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Breathe (I) (2017)
A true story of a wonderful woman
17 January 2021
Andy Serkis directed the English movie Breathe (I) (2017). The film stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish and Claire Foy as his wife Diana Cavendish.

The movie begins with Robin falling in love with Diana and she with him. He's intelligent, handsome, and personable. She's intelligent, beautiful, and personable. It's the perfect match.

However, within months (five minutes of film), tragedy strikes. Robin contracts polio, and he becomes paralyzed from the neck down. The movie follows their story--that's the plot.

Both actors are excellent, and the film becomes more powerful because we know that it really happened.

Of course, we don't know whether the reenactments capture the exact truth of what happened. However, I hope they did, because the truth is incredible.

This movie has a so-so IMDb rating of 7.2. I thought it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
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Breathe (2014)
Your new best friend in high school
16 January 2021
The French movie Respire (2014) was shown in the U.S. with the title Breathe. It was co-written and directed by Mélanie Laurent.

Joséphine Japy portrays Charlene (Charlie), a senior in high school. She's intelligent and attractive. A new student (Sarah, played by Lou de Laâge) becomes Charlie's close friend. Sarah's mother works for a humanitarian organization in a developing country, so Sarah lives with her aunt.

The plot of the movie follows the two young women as they move through the last months of high school. It isn't always a pretty picture.

This is a powerful film, with solid acting by both leads. You wouldn't call it a feel-good film. However, remember that it was produced in France, a country not known for feel-good films.

We saw Respire on the small screen, where it worked well enough. The movie has a so-so IMDb rating of 7.1. I thought it was somewhat better, and rated it 8.

P.S. Every person in the movie smoked continually. The percentage of smokers in France isn't that much higher than in the U.S. I don't know if all the smoking was added for some reason by director Laurent, or if it reflected reality.
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Heart of Darkness (1993 TV Movie)
Heart of Darkness is a difficult novel to film
9 January 2021
Heart of Darkness (1993 TV Movie) was directed by Nicolas Roeg. It's based on the famous novel by Joseph Conrad. Tim Roth stars as Marlow, a young seaman who is hired to captain a steamboat up the Congo River into (then) The Belgian Congo.

Roth is a competent actor and he makes us believe in Marlow. John Malkovich portrays Kurtz. Everything in the novel rotates around Kurtz, but we don't see Kurtz until late in the novel. In reality, Roth is the star, and Malkovich is playing a supporting role.

Isaach De Bankolé depicts Mfumu, a relatively minor figure in Conrad's novel, but a more significant figure in the movie. He is an African worker with whom Marlow bonds.

However, as many critics have pointed out, Conrad's novel is written about Europeans and it's meant for Europeans. It portrays a time when colonialism was painted over with a thin veneer of enlightenment. This enlightenment was barely present anywhere in colonial Africa. In the Belgian Congo, everyone there knew it was a total pretense.

The movie would work somewhat better on the large screen, because some of the jungle views are breathtaking. However, we saw it on DVD, where it worked well enough.

Heart of Darkness has a terrible IMDb rating of 5.7. The movie is well acted and well produced. All I can assume is that people don't like Conrad's novel. That's not director Roeg's fault, but he gets the blame. In addition, Conrad's novel is based on his meticulously crafted paragraphs. The plot of the novel isn't as important as are Conrad's words.

Other than doing continual voiceover, there's no real way to bring Conrad's verbal genius to life. In movies, what you see is (literally) what you get. What we get is the story Conrad gave us, and apparently people don't like the story.

I don't think Heart of Darkness is a great movie, but I think it's an excellent movie and rated it 8.
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The Lesson (2014)
Margita Gosheva can do no wrong
6 January 2021
The Bulgarian movie Urok (2014) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title The Lesson. The film was co-written and co-directed by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov.

Margita Gosheva stars as Nadezhda, a middle-school teacher in a small Bulgarian city. The film opens with a small theft in the classroom, and the plot circles around that issue.

Nadezhda is beset by major problems--a spendthrift husband who has no source of income, a young daughter who loves her father more than she loves her mother, and her own father who is living with a woman younger than Nadezhda. (Her father hasn't bothered to remember his granddaughter's name.)

