Reviews written by registered user
|12 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After the success of L'avventurra (1960), Michelangelo Antonioni made
the second entry in his trilogy on "modernity and its discontents" - La
notte (1961). The film concerns Giovanni and Lidia Pontano, a bourgeois
couple who realize their marriage has lost its spark over the span of a
night. Improving on l'avventurra, La Notte is an affecting cinematic
poem about the larger alienation of an age.
The film concerns Giovanni Pontano (Marcello Mastroianni), a writer who's recently penned a best-selling novel, and his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). Amidst a background of technology, futuristic skyscrapers, and industry, they go through the motions of their marriage - the romantic fervor which once defined it now a distant memory. The Pontano's are eventually invited to an upper class party, where Giovanni runs off with the host's daughter Valentina (Monica Vitti). When Lidia learns of Giovanni's infidelity, the two must ultimately confront the truth of what their marriage has become in the picture's poetic climax.
Mastroianni, Moreau, and Vitti all give fine performances. The cinematography of Antonioni and DOP Gianni Di Venozo perfectly illustrates the film's themes, placing characters against their highly modern milieus and articulating Adorno's ideas about the alienating effect of technology on the modern consciousness. The screenplay by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra is La notte's driving force, it has the power of a highly affecting novel, every minute hurtling towards the film's inevitable conclusion.
In summary, La Notte elaborates on themes present in L'avventurra, in my humble opinion improving on its predecessor film. Those looking for a film experience that is thought-provoking, emotional, and artful would do well to check it out. Not for nothing did masters such as Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman rank it amongst their favorite films. 9/10
Made on a low budget of $210, 000, Whit Stillman's debut Metropolitan
was one of the surprise independent hits of the early 1990s - wracking
in an Oscar nomination for screen writing and four million dollars at
the box office. The film concerns Tom Townsend, a smart, upwardly
mobile young man, as he falls in with a group of preppy Manhattanites
and experiences difficulty navigating his romantic life. Metropolitan
is a funny and poignant comedy of manners, skewering themes of youth,
class, and the battle of the sexes while providing ample laughs.
The film follows Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), a first year college student home for Christmas who finds himself falling in with a crowd of wealthy and educated young "haute bourgeoisie". As he becomes more involved with the group, Tom becomes the love interest of débutante Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Faina), but remains oblivious to her feelings because of a hang-up on ex-girlfriend Serena Slocumb. As this plot line provides a source of ongoing tension throughout the film, Stillman brings us into a world of upper class balls, where well-dressed young people drink fine wine and talk about everything under the sun from the differences between men and women to the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier.
The one criticism I can think to level at Metropolitan is the lack of ambitious cinematography from Stillman and DOP John Thomas, but then I think better and revoke that criticism, because the cinematography does what cinematography should do: service the needs of the script. And what a fine script! Metropolitan succeeds because Stillman is first and foremost a great writer, a man with a preternatural skill for dialogue who is able to shed insight into his themes of youth, sex, and class while making us laugh. Praise should also be heaped on Metropolitan's cast of fine thespians, particularly Chris Eigeman - who charms as Tom's cynically funny friend, Nick.
In conclusion, Metropolitan is one of the great American independent movies of the 1990's. For fans of Woody Allen and Denys Arcard, it is sure to delight. Metropolitan continues in that tradition of upper-class sex comedy drama, but offers something fresh and idiosyncratic to the mix - announcing Stillman as a singular film talent and laying the groundwork for later (and equally interesting) films like Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998), and Damsels in Distress (2011).
The Magnificent Ambersons was Orson Welles' second feature after
Citizen Kane. An adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel of the same
name, the picture concerns George Minafer, the spoiled heir of the
aristocratic Amberson family, and the loss of his fortune which
coincides with the rise of the automobile age. Though the RKO cut which
survives leaves much to be desired (the studio excised and re-shot a
significant portion of the film), Ambersons remains a very good picture
and a glimpse into the cinematic genius of Orson Welles.
