Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
A Novitiate's Spiritual Boot Camp
This film is not about a young woman's coming of age, or family secrets. It's about (1) her (a prospective nun) conversation with God and (2) the challenge of her faith with temptations (e.g., despair, her beauty, carnality, procreation). As to (1) that conversation occurs where it belongs, in the privacy of the young woman's mind and soul.
As to (2) we infer them by her actions. There is some suspense as to how shocking and sorrowful disclosures affect her relationship with God and chosen vocation, and the film may prove unsatisfying to viewers who cannot relate to the spiritual challenges faced by the main character. In the end the character reveals spiritual maturity worthy of preparation for consecration.
Janie Jones (2010)
Solid Reworking of an '80s Era Rock Redemption Film
This movie is about a down and out rock star who learns that he has a 13 year old daughter by a drug-addicted ex-groupie, whom, sadly, he doesn't remember. (The story has actually been done before in a terrible 1984 movie (the story line of which was suggested by 'Mick Jagger' (qv) entitled _Blame It on the Night (1984)_ (qv).) Fortunately, that's where the similarity ends as this is a much better film, with respect to both writing and acting. All performances are solid and credible and the viewer doesn't feel (at least as measured by the reaction of the audience at the Tribeca Film Festival) he wasted the price of admission. Ironically, the weakest part of the film is the music: the songs performed are so poor one wonders how the lead character could have become a rock sensation in the first place.
The Loving Story (2011)
Moving Documentary About the Wills of Two Brave (and Eponymously Named) Souls Who Helped Change American Life
This documentary is about the 1967 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case striking down anti-miscegenation statutes as unenforceable under the Fourteenth Amendment.
I read about Loving v. Virginia in law school and marveled at the bravery of the couple in question (a white man and black woman) who were prosecuted for leaving their home state of Virginia to marry in D.C. and then returning to Virginia where they were harassed by law enforcement and ultimately prosecuted as felons for miscegenation.
The documentary (which consists almost entirely of contemporaneous black and white footage) offers (and needs) little narration as the Lovings and their attorneys describe the events that led to the historical legal ruling.
While interracial marriage attracts little notice in most populous areas of America today, at the time the Lovings were prosecuted (1958) 21 states had anti-miscegenation statutes on their books. (Indeed, notwithstanding the 1967 decision, the last state to repeal its anti-miscegenation law was Alabama in 2000.) I saw the film at the Tribeca Film Festival tonight and as a wonderful bonus, the Lovings' youngest child, Peggy Loving Fortune, appeared and shared her personal feelings and recollections. (Her parents are deceased; Mrs. Mildred Jeter Loving died of pneumonia in 2008, and Mr. Richard Loving died in a automobile accident in 1975.) The film was made in part by HBO, so perhaps HBO will air it at some point.
The Tudors (2007)
Rhys-Meyers = The Show's Greatest Weakness
Some of Showtime's artistic license can be excused as its goal is entertainment, not historical accuracy. What is INexcusable is its choice of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers ("JRM") as Henry8. As a preliminary matter, JRM is too short. Henry8 was 6', which would correspond to 6'4" or so today, so he loomed over men around him. Shorter than most of the men in the cast (including Sam Neill and Jeremy Northam) JRM looks (and acts) like a Jack Russell amongst a pack of larger breed dogs. (Henry8's other notable feature was his red hair, and Showtime could easily have rudded JRM's hair to give more historical accuracy.) Henry8's physical superiority and characteristics were legendary, and certainly contributed to his confidence and his ability to intimidate strong-willed subjects and foreign potentates. This was a case where size mattered and Showtime simply should have cast the part of Henry8 with a larger actor.
Moreover, JRM does not understand Henry8. JRM, whose lack of classical training is painfully obvious, portrays the king as a nouveau riche goomba. Had JRM greater understanding he would have realized that meretricious swagger is not the same as confidence. JRM's Henry8 would be at home on 'Growing Up Gotti' while the aplomb and skill of the other actors (most notably Neill and Northam) show him up as common and juvenile.
