appears to be little character development, and the role of the poet seems a misfit. The artistry is average with good use of color and camera angles. Film continuity appears challenged by the seeming lack of a coherent plot. The production sets and the dialogue look to be average, with mostly outdoor scenes and local language. The Left Elbow Index average for this film is 2.1, raised to a 4.0 when equated to the IMDb rating system. The film is worth seeing since it does attempt to put a human face on the Rwandan genocide, and it gives an alternative to international media reports. I believe that Lee Chung has great potential for future films, films with professional actors, tighter structures, and clearer themes. I recommend this film, keeping in mind that it is a debut.
Die Höhle des gelben Hundes (2005)
Left Elbow Index
Simply put, THE CAVE OF THE YELLOW DOG is a beautifully made movie by Byamsuren Davaa. Unlike her previous film, THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL, which was also a very good movie, THE CAVE OF THE YELLOW DOG is polished and professional. And, most importantly, it tells a story in a compact and focused manner. It is a tale of a bucolic nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia during a time of change. This idyllic live is challenged by neighbors moving to cities, windmill power, plastic bowls, a motorcycle, photographs, and other trappings of the industrial world. They are confronted by the borders of modern nations which have little tolerance for nomads who cross borders where once there were none. They are even prompted to vote by an impersonal loudspeaker mounted on a speeding jeep. The irony is that nation building is a constant threat to nomads around the globe. The family is well aware of the benefits of civilization. Their oldest daughter goes to school, and their youngest daughter would like to live in the city because "People can pee inside their houses there." Byamsuren Davaa says that one purpose of the film is to present a way of life on film. She certainly does this, and in a rather objective manner, mostly because industrial film making does not fit the agrarian schedule of daily reincarnation. Best line from the film: "You're not supposed to play with Buddha." The Left Elbow Index considers seven variables in film--acting, production sets, artistry, plot, film continuity, dialogue, and character development--on a scale of 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. The artistry, plot, and film continuity are above average, with good use of color, scenes balancing nature, and change over time, and the seamless use of animals. Dried dung, sheep, and survival skills are part and parcel of agrarian wealth--are are so presented. Lighting and camera angles are excellent. Acting is average (the family is a real family, not professionals), as are the production sets, most of which are exterior. The dialogue is functional, keeping in mind that the wind and the music are part of the dialogue. Character development is not a factor, except that the audience gets to know each character better as the film progresses. The characters, however, do not change. The LEI average rating for this film is 7.14, raised to 9.0 when equated with the IMDb scale. While watching THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL, one wonders how things would work out for the the little camel, one is not part of the action. However, with THE CAVE OF THE YELLOW DOG, Byambasuren Daava seduces one into wanting to be more than a dispassionate observer. Perhaps an old poem by Ogden Nash explains: "In Tibet there lives a llama/Has no papa, had no mama/ Has no wife and had not chillen'/ Has not use for penicillin/If you watch the Philco, mama/ I think I'll go and join that llama." I don't think I want to go to Tibet, but Mongolia would sure be a nice change. I highly recommend this film.
Left Elbow Index
KATYN is a film about a crime and a lie. The crime is the slaughter of over 21,000 Polish officers in Stalin's attempt to liquidate the corps in 1940. The lie is the Soviet attempt to place responsibility for this horror on German troops that had supposedly captured the officers. That Stalin would have thousands of officers killed is no surprised, for a few years earlier he had decimated his own officer corps, including a large number of his own generals. Dircetor Andrzej Wajda's father was one of the victims in the forest of Katyn, and he claims he felt compelled to make a film of the incident for any number of reasons. In 1943, the Germans claimed the Russians were responsible, and after the liberation of Poland the Soviets claimed the Germans were. Wajda indicates that he was unable to begin making this film until 1989, although there had been literature on the slaughter for decades. The problem, he indicates, is that the logistics of film making is far more complicated than writing a book and hiding it for decades. Even then, it took over a decade to solidify a screenplay, mostly because younger writer's cultural frame is so unlike that of those living during World War II. Wajda also avoided a documentary format in consideration for the descendants of the slain officers. I need to point out that this is simply one story in a mass of similar actual events that occurred during the war. And, also it need be noted that many Polish officers escaped to other countries in order to fight against the Axis. Most notably were the pilots who made their way to England and managed to compile an outstanding record with the RAF. Note also that Wajda's belief that the chaos in the Polish government before, during, and after the war greased the skids for the atrocities to occur and for the later cover-up. The government before the war seemed inept, that during the was was Nazi, and that after the war was Communist. There were plenty of opportunities for crimes and lies. To paraphrase Wajda, "Those who preach patriotism are least able to handle it." The Left Elbow Index considers seven variables in film making--acting, film continuity, plot, character development, artistry, dialogue, and production sets--on a scale of 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. The acting in KATYN is above average on all counts. So is the film continuity, which seamlessly weaves the stories of the families of four of the slain officers into an organic whole. The plot has few distractions, and plods on toward the inevitable climax. Character development is way above average with characters being forced to meet ever changing threats during and after the war. The artistry is above average with good camera angles and good use of color. Dialogue is average and appropriate, with the most ironic line delivered by a party member who says "There will never be a Free Poland." The production sets are spectacular, both indoors and out. The LEI average rating for this film is 9.23, which equates to the IMDb rating of 10, or excellent. I strongly recommend this film, especially to those who believe incidents like this can never happen again. KATYN resurrects the crime and the lie, but who will resurrect the dead?