The success of the movie depends on the actor playing Nadezhda. She is Margita Gosheva, and she is superb. (I knew she was a good actor because I saw her in another Bulgarian film--Glory.)

After watching The Lesson, I know that Gosheva is a great actor. In my opinion she is the Bulgarian equivalent of the English actor Sally Hawkins--she can do no wrong. (Anyone who can successfully portray a high-ranking civil servant in one movie and a financially strapped middle-school teacher in another movie has to be great.)

As I think back on The Lesson, I can't remember a single happy moment. So, if you're looking for a feel-good movie, this isn't it. However, if you want a powerful, intense film, seek it out and watch it.

We saw Urok on DVD, where it worked well. It has a pretty good IMDb rating of 7.2. I thought that it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
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Rick Steves' Europe: The Story of Fascism in Europe (2018)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
"Democracy is fragile"
6 January 2021
Rick Steves' Europe (TV Series) The Story of Fascism in Europe (2018) was cowritten by the host, travel expert Rick Steves.

Rick Steves has flown all over the world to produce his travel series. However, this is not an ordinary one-half hour travel program. For this film he's produced a one-hour documentary about the rise of Fascism. The movie is about 20th Century Europe, so most of the screen time depicts the horrible story of Mussolini and Hitler.

We hear Steves' all-important message--democracy is fragile.

We saw this documentary as part of the DVD set Rick Steves' Europe, 2019-2020. It's also available on YouTube.

The Story of Fascism has a very strong IMDb rating of 7.9. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 10.
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Desert Flower (2009)
Great movie about a terrible subject
2 January 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Desert Flower (2009) was co-written and directed by Sherry Hormann. It's based on a biographical novel by Waris Dirie. The topic is horrible--female genital mutilation. Waris Dirie had this terrible surgery inflicted on her when she was three years old.

The plot unfolds from the moment Waris is--essentially--sold by her family to be the fourth wife of an old man. She runs away. After many misadventures, she emerges as a model and advocate against female genital mutilation.

Liya Kebede--herself a super-model--portrays Waris Dirie. (Dirie is from Somalia, Kebede is from Ethiopia.) Kebede--as Dirie--is referred to in the movie as "the most beautiful woman in the world." That, of course, is a matter of opinion, but you can see why she has appeared on the cover of Vogue three times. Not only is she beautiful, but she can act.

Sally Hawkins portrays Marilyn, Waris's mentor and friend. I've never said a bad word about Sally Hawkins. I think she's great. However, somehow I couldn't accept her as an aspiring dancer. Her character just didn't work for me. I'll continue to think that Hawkins is great, and just assume she was in the wrong part in the wrong movie.

On the other hand, Timothy Spall as a fashion photographer was perfectly cast. He commanded every scene in which he appeared. (Not easy when Liya Kabede is in the same scene.)

The horror of female genital mutilation is hard to contemplate. However, it won't go away until it becomes socially unacceptable. Desert Flower is definitely a step in that direction.

Desert Flower has a solid IMDb rating of 7.4. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 9.
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Interesting documentary based on an unlikely event
2 January 2021
The Sultan and the Saint (2016) was written and directed by Alexander Kronemer.

It's a historical documentary about a real event--the meeting between Egyptian Sultan Al-Kamil (Zack Beyer) and St. Francis of Assisi (Alexander McPherson.) Jeremy Irons narrates the film.

The basic historical fact--that the two men met in 1219--is not contested. Of course, the movie fills in most of the other information about the Sultan and St. Francis. Also, there's background information about the crusades, with historical re-enactments of battles and the pillage that followed.

This is an amazing story, but it's told in a somewhat plodding way. Given the amazing fact that this meeting actually took place, I think a better director could have given more life to the events.

The Sultan and the Saint has an anemic IMDb rating of 6.7. I thought that it wasn't great, but it was better than that, and rated it 8.
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Ignore the low rating--it's an excellent documentary
28 December 2020
Ginevra's Story: Solving the Mysteries of Leonardo da Vinci's First Known Portrait (1999) was directed by Christopher Swann and narrated by Meryl Streep.