None of the foregoing will matter, however, to viewers looking for mindless entertainment, and whatever its deficiencies, viewers are forced to learn some rudiments about one of history's most intriguing monarchs.
La môme (2007)
Marion Cotillard's Piaf is Extraordinary
Cotillard's depiction of Piaf is the role which will define her acting career. Her flawless performance puts her on par with not only the other great talents of her generation (e.g., Cate Blanchett), but earns her a place in film history.
The role is a challenging one because Cotillard (who is 31) had to persuade viewers she was the adolescent Piaf as well as the 47 year-old invalided by drugs, arthritis, and cancer. Cotillard is a chameleon, and every gesture, look, movement, and word is credible and deeply moving. She also gives Piaf dignity, because though the icon is a physical ruin, Cotillard (and the director) did not let her become bitter.
The film itself is 'merely' an excellent biopic; Cotillard has arrived.
The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
75 Years Young and Wearing Beautifully
In the 1920s and 1930s Philo Vance became a household name with publication of the wildly popular S.S. Van Dine (alias for Willard Huntington Wright) novels featuring the patrician amateur detective.
Though Kennel is one of the better Philo Vance novels, this adaptation of the eponymous book represents the rare case where a film is better than the original story (which would not film well if precisely represented on screen because of (1) the psychological issues which would be hard to depict, and (2) the novel's culminating violent scene, which the film modifies).
The genius in taking one of the lesser of the canonical Philo Vance novels and making it into a classic is, of course, Michael Curtiz's direction; Curtiz being an exceptionally talented director who has, perhaps, the misfortune of being eclipsed by the fame of his films (e.g., Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, and The Adventures of Robin Hood) because of lack of a distinctive style.
This film is also a successful example of an early talkie: the sound is fairly good except in some scenes where the boom is obviously too far away, and in one shot (between Robert Barrat and Helen Vinson) we actually see the microphone! Some of the actors are clearly still making the silent-to-sound transition, but the performances are uniformly good. The key scene stealer is Etienne Giradot, who plays the Coroner, Dr. Doremus. Indeed, his performance is so endearing he reprised the role in other Philo Vance films.
While it becomes fairly easy to guess the culprit, the film doesn't suffer for this because of the excellent direction, good sets and wardrobe (check out Mary Astor's chic outfits!), and fine performances. (Though primarily loved for his work as Nick Charles in the Thin Man films, William Powell gives one of the best (and most subtle) performances of his career in Kennel.) Besides its status as a Hollywood classic, Kennel is an outstanding example of successful story adaptation and early sound film-making. (One can also see some noir hints later fulfilled in Curtiz's Mildred Pierce.) Highly recommended.
One of the Best Films of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival
Though not a documentary as actors represent persons involved in the Nanking crisis who are long dead, the story is told in credible documentary fashion (only, sadly, are the performances lacking; they are nearly uniformly wooden (Woody Harrelson's is a notable exception)).
The story of the rape of Nanking is so compelling that it sells itself; dialogue is practically unnecessary as the audience could get the same messages from a silent film. However, it is helped by superb archival film and photos, and an excellent script and timeline.
The Japanese are seen for what they were (or are, if you factor in the fact that today's Japanese government denies Nanking, the Korean 'comfort women', and other atrocities) and makes a viewer wonder if, all things considered, they got off too easy in 1945.
One of the film's most compelling moments was the true testimony of a surviving Japanese soldier who participated in the Nanking horrors. With laughter he admitted raping scores of Nanking women. Moreover it appears to be karma that the film is being shown in New York in 2007 just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is dodging questions in Washington about Japan's conscription of Korean women for sexual slavery during WWII.
As a good filmmaker's message is never in doubt, a 'Nanking' viewer balancing ALL the Japanese atrocities (i.e., the collective miseries of other Chinese, the Koreans, and the Filipinos) against the post-1945 reality of Japan (extreme prosperity, peace, and the protection of the American government) and its lack of contrition, can't avoid the message of shocking injustice.