Kohayagawa-ke no aki (1961)
Left Elbow Index
"Kohayagawa-ke no aki" reveals a spectacular display of color and form that only a true master of art can achieve. Yasujiro Ozu has outdone even himself in this regard. One can easily get lost in one scene after another and forget that a film is playing. It is a though one is in an art gallery of cultural art which happens of be that of Japan. Monet attempted to imitate the impressionistic art of Japan during his lifetime in the 19th century, as can be seen in his own collection. The trend seems reversed in the 20th century, with Ozu using the techniques of American and European hard-edge expressionist. The results are stunning, infinity better than his earlier works. The same scenes in black and white in 1956 are presented in 1963 with vivid complementary and contrasting color. Barrels against a wall are no longer just gray shades but brown tubs with white rims and adjacent white umbrellas and buildings. There are dozens of other equally impressive combinations. The most spectacular scenes are those without actors or minimal acting. But after all, this is a movie so one has acting and dialogue. Moving hand fans dominate many scenes to an almost hypnotic end. The striking neon sign of the NEW JAPAN presages the future. The Left Elbow Index considers film from seven perspectives--acting, production sets, artistry, character development, film continuity, plot and dialogue--with a rating of 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. The sets, the artistry, and the plot are rated very good. The plots are intriguing: to marry or not, East vs West, and cultural change. The acting is average due to the fixed photo technique and the talking head approach. Dialogue is appropriate. However, character development and film continuity seem submerged in the attention to color and form. The LEI average rating is 6.0, with a full point more given for Ozu's quantum leap into a new world of color, resulting in a 7.0, or above average, equal to an 8 on the IMDb scale. If one is serious about film history, this movie is essential to understanding trends. I strongly recommend this film. Just sit back and enjoy one tableau after another. You may find your jaw dropping in wonder and awe.
Left Elbow Index
Seeing this film is more like looking at a photo album than watching a movie. Characters seem to walk in and out of set scenes, speaking while in the set, and then it is on to the next photo. Some concession need be made for a black and white film from 1956 and for the style of Yasujiro Ozo, yet this approach to film making seems to destroy the continuity of the film. For example, one jumps from tones of Japanese industrial society (340,000 office workers in one city) to hiking on a highway to sitting and drinking tea. This may in fact be the thread of industrial postWWII Japan, but it seems not the fabric. The result appears to be a lack of a coherent Japanese identity, for costumes and jobs appear not to be enough to transcend the disruptive nature of the editing. Ozu is the master of the set scene, but the editing appears disjointed rather than cohesive. There also seems to be a dependence on American stage production rather than Japanese movie making. One cannot help be see a relation between this film and the stage plays of Tennessee Williams and of Arthur Miller. I seem to get the feeling I am watching a Japanese docu-melodrama in Italian neo-realism. I half expect to see Burt Lancaster leap into one of the scenes. The Left Elbow Index considers seven variables of film--acting, film continuity, character development, dialogue, production sets, and plot. The acting is average since there seems to be little more to do than sit and talk. The film continuity is also rated as average, despite the what seems to be disjointed action and time. The character development and plot need help. There is little verbo-robots can become, and the plot of infidelity in marriage seems always to follow the same course, with minor personal variations. The production sets are rated average since in black and white most sets are simply degrees of gray. Average is the rating given to the dialogue. It is functional but appears to lack insight. The best line is "Babies come quicker than raises." The artistry rates average, again color would help, as it does in Ozu's THE END OF SUMMER. The overall LEI average is 3.83, raised to 4 in tribute to Ozu's reputation, which equates to a 6 on the IMDb scale. I recommend the film, it is worth watching as an integral part of film history, keeping in mind that the best of Japanese films have not yet arrived in 1956.