The portrait of Ginevra de Binci is the first of only three existing portraits by Leonardo da Vinci. (The second was of Cecilia Gallerani, called The Lady with an Ermine, and the third was Mona Lisa.)

The portrait of Ginevra de Binci is the only painting by Leonardo that exists on this hemisphere. (It's in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.)

This movie is an extraordinarily interesting documentary. In it, experts discuss what is known about Ginevra de Binci, details about the painting, information about the painting's restoration, and speculation about what the painting would have looked like before the bottom third was removed and lost.

This film has an impossibly low IMDb rating of 4.1. Why? It's a documentary about an important painting. It's thorough and fascinating. How could it be rated so low? It must be a bad miracle. I thought that it was great, and rated it 10.
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The Wonderful World of Disney: Ruby Bridges (1998)
Season 1, Episode 16
Powerful story, pretty good movie
27 December 2020
"The Wonderful World of Disney" Ruby Bridges (TV Episode 1998) was directed by Euzhan Palcy.

Ruby Bridges (portrayed by Chaz Monet) was an important figure in the U.S. civil rights movement. This brave young girl faced mobs of angry people and social isolation as she entered a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960.

The thought of such vicious vitriol directed at a little girl is hard to comprehend, although in recent years we've see how an ugly crowd feeds on its own hatred. So, even 60 years after the events took place, this movie still has relevance.

This great moment in U.S. history deserves a great movie. Unfortunately, this film is pretty good, but not great. All the acting is solid, but not inspired. The main historical events are accurately portrayed, but I didn't think the movie captured the spirit shown by Ruby Bridges and her family.

Dr. Robert Coles (portrayed by Kevin Pollak) is an important figure in U.S. psychiatry. He did, indeed, help Ruby Bridges during her ordeal. However, I think that too much screen time was given to his accomplishments. Cole is great man, and deserves a movie of his own. However, this should have been more about Ruby and her family than about Coles and his wife.

All the actors were very good, but the only acting that I think was superb was Diana Scarwid as school principal Miss Woodmere. Scarwid brought out Woodmere's antagonistic, vitriolic, and yet fearful character.

The story of Ruby Bridges is a landmark episode in U.S. history. It's a story of courage under enormous pressure. I wish the move had been better. The film has an IMDb rating of 7.2. I agree, and rated it 7.
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Z (1969)
If you don't protect democracy, you lose it
25 December 2020
Z (1969) was directed by Costa-Gavras. It's a story about a "democratic" government slipping down into a military dictatorship. (In this case the country was Greece, from which democracy was slipping away until it became a military dictatorship in 1967.)

Early in the movie we see the murder of a popular progressive politician. (Based on a real event.) The politician was portrayed by Yves Montand. Montand was a great actor, and got top billing. However, the real stardom belongs to Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating judge.

Trintignant's acting is a tour de force. He slowly becomes aware that the death was a murder, not an accident, and he keeps pushing forward, despite flattery and threats. He's thorough, competent, and fearless.

Even though this movie is over 50 years old, it has a particular relevance in our country today. Democracy is not inherent in any nation. If we don't protect it, we can lose it.

People at the time recognized the importance of this film. It was nominated in five Oscar categories, and won the Oscar for Best International Film.

The movie has an extraordinarily high IMDb rating of 8.3. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.

P.S. Watch for the incomparable Irene Papas in the supporting role as Montand's wife. When she's on the screen, you can't watch anyone else.
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Title doesn't sound good, but the movie is great!
25 December 2020
The Opera House (2017) is a full-length documentary directed by Susan Froemke. The title sounds like it would be a boring movie, but it's not. That's because the film is centered around the great soprano, Leontyne Price.

The movie starts with the old Metropolitan Opera House, and then moves through the decades-long attempt to find a suitable site for the new Metropolitan. (Robert Moses pushed this through, for better or for worse depending on your point of view.)

In any case, we know how it all ends, but it's a fascinating story leading up to opening night at the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

If you see the movie on DVD, be sure to watch the special--Leontyne Price in her farewell Aida performance at the Met.