The film centres around George Amberson Minafer (Tim Holt), the spoiled heir to the Amberson legacy. When the wealthy auto-industrialist Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) attempts to rekindle an affair with George's widowed mother Isabel (Dolores Costello), George does everything in his power to thwart it. He ends up being successful, preventing Eugene from seeing Isabel on her death bed, but also inherits next to nothing. Finally forced to kick reality, George gets a factory job and injures himself - his story parallelling the fall of old money and rise of industry at the turn of the century.
The only criticism to be levelled at The Magnificent Ambersons is the editing job done by RKO, you sense that the original cut was an uncompromising work of art and that the surviving version, while still quite good, is by comparison inferior. That being said, the picture is exquisite in all other departments - Bernard Hermann's score, the sublime dolly movements during the ballroom scene, Agnes Moorehead's electrifying performance as Aunt Fanny, there's a lot to like about the movie. All these formal elements are in the service of a poignant story too, one about the larger social changes of an era and about a man who clings to his childish behaviour and gets hit hard by life as a result.
In summary, watching Ambersons is like looking at a damaged great painting, you're simultaneously in awe of its brilliance and frustrated by the prospect of what was or could've been. Still, for film buffs and fans of Welles, it is a must-see. Even in its tampered state, it manages to be at the highest tier of quality in all areas and say something that moves us, which is the mark of any great movie.
Released in 1937, Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion remains one of the most
revered films of all time seventy five years onward. The story of a
group of working class Francophones trying to escape imprisonment
during the First World War, the picture has been praised both for its
exceptional acting and craft and its driving humanist, anti-war themes.
As a young person taking in this Renoir classic for the first time, I
can attest that the film holds up very well.
Grand Illusion follows a company of working class French men imprisoned in a German POW camp during World War I. Amongst them the proletariat Parisian Marechal (Jean Gabin), the French Jew Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), and a nameless engineer (Gaston Modot) - they are distinct from one another but share an understanding of the futility of the war they're fighting and a desire to escape. This futility is exemplified through the interactions between the Captain of the men, De Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), and the head of the German POW camp, Von Rauffenstein (Eric Von Stroheim), who are both aristocrats and share more common ground than the respective lower class men they represent.
All of the elements of the film are at a higher tier of quality: the dialogue eloquently written, the performances subtle, the camera movements elegant (Renoir's camera has a way of artfully manoeuvring around rooms and dinner tables, following important characters as they talk and keep the plot moving forward). What truly makes Grand Illusion great though is not these formal elements but the larger statement they are in service of. Renoir was a writer with something to say, and from the scene where the French soldiers band together to put on a talent show to the final sequence where Marechal and Rosenthal are kindly taken in by a young German widow, he drives home his theme of the futility of war by highlighting the common humanity of people.
In conclusion, Grand Illusion has aged remarkably well and remains one of the cinema's great masterpieces. Tied with Rules of the Game, it is Renoir's greatest work, and a must-see for anyone with a passing interest in cinema. It's a perfect example of what quality filmmaking is: high artistry in all compartments at the service of a simple but driving truth, in this case the "grand illusion" that war is something worth pursuing.
After a series of movies during the silent era, La Chienne (1931) was
Jean Renoir's first sound picture. It tells the story of Maurice
Legrand, a naive man who falls in love with a prostitute and
subsequently has his financial resources extorted from him by the
prostitute and her pimp. La Chienne is an interesting early look at
thematic concerns and stylistic devices which Renoir would return to in
his later films, and a great picture in its own right.
The film follows Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), a weak man who takes disrespect from both his wife and the co-workers at his job. One night while walking home from work, Legrand encounters the character Lulu (Janie Mereze) being beaten in the street. He intervenes and walks Lulu home, becoming smitten with her during their first interaction. Unbeknownst to Maurice, however, Lulu is actually in cahoots with her pimp boyfriend Dede (the man who was beating her earlier in the film), merely playing up her romance with Legrand so he'll give her money and paintings which her and Dede will later re-sell at a higher price.