La strada (1954)
Left Elbow Index
In this film, Giulietta Masina is a better female comic than Lucille Ball, a more pathetic character than Charlie Chaplin's Poor Soul, and a more bemused individual than Stan Laurel. As Gelsomina Di Constanzo she is simply spectacular. Her eye movements and facial expressions lead the viewer to laughter one moment and pathos the next. In keeping with the classical tradition of comedy, she starts out with romantic idealism only to continually flop into morose realism as she tries to experience life on the road. She is forced to deal with a vindictive Zampano (Anthony Quinn)and a malicious Fool (Richard Basehart), armed only with the inexperience granted a poor girl sold by her mother. She wants to fit in, yet can she ever? This is all foreshadowed in the opening scene on the beach constructed much like Picasso's Expressionistic "Tragedy." The Left Elbow Index consider seven elements of film--acting, plot, production sets, dialogue, artistry, film continuity, and character development--on a scale of 10 for very good, 5 for average, and 1 for it needs help. Without question, Masina's acting is superb, which towers over a cast of excellent actors acting excellently. More of the same in other films would have been an special theatrical gift. The plot is also above average, most likely because it incorporates a good story, but also because it contains a never ending element of suspense. What indeed will happen to Gelsomina? The production sets are average. One can only do so much with the outdoors in post-war Italy. So with the artistry in the film, although the camera angles are helpful. Film continuity suffers from the confusing relation of action and scene in places, but the attentive viewer can work around this. The dialogue is above average, even the shouting scenes are not too disruptive. That of the haggling scene is good, and The Fool recalls Shakespeare. Character development is far above average with recognition occurring as Gelsomnia has one experience after another. She tries to fit in, and succeeds to one degree or another. The LEI average is 7.85, raised to an 8 (which equates to a 10 on the IMDb scale)based solely on the toothpick scene. This film is extraordinary for 1954, and one would think that it marked a beginning of good film making. There is a bushel of very good films since, but the trend is away from such excellence resulting in a trainload of much, much poorer movies. Unfortunately, it seems, all art is not evolutionary. I strongly recommend this film. It is mandatory to see the Italian version, for even with subtitles it is far superior to the dubbed English cuts.
Left Elbow Index
Napolean claimed that armies fought on their stomachs. He even plied his forces with wine the night before a battle to insure maximum energy. If NOBI does nothing else it demonstrates that the horrors of war, and the horrors of the horrors of war, are in large part a direct result of political and military miscalculation. During World War Two, the Allies were most likely the best fed and best equipped armies up until that time in history. Conversly, the Axis were generally poorly equipped and poorly fed, and this is especially true of the Japanese troops in the South Pacific and South East Asia venues. For example, the Japanese troops in Burma were given a bag of rice and expected to live off the land--beg, steal, or kill. NOBI, in essence, is a micro-view of a macro-problem. Tamura is a symbol of the result of military strategies and tactics that fail--the common man as victim. He cannot concern himself with grand events, he must survive on the most basic of levels. Yet, in all the misery and rapid decay of the Japanese war effort, Tamura tries to hold on to some semblance of human dignity in the most unthinkable situations. In Freudian terms, he has to satisfy his Ego (the self), by appealing to his Super-ego (institutionalized ethics), while satisfying the Id (hunger). Transposed to the film, he can only remain human by deciding not to eat human flesh although he is starving. In this he may succeed, although he may meet an unpleasant end. The Left Elbow Index considers seven aspects of film--acting, production sets, dialogue, artistry, character development, plot, and film continuity--on a scale of 10 for excellent, 5 for average, and 1 for it needs help. The acting, production sets, artistry, plot, and film continuity are rated average. There seems not much acting to be done, most of it consists of walking, sitting, or looking for food, with only occasional minor drama. The sets are outdoor scenes in which little can be done to change things, although the part were the Japanese soldiers cross the river is very good. The best of the artistry seems to be the good use of light and dark in a black and white film. The plot is well driven by two questions: Will Tamura die? Will he eat human flesh? And film continuity is not violated by extreme variations in the trappings that hold the movie together. There seems little character development to deal with since one seems to know pretty much how Tamura will behave from the beginning of the film, thereby rating a 1. Above average is the dialogue, most likely due to the talents of Natto Wada (screen name). I also sense that the music plays a role in the dialogue, much like a Greek chorus. The overall rating according to LEI is 5.14. Two more points need be made. In 2006, one film historian suggests the director Kon Ichiwawa implies that this 1959 film would never be allowed in 2006. If so, in my view, this brings up images of pre-WWII Japan, a not particularly pleasant prospect. And, secondly, A Japanese scholar, who happen to be a woman, told me that "Rumor has it that the Japanese lost World War Two. This is not so. Japanese men lost World War Two!" Military and political mismanagement? Or, perhaps, just the evils of war. This film is well worth seeing, and only seems to get better as time passes.