Not many people have rated or reviewed this movie. However, based on small numbers, it has a solid IMDb rating of 7.7. I thought it was even better than that and rated it 9.
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Maudie (2016)
Sally Hawkins can do no wrong; Ethan Hawke's pretty good too
23 December 2020
Maudie (2016) is a Canadian-Irish film that was directed by Aisling Walsh. It takes place in Nova Scotia.

Sally Hawkins portrays Maud, who suffers from severe arthritis. She lives with her hostile, domineering aunt until she decides to somehow free herself. The way she does this is to become housekeeper to Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). Lewis is not the kindly sort--he doesn't like many people, and they don't like him.

He lives in a tiny house near a village in Nova Scotia. He makes a marginal living by selling fish, firewood, and whatever can bring in a few dollars.

Maud and Everett are an unlikely couple, but, as outcasts, they are drawn together. As it turns out, Maude has an eye for color, and she begins to paint simple pictures that are truly wonderful. Soon, people want to buy them.

There actually was a woman named Maude Lewis (1903 -1970) and she was, indeed, a respected folk artist. I can't say how close the movie comes to portraying her life, but the basics are accurate.

This is really a two-actor show. That can be good news or bad news depending on the actors. Sally Hawkins is one of the great actors of our century. She can do Shakespeare (Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester in Henry VI), she can do comedy (Poppy), she can do drama (Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water.) She brings life to the character of Maud. (Incidentally, she can carry off an American or Canadian accent perfectly.)

Ethan Hawke shines in his portrayal of Everett Lewis. Hawke isn't just a foil for Hawkins' brilliance. He holds his own in the film, and the chemistry between the two is obvious.

This film played at Rochester's excellent Little Theatre, and I wish I had seen it there. The beautiful Nova Scotian scenery would have been wonderful to watch on the large screen. However, the DVD version was certainly acceptable.

Maudie is certainly worth seeking out and watching. It has a very strong IMDb rating of 7.6. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
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A great movie by a great director
22 December 2020
The Iranian film Bad ma ra khahad bord (1999) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title, The Wind Will Carry Us. It was written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

Behzad Dorani portray the engineer, who arrives at a remote rural village with a film crew. They're there to film a funeral ceremony, for reasons that are revealed to us slowly and indirectly.

However, the woman who is dying, for whom the funeral is planned, is lingering on. This continues for weeks. The engineer's crew wants to go home, and his editor in Tehran wants him to get the story. (An ongoing joke is the annoying fact that the engineer's cell phone rings in the village, but the phone won't work unless he leaps into his vehicle and drives to higher ground. This happens over and over during the film.)

While everyone is waiting, the engineer meets people, finds a young student who serves as his assistant, and recites poetry. In fact, a central scene is when the engineer recites the romantic poem "The Wind Will Carry Us" to a young woman. The poem was written by Forough Farrokhzad (1934 -1967). Farrokhzad is considered Iran's most revered female poet.

The young woman in the move has attended school for five years. She asks the engineer for how many years Farrokhzad attended school. He gently tells her, "Five years. You don't have to be a scholar to be a great poet."

As is usual for Kiarostami, his camera doesn't always show us the image we expect. We can hear--but never see--his camera crew. That's also true of the dying woman and a man with whom he speaks when he's at the top of the hill using his cell phone. (The man he's talking to is digging a deep ditch, so we can't see him.)

Sometimes the camera leaves the plot completely, to show us something we didn't know we'd see. For example, in his frustration the engineer kicks a turtle. The turtle ends up on its back. We watch the turtle as it tries to right itself, although the engineer has driven away.

I love Kiarostami's work, and I've tried to see every picture he's directed. He is in a class of his own. I think that you either admire his work or don't care for it at all. I admire it. The Wind Will Carry Us has a strong IMDb rating of 7.5. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
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Ashik Kerib (1988)
Sergei Parajanov's last movie
22 December 2020
Ashug-Karibi (1988) was shown in the U.S. with the title Ashik-Kerib. The film was directed by Sergei Parajanov. (David Abashidze is listed as co-director.) The title literally means "The Strange Lover." The movie is called a Georgian or Russian movie, but it was produced in Azerbaijan. (Azerbaijan was under Soviet rule until 1991.)