Like many early talkie films, the acting and dialogue comes across a bit stiff and impersonal - Renoir still working in silent mode and yet to fully accommodate changes in cinema technology. That being said, the production value is excellent, the film filled with the soft focus photography and fluid camera movements that would later become Renoir's staple. The film's greatest strength lies in Renoir's humanity for his characters; as a puppet show at the beginning suggests, in this story of a man putting his love in the wrong place and getting used there are no heroes and villains, only people, people with their own histories, own potential for good and bad, and own self-interest. This element of the film makes it feel grounded in real life and provides it with a strong authenticity.
In summary, La Chienne is a great early piece by Renoir which serves as a precursor to his later films with its similar thematic concerns and style. If you are looking for an entry point into Renoir's body of work or have seen the director's more famous films (Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game) and want to backtrack to get to know his oeuvre more intimately, I would highly recommend it. It is the film that kicked off a decade-long winning streak for the French auteur, but taken on its own it's also just a fine piece of cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When L'avventura premiered at Cannes in 1960, it polarized audiences
and immediately established director Michelangelo Antonioni as an
exciting new force on the art-house circuit. The film concerns the
disappearance of the character Anna during a Mediterranean boating
trip, and the subsequent romance of her fiancée Sandro and best friend
Claudia. Though initially L'avventura appears to be a mystery, the lack
of resolve regarding Anna's disappearance makes the film function more
as an art- house drama addressing the behaviours of the leisure class.
Though certain scenes drag on, the film as a whole holds up well and
lives up to its stature as one of the key texts of 1950s/60s European
When a group of upper-class friends go on vacation in the Mediterranean, a young woman named Anna (Lea Masari) disappears during a stop at an island. Anna's husband-to-be Sandro (Gabriel Ferzetti) and close friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) subsequently lead a search initiative and become lovers. Like a shark attack Anna fakes before her disappearance, Sandro and Claudia's affair is merely performed as a means to escape the ennui of their luxurious lives, to rekindle a lost feeling of excitement. The film ends with Claudia catching Sandro with another woman; their "adventure" over, the characters are left to continue their monotonous existence.
The pacing can be slow, and many scenes linger on for extended periods of time, becoming longueurs which test the viewer's patience. However, both the acting and script-writing are well-executed in that they come across seamless and never pop out at you in a cringe-worthy way. The film's greatest strength lies in the camera-work of Antonioni and cinematographer Aldo Scavanda. There's a painterly level of composition to many of the shots, for example the way Antonioni's camera pans right to a rule of thirds shot of the search party cross-armed against the island backdrop, upset at not having found Anna - Antonioni is very good at conveying narrative on a purely visual level.
In summary, L'avventura is an important text in 60's art-house cinema and still worth revisiting for modern movie goers. From the 70's movie brats to Sofia Coppola, directors attempting to tell stories of wide-screen alienation have drawn heavily from Antonioni, and this is probably one of the director's most famous films. It may at times be tedious, but one can't deny its artistry and the driving truth of its themes, nor its role in influencing a generation of filmmakers.
Silent Light is the third picture from director Carlos Reygadas, author
of such films as Japon and Battle in Heaven. Set in a Mennonite
community in Mexico, the film follows a farmer named Johan as he
struggles to choose between Esther, the wife with whom he has a family,
and Marianne, the woman he feels is the love of his life. Like Terrence
Malick's Days of Heaven, the film turns the relatively straight-forward
story of a love triangle into something approaching spiritual through
its meditative rhythm and painterly visuals. Though less risqué than
Reygadas' other work, I would venture to say the film is superior and
ranks amongst the best pictures of the past decade.
Johan (Cornelio Wall) is a good man, dividing his time between farm work (tending to the cows, harvesting the crop) and family. However, his simple life is put in danger when a powerful love emerges between him and family friend Marianne (Maria Pankratz). His wife Esther (Miriam Toews) is aware of what's going on but helpless to it, her husband's new love slowly but surely tearing them apart until the film reaches its unexpected finale.