Left Elbow Index
I am a great fan of Kurosawa's movies, yet I find this film a weak shadow of his usual work. I think this comes in large measure from his own statement that this film is a combination of a horror movie combined with a crime movie and the original 1960s story. It seems just too convoluted to succeed. On top of that, he claims that there were numerous rewritings of the 1960s story to fit it into the real world, whatever that means. The Left Elbow Index considers seven elements in film--acting, production sets, dialogue, plot, film continuity, character development, and artistry--on a scale from 10 for very good to 5 for average and to 1 for it needs some help. The acting, production sets, and dialogue are all rated average. The acting seems stilted and seems better timed to fit a soap. The production sets appear to be little more than what one sees in one's daily environs. And the dialogue seems to fit modern life, no great philosophies and no great blunders. The plot is rated weak since it appears difficult to sort out important elements of plot from trivial events in the film. The elements of plot and the emotional level of the film seem not to fit together well, even the suspense scenes appear hollow. The film continuity appears upset by the episodic TV nature of the juxtaposition of scenes, which seems to present too much clutter. I wonder why film makers tend towards putting characters in autos and driving them in and out of scenes, like Roy Rogers cowboy movies. We know how Roy got to and from where ever he was going, must he always be seen jumping on and off Trigger? There seems little character development to speak of, probably because the characters do not appear to be in a suspense, a horror story, or the real world. The artistry is rated as average, keeping in mind that average for Kurosawa is excellent for others. The close-ups are good and there are some interesting camera angles. The Left Elbow Index average is 3.3, up to a 5.0 when equated with the IMDb scale. The film is worth seeing, as any of Kurosawa's work is, but don't expect the master at his best.
Left Elbow Index
This film promises much but delivers little. The basic problem has to do with the inclusion of Charlotte Gainsbourg's character in this film. Immigrants from Sicily did not need a redheaded Anglo in any way--the movie may have needed her, but new citizens certainly did not. In my opinion,the decision to include her destroys the continuity of the film. This is particularly troubling since it seems to demean not only the characters in the movie, but also the history of immigration itself. Immigrants themselves were heroic figures, fully capable of getting along without having to satisfied what I believer to be a veiled image of "the white man's burden." I wonder if someone will make a movie of Irish immigrants which will include a Sicilian woman as a major character. The Left Elbow Index considers seven aspects of film--acting, production sets, dialogue, artistry, film continuity, plot, and character development--on a scale from high of 10 for excellent, 5 for average, and 1 for needs help. Both film continuity and plot rate a low of 1. The continuity as discussed above is further degraded by the surrealistic ending. Does not a film of such important historical significance deserve more than a conclusion which reminds one of Marc Chagall? The plot is simple enough, until it seems to become entangled with too much time in the old country, too little time on the ship, and too much emphasis on the ending. The acting and character development is average since all the characters are fixed throughout the film, and the inclusion of the Anglo-Saxon speaking perfect English almost turns the movie into a satire. Where's Groucho when you need him? The production sets, the dialogue and the artistry are very good, each rating a 10. The sets in Sicily, on the ship, and on Ellis Island are as good as one can find. The dialogue is marvelous, and the ethic singing is superb. I agree with Scorsese that listening to the Sicilian dialect is a pleasure. Note that the immigrants speak of "America", not the "United States"--the ideal vs. the political reality. The are many good artistic scenes, with dreams of America, gold coins raining, and giant veggies among the best. The average Left Elbow Index is 5.25, raised to a 7.0 when equated with the IMDb scale. One other notion seems to run through Ellis Island experience: the tribulations of pass immigrants was grueling, later, in 2006, one only had to pay a coyote or boat owner and sneak into the county under the darkness of night, no questions asked! The movie is worth seeing, but it appears that what one sees is problematical.