The hero of the film is a talented but poor musician, who plays the traditional stringed instrument the saz (baglama), which looks and sounds like a small lute. The hero is in love with the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and she with him.

However, her father demands that she marry someone with wealth. It's agreed that the minstrel has 1001 days to make his fortune and return home to marry the young woman. That's the plot--the hero leaves his home and the rest of the film is a road movie that follows him in his travels.

This would be a fairly standard film device if Parajanov's style were like the style of other great directors. However, his style is unique. He shows us colorful paintings, dancing, and we hear Azerbaijani music. We see tableaux and he used intertitles. Color is at the center call the movie. "Colorful" doesn't capture the absolute riot of colors that we see.

This is a film that would work better on the large screen than on the small screen, but we watched it on DVD. It has a strong IMDb rating of 7.4. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 9.

P.S. Parajanov spent years in jail because of "crimes" he committed. His real offense was that he refused to make Soviet Realism films. These authoritarian officials deprived Parajanov of his liberty and deprived the world of his talent.
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Eight people and a loaded pistol
22 December 2020
The German movie Chinesisches Roulette (1976) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title Chinese Roulette. It was written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Although the cast has two important stars--Anna Karina and Margit Carstensen, acting honors are taken by Andrea Schober, as Carstensen's daughter. Schobar was only 12 when she played this role, but she certainly didn't act like an amateur. (She continued as a professional actor after this film.)

In a way, the movie is old fashioned. Eight people and a loaded pistol are in an isolated castle. The plot plays out from there. (There's a hint of an external threat to two of the characters, but Fassbinder doesn't follow up on it.)

The actual game of Chinese roulette is complex, and the rules were never clear to me. The game was played during the last quarter-hour of the film, and I found this tedious.

In fact, although Chinese Roulette has a solid IMDb rating of 7.3, I didn't enjoy it and don't recommend it. (It worked well enough on the small screen.) I rated it 6. I would have rated it lower, except for my respect for Anna Karina, who died in December 2019, almost exactly a year from when I'm writing this review.

P.S. I don't know if "Chinese Roulette" is a racist term. I hope not. However, there's no way to avoid it, because that's the name of the movie.
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Short Term 12 (2013)
Powerful movie about a group home
16 December 2020
Short Term 12 (2013) was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Short Term 12 is the name of a group home. It's where kids go "until the county figures out what to do with them."

The director of Short Term 12 is Grace, portrayed well by Brie Larson. She's good at what she does, and she realizes that, given the situation, there will always be crises at the home.

John Gallagher Jr. plays Mason, a seasoned staffer at the home, and Grace's partner. LaKeith Stanfield is Marcus, who will be 18 in a week, and will be leaving the home. Kaitlyn Dever plays Jayden Cole, the newest admission to the group home.

A movie about a group home is going to be an ensemble film, with each of the residents having her or his role to play. However, the plot really centers around Grace, and her relationship with Mason and with Kendra. We see some great acting in the way Grace deals with her problems and with their problems. (It's not a triangle--it's Grace interacting with two important people in her life.)

This is a powerful movie, and it has the ring of authenticity about it. I like that fact that it's called Short Term 12. There's probably a Short Term 11 and a Short Term 13. There's nothing special about Short Term 12, except that we know that all the residents and staff people have stories of their own. We get to see some of the stories of some of the people. If we went to Short Term 11, we'd see different stories. Director Cretton has taken us to Short Term 12, and has made these stories into an outstanding movie.

Because most of the movie is set within the group home, the film works well on the small screen. The movie has an very high IMDb rating of 8.0. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
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Emma (2009)
Brilliant adaptation of the Austen novel
16 December 2020
Emma (TV Mini-Series 2009) was directed for the BBC by Jim O'Hanlon.

Obviously, amy movie version of Emma depends on the actor playing the title role. Of course, the actor must be beautiful. (Austen tells us in the first sentence of the novel that Emma is "handsome.") However, being beautiful isn't enough. Gwyneth Paltrow was a beautiful Emma, but she never convinced me that she was the woman described in the novel.

Romola Garai is beautiful, and she looked like the heroine that Austen had in mind. She was more than beautiful--she radiated health and confidence. It was a pleasure to watch her at work.

Michael Gambon played Mr. Woodhouse, a role for which he was meant. Jonny Lee Miller was a good Mr. Knightley, Jodhi May did well as Anne Weston, and Louise Dylan was excellent in the difficult role of Harriet Smith.

Not only was the acting good, but "BBC production values" were always in evidence.

Jane Austen wrote incomparable novels. However, I don't think that Emma was her greatest work. You can't blame the filmmakers for closely following Austen's novel. In fact, I praise them for it. What we see is what Jane Austen wrote.

I thought this version of Emma was the best I've seen. Any drawbacks relate to the complex and somewhat unrealistic plot of the novel.

If you don't know anything about Austen, I wouldn't start with Emma. I would try Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. If you love Austen, then this movie is a must-see.

If you don't admire Austen, you have my sympathy. You are missing out on one of the greatest English-language novelists.

This series was made for television, so it works well on the small screen. Emma has a high IMDb rating of 8.1 I thought that it was even better than that, and rated it 10.
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Cranford (2007–2010)
Great BBC series
15 December 2020
Cranford (2007-2010) is a BBC television series. It was directed by Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson. The series is based on three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. (One of the novels had the title Cranford.) The time is 1840, and life hasn't changed much in years in this small rural village.

Gossip is the preferred mode of communication, and propriety is all. (One young woman scandalizes society by walking behind her father's funeral hearse. It just wasn't done.)

One real development is that the railroad is coming to the village. Sentiment about this is mixed. Some people believe it will boost the economy, but many believe it will change their way of life for the worse.

Dame Judy Dench stars and, of course, she can do no wrong. The rest of the cast is strong, and this type of production illustrates why we say "BBC production values."

Because this series was made for television, it works well on the small screen. The series has a very high IMDb rating of 8.3. I rated it 9.

I recently reviewed the BBC production of another Gaskell novel--North and South. Cranford depicts a small town. North and South depicts Manchester. Each series is outstanding. However, they are very different. See them both!
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What happens when all your friends are out of town?
15 December 2020
The French film Le signe du lion (1962) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title The Sign of Leo. The movie was co-written and directed by Éric Rohmer.

Jess Hahn portrays Pierre Wesselrin, who is a decent enough guy, and a talented violinist and composer. Pierre's weakness is that he doesn't really have a source of income. He drifts along by accepting gifts from his friends.

One day, he receives a message that he's become rich. Armed with that expectation of money, he borrows from his friends and throws a magnificent party. The only problem is that he didn't actually become rich, and now he's down and out.

Usually, he would just turn to his friends for help, but they are all out of town. It never occurs to him to get a job, or even play the violin as a busker. What he does instead is walk.

My next sentence about a Rohmer film should be "they talk, and then they talk some more, and then they keep talking." Not this time! What Pierre does is walk. Then he walks some more, then he keeps walking.

Jess Hahn is a fine actor, and the film works because we can believe what we see on screen. Quite a bit of this film takes place outside as Pierre walks. It would probably work better on the large screen, but it worked well enough on DVD. The movie has a good IMDb rating of 7.3. I thought it was better than that and rated it 8. P.S. Watch for the incomparable Stéphane Audran in a small role as the hotel owner who turns Pierre out into the street when he can't pay his bill.
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Code Unknown (2000)
An ensemble movie starring Juliette Binoche
15 December 2020
The French movie Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (2000) was shown in the U.S. with the shortened title Code Unknown. (The rest of the French title translates as Incomplete Account of Various Trips. That makes more sense.) The film was written and directed by Michael Haneke .

The plot of this film involves many characters, all of whom have close degrees of separation, although mostly they aren't aware of this. (We can see this, but they can't.)

Just for an example, early in the movie, a young man comes to Paris from his home on the farm. He meets his sister-in-law Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche). He expects to be invited to live with his brother and Anne. Instead, she tells him that their apartment is only big enough for two. She buys him a pastry, and hurries off.

He is angry, and wads up the paper bag from the pastry and thoughtlessly throws it at a woman who is sitting on the sidewalk begging. A young African man upbraids him, and they get into a scuffle. The police arrive, arrest the African man. While they're at it, they arrest the woman, who turns out to be an undocumented immigrant from Romania.

That sets up four plot threads: Binoche and her husband; the young man who is caught between farm and city; the woman sent back to Romania; the young African man in jail.

The acting is good with solid performances from all the lead actors and supporting actors. Of course, Binoche captures the screen any time she appears on it. She is one of a kind.

This picture worked well on the small screen. The IMDb rating of Code Unknown is 7.2. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 8.
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North & South (2004)
Victorian Manchester was not where you wanted to live if you didn't own a mill
14 December 2020
North & South (2004) was a TV miniseries directed by Brian Percival. The movie is based on a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell wrote her novels one generation after Jane Austen. Like Austen's works, the novel is, in essence, a romance. However, it's much more complicated than that.

The novel is set in the mid-19th century, when England was moving toward the height of industrialization. Margaret Hale is a young woman who has been uprooted from her rural home in the south of England, and finds herself in a highly industrialized northern city. (Called Milton, but meant to represent Manchester.) Hale is portrayed brilliantly by Daniela Denby-Ashe.

The situation in Manchester is different from the situation in the south. In Manchester, money is everything. There's no real relationship between the factories owners and the workers. It's cash for labor, and if you get sick, or get hurt, it's your problem, not the owner's problem.

One of the mill owners is John Thornton (Richard Armitage), who is a self-made man. He treats the mill workers slightly better than the other owners, but primarily because he believes that a healthy worker is a better worker.

Poverty is everywhere. The workers live in squalor, and it's not pretty. (The BBC always gives you a sense of place in their films. They succeed brilliantly in this movie.) I know something about Victorian England, and I'm aware that most of the city population lived in misery, even before illness intervened. And, of course, given these deplorable conditions, illness often intervened. People were always fearful of the workhouse, because it was truly considered by many a fate worse than death. That's what we see in this movie.

Beside the two leads, two supporting actors deserve special attention: Sinéad Cusack as Hannah Thornton, John Thornton's mother, and Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins, a union leader facing insurmountable odds. Both play their roles brilliantly.

This isn't a pleasant movie to watch, because so much of it is so grim. On the other hand, the acting is excellent, and the attention to setting is so meticulous, that I feel comfortable recommending it. North and South was made for television, so it works well on the small screen. It has an extremely high IMDb rating of 8.6. I agreed, and rated it 9.
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Another Round (2020)
Don't see this movie
10 December 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The Danish movie Druk (2020) was shown in the U.S. with the title Another Round. It was co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

Four high school teachers decide that they will perform better if they raise their blood alcohol level. They actually do perform better with a small amount of alcohol, so they decide to raise it, and then raise it some more.

This leads to one teacher arriving at a faculty meeting who is so drunk he can barely walk. Another teacher dies. Marriages are ruined. The last straw for me was when one of the teachers helps one of his students get drunk before a final exam. The student performs really well. That's quite a message about dealing with anxiety--get drunk.

We saw this movie as a virtual rental from Rochester's excellent Little Theatre. I don't know if The Little staff had seen the movie before they sent it out. Maybe they liked it. (Clearly, many people liked it.) I didn't like it, and rated it 4.
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New Wave directors loved gangster films
8 December 2020
Jean-Luc Godard's film Bande à part was shown in the U.S. with the title Band of Outsiders (1964).

French New Wave directors always said they took their inspiration from U.S. gangster movies. That was supposed to be charming. However, Bande à part is, indeed, a gangster movie, and the film didn't appeal to me. (If you want a Hollywood grade-B gangster film see a Hollywood grade-B gangster film. Don't look for it from a great French director.)

Jean-Luc Godard knew excellent actors when he saw them. The movie has three actors in starring roles--Anna Karina as Odile, Sami Frey as Franz, and Claude Brasseur as Arthur. Frey and Brasseur were relative unknowns in 1964, but they became major stars after this movie.

Anna Karina was Godard's muse (and wife). She was the icon of the French New Wave. Besides Godard, she made movies under the direction of Rivette, Visconti, and Fassbinder. This was her first important movie. (Godard was already well know for his 1960 film Breathless.)

Despite the acting abilities of the Karina, Brasseur, and Frey, the movie never came together for me. Karina convinced Godard to let her play the role of the young woman as a dreamy, naive adolescent. The look didn't become her, and, for me, that brought the whole movie down.

Band of Outsiders reminds me of Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), except that Franz and Arthur weren't really good friends the way Jules and Jim were. Also, Karina was an icon, but she wasn't Jeanne Moreau.

There is one scene of pure genius however. That's the Madison dance routine. I had never heard of the Madison, but apparently it was somewhat popular in the late 1950's and into the 1960's. It's a line dance with very specific, almost formal steps.

In the movie, Brasseur, Frey, and Karina have a dance sequence when they perform the Madison. In the plot, it's supposed to be spontaneous, but of course they had rehearsed it for weeks. Karina is wearing a men's fedora, and she looks adorable. (Brasseur and Karina were good dancers. Frey was not, so mostly he is looking down at his feet. Godard comments on this in a voiceover.)

I could say it's worth seeing the movie just to see this four-minute dance scene. However, if you just want to see the dance, it's on YouTube.

Band of outsiders has a strong IMDb rating of 7.7, and it has cinematic historical importance. I didn't think it was quite that good, and rated it 7.
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Ignore the title--watch the movie
5 December 2020
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) was directed by Lasse Hallström. The title suggests that it's a comedy for children. It's not. It's a serious and important movie.

Johnny Depp stars as Gilbert Grape. That's not a nickname. His family name is Grape. Gilbert is a decent guy, but he's beset by problems. He lives in a town that's dying; he lives in a house that is in danger of collapsing; he has a younger brother who has brain damage; his mother is morbidly obese and can barely move out of her chair.

Depp does a good job as Gilbert, but two actors outshine him. One is Darlene Cates, who was, indeed, morbidly obese. (At one point in her life she weighed 575 pounds.) Cates was a good actor--she didn't just have one dimension. She loved her children, and she understood how difficult their lives were because of her. Her acting makes us understand that.

Leonard DiCaprio brilliantly portrayed the brother with brain damage. The young man was strong and agile. His executive function was deficient--it simply didn't occur to him that climbing up the town water tower would cause immense trouble for himself, his family, and the town. He climbed up whenever he could, which was too often for the town police, and ended up in jail.

Leonard DeCaprio was then Leonardo DeCaprio. He played this key role in the movie when he was still a teenager! (Of course, he's an important star now but he wasn't a star in 1993.)

This movie has a strong IMDb rating of 7.8. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9. (The film was recommended by a friend. I've learned to trust her.)
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Pretentious movie from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1 December 2020
The Eighteenth Century Woman (1982 TV Movie) was co-written and co- directed by Suzanne Bauman and Jim Burroughs.

The film stars Met Director Philippe de Montebello, Marisa Berenson, and Diana Vreeland. In 1982, the Met displayed a major exhibition of aristocratic clothing from the 18th Century. This movie was made to bring people to the exhibit.

Montebello, Berenson, and Vreeland are so very glamorous, so very knowledgeable, and so very sophisticated that it must have been difficult for them to speak down to the less learned audience who would view the film.

Of course, the title is ridiculous. The costumes displayed belonged to aristocrats and the very rich. The women who owned them could afford to wear a new gown every day, to hold intellectual salons, and to influence governmental affairs. Like the very rich in 2020 they paid little if any taxes. The money for their gowns came from the heavily taxed farmers and laborers.

Believe it or not, the movie ends with the gala opening reception, where very rich women wear spectacularly fashionable gowns. Did the Metropolitan really want to shove the income gap into our faces?

In 1789, the French people overthrew the aristocrats. There's no suggestion that we in the U.S. would ever do that. We go about our lives watching the income gap get wider and wider. If we still have a civilization in 200 years, a museum can offer an exhibition of today's gowns. On opening night, the rich can display their costly and elegant costumes. Maybe they'll make a movie about the 21st Century woman. Maybe someone will give it a rating of 5.
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