This film should be shown in any course -- anywhere -- dealing with WWII.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Better True-Life Crime Stories on A&E
Though the images of the victims are far more graphic than what can be shown on television, fans of true-life crime stories are better off watching A&E shows like 'American Justice' or 'Cold Case Files'. Though the story line is credible, the makers of this film hadn't the slightest idea how to package that story such that an audience would believe what they were selling.
The most glaring flaw was the uniformly wooden performances. I was reminded of the lifeless performances in many Hollywood films during its 'Golden Age' when acting skills didn't matter so a bell hop or cigarette girl with no training or talent could get into movies -- and make a good living.
How this turkey made it past what I would have thought were the discerning judges for the Tribeca Film Festival is a greater mystery than the identity of the fictional serial killer.
A Well Deserved Tribute But Little New Information About An Exceptional Singer
I saw this tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Anita O'Day's story was well documented in her autobiography "High Times, Hard Times", which is respected for its unflinching candor. The best feature of this documentary is the clips of Anita's performances, many of which have never been seen before. It includes, of course, her landmark performance of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and several other performances that evidence her right to be considered one of jazz's finest vocalists. In addition to these clips there are interviews with jazz luminaries including George Wein (legendary founder of the Newport Jazz Festival), Margaret Whiting, and Dr. Billy Taylor. These experts credibly testify about Anita's genius and her standing relative to other jazz singers who obtained greater celebrity, such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn.
This documentary does not provide new information about either Anita's private life or career, but it is important as a tribute to a singer whose talent justified greater acclaim than she received.
This documentary premiered last night at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. It would not compare favorably with documentaries usually seen on public television. The story focuses on a notorious murder and subsequent lynching of the accused as follows: (1) a Black man named Leander Shaw was accused of murdering and raping a white woman, Lillie Brewton, in 1908 in or near Pensacola, Florida; and (2) Shaw was dragged from police custody and lynched in the center of town. The film follows with its main argument, that as a result of the Brewton murder, a six decade campaign of terror -- lynching -- against Blacks ensued.
Unfortunately, the re-enactment of the Brewton killing, though compelling, was followed by (1) bromidal narratives of subsequent events, and (2) an unsuccessful (and, for viewers, tedious) forensic search for remains of lynching victims (including extensive use of cadaver dogs). As for the former, testimonies of Blacks who knew one suspected lynching victim named Wiley (killed in 1961) and that of a suspected conspirator in the Wiley murder, are so devoid of factual information as to diminish viewer interest generated by the earlier, able, re-enactment of the underlying crime and the Shaw lynching. For example, the narratives from Blacks about the 1961 killing are from people who recalled the murder and knew the victim, but were not close enough to particulars indicating guilt to offer more than hearsay statements about rumors and suspicions surrounding the incident. Also, Joe Petty, a great nephew of Lillie Brewton and alleged confederate in the 1961 lynching, who speaks candidly about the lynchings in general and even describes where victims were buried, unsurprisingly denied any involvement in the 1961 murder. Also, the film naively implies sophisticated viewers should be shocked that whites in Pensacola are angered and in denial about the lynching allegations.
The catalyst for this documentary, Alice Brewton Hurwitz, who lives in New York and is a great-niece of Lillie Brewton, emphasized her duty to expose the lynchings arising from the crime against her great aunt, though it indicts her extended family in the lynchings and, possibly, Lillie Brewton's husband, who some suspected paid Leander Shaw to kill his wife.
Given the unsuccessful forensic search for lynching victims and the impossibility of prosecutions, it would have been better to tell this story as a work of fiction. Hurwitz discussed this point after the film, but reiterated her commitment to documentary as -- in her view -- a superior vehicle. However, in her eagerness to tell her story, she and the film's other principals forget that a documentary is about examination of facts, and (given the dearth of forensic evidence and the passage of time) those surrounding the alleged lynchings resulting from the Lillie Brewton murder are very few.