The cast comprises mostly of non-actors, so there are no stellar performances - only ones which service the needs of the script. The film's greatest strength is perhaps in the photography of Reygadas and cinematographer Alexis Zabe. Like well-written prose, the film shows and doesn't tell, favouring evocative images over lots of dialogue. For instance, Johan and Marianne locking gazes in the sun's beckoning light, or Johan and Esther's gleeful children playing and swimming in a river - the story is told through impressions, which also gives it an air of the divine. The pacing is slow, which may turn off some, but it's a pace which also enables your thoughts and feelings to unfurl - a welcome change from the usual American 'barrel-down' cinema, where the viewer's intelligence is undermined in a barrage of easy answers and showy spectacles.
In summary, Silent Light is a spiritually luminous film which achieves a poetry through its deeply felt and stunningly beautiful images. For fans of directors like Terrence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky, or even Ingmar Bergman, Reygadas' movie will be a treat as it follows in the same vein as these past luminaries. That Reygadas is taking cues from these greats yet still arriving at something bracing and new gives one hope for the future of cinema.
John Cassavetes' second feature of any note after 1959's Shadows, Faces
is one of the late director's most daring and experimental films.
Telling the story of a disintegrating relationship and the love its
members seek in the arms of strangers, the film stars, amongst others,
Lynn Carlin, John Marley, Gena Rowlands, and Seymour Cassel. It is shot
in black and white and has a freewheeling home video quality -
Cassavetes' camera scanning across various "faces", faces blurred, in
focus, laughing, and crying.
The director's greatest success with the picture rests in his ability to dismantle traditional Hollywood ideas about plot and pacing and still stir up emotion and feeling in the viewer. Cassavetes manages to capture remarkably human and naturalistic performances from his cast (for instance, the way his roving camera captures a shirtless Seymour Cassel chasing flirtatiously after Lynn Carlin through their hotel room, or Lynn Carlin and John Marley rubbing noses together and laughing in a moment of ecstasy), helping the film become more than just a collection of meandering long takes.
Essential viewing for anyone looking to explore Cassavetes' work or trace the roots of the current independent film movement. 8/10.
When speaking of John Cassavetes' contribution to the cinema, 'Opening
Night' often goes overlooked. A shame, because it's a great film in its
A character-driven drama about a stage actress's fall from grace, it follows Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) as she struggles with various personal problems (the death of a young fan, aging, alcoholism) in the time leading up to the premiere of a new play. 'Opening Night' also features Ben Gazzara as the theatre director and Cassavetes himself as one of the play's co-stars, with Cassavetes regulars like Peter Falk and Seymour Cassel providing bit-part roles.
This is one of the director's most personal films, and one he spoke about with much pride in interviews. The stamp of his distinctive style is there (roving documentary-style camera-work, emphasis on performances) and the major themes in his own life at the time are reflected in the picture (theater, drinking problems, aging). Gena Rowlands gives a stellar performance, making Myrtle into a sort of tragic heroine, and the rest of the cast does well supporting her.
Worth checking out for anyone interested in the art of acting or the work of John Cassavetes. 8/10.
This 1976 John Cassavetes feature is one of his most blatantly
autobiographical. Starring Ben Gazzara as sleazy strip club owner and
tragic loser Cosmo Vitelli, the film is shot in a distant and poetic
documentary style reminiscent of Cassavetes' earlier film 'A Woman
Under the Influence' (1974), and can be thought of as a sort of
The film follows Vitelli as he fails to pay Gambling debt, is given the task of pegging off a Chinese book-keeper, and ends up killing several Chinese men by accident - causing him to plunge into even deeper trouble with criminals. It's a moving character study of a man in the claws of a desperate situation, and like most of Cassavetes' films is a forerunner to a lot of the indie filmmaking that came after it.
An essential work by a director whose approach to capturing actors on camera inspired a generation of filmmakers, it is dark and foreboding in tone but also sublime and poetic in its use of meandering camera-work and close-ups. Ben Gazarra gives a fine performance as Cosmo, who is equal parts hero and sad moron, and the supporting cast does well embodying the gangsters, strippers, and Carnivalesque performers who move through his world.
An interesting piece of American cinema and essential Cassavetes. 7/10.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |