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a scrumptious confection with its winning candidness and a proper moral backbone.
Essentially, our current soulmates or significant others (who those who are lucky enough to find one) are all strangers at the very beginning, so are Natalie Wood's Macy's girl Angie Rossini and Steve McQueen's odd-jobbing musician Rocky Papasano, both in their salad days, they do make an adorable couple, but before they go down that inevitable road, there is a snag here in Robert Mulligan's LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, she is pregnant with his child before they can get to know each other.
Pluckily wrestling with the contentious topics like one night stand and abortion, Mulligan's follow-up of his pièce-de-résistance TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) is tonally friskier and visually more fluid, especially through its opening passage of a jam-packed musician hiring session, which channels the two protagonists together when she drops the bombshell, and its coda on the crowded intersection right outside the Macy's, the influence of French New Wave is in evidence, an emancipated mobility runs through these exterior sequences, engenders a revelatory frisson of realism that heralds the footsteps of the New Hollywood.....
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Dear Ex (2018)
a compulsive jewel wears its heart of humanistic compassion and salutary intention on its sleeve
Taiwanese senior teleplay writer Mag Hsu's feature film debut, co-directed with Hsu Chih-Yen, an indigenous winner in the 55th Golden Horse Awards (winning 3 awards: BEST LEADING ACTRESS, BEST EDITING and BEST ORIGINAL SONG out of 8 nominations), DEAR EX uncharacteristically employs a comical tone to grapple with the harsh aftermath of bereavement, a closeted gay man Song Zhengyuan (Chen, lead vocalist of the local rock band Quarterback) dies of cancer, but to his ex-wife Liu Sanlian's (Hsieh) astonishment, instead of leaving his insurance payout to their teenage son Chengxi (Huang), the beneficiary turns out to be Song's male lover Ah Jie (Chiu), a nasty fight over pecuniary compensation apparently bubbles on the horizon, but DEAR EX has a much larger heart in its nexus....
continue reading my review on my blog: cinema omnivore, thanks!
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
a helluva excitement and entertainment, but with one colossal catch
In Robert Rodriguez's cyberpunk pomp ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an adaptation of popular Japanese manga series GUNNM, and a long-in-gestation pet project of James Cameron, who gladly passes the baton to Rodriguez with his blessing, an operative question, for viewers who are not conversant with its original material, is who, or more crucially, what is Alita?....
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Douglas Sirk's London-set, monochromatic whodunit is a facetious but feel-good potboiler
An American remake of Robert Siodmak's French drama PERSONAL COLUMN (1939), Douglas Sirk's London-set monochromatic whodunit LURED, sees Lucille Ball's down-to-earth American gal Sandra Carpenter lures not only a well-heeled hubby in the person of the silk-stocking impresario Robert Fleming (Sanders), but also the notorious "Poet Killer" who entices his (young and wide-eyed female) victims through personal ads on newspaper and sends poems to taunt the clueless Scotland Yard. Only, there is one catch, could both her quarries be the same person? ....
read my full review on my blog: cinema omnivore
Di qiu zui hou de ye wan (2018)
LDJIN exudes an intoxicating aroma of melancholia, reminiscence and most of all, Bi's romantic flights of fancy
A succès de scandale notorious for the backlash in the wake of its mainland China release on the New Year's Eve, LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, emergent director Bi Gan's second feature, was deliberately misled as a swooning romance and a star vehicle for name actress Tang Wei by the film's grasping marketing ploy to cash in the box-office receipts, it lured besotted lovers into cinemas to spend the last stretch of 2018 with their beloved ones and welcome a new year, as a result, this art house doozy reaped a total $41.8 million gross (a gargantuan sum for non-mainstream fares), but fatefully, over 90% of which was generated from its first day of release, as the film's admittance cratered a whopping 96% the morning after, when the majority of its late night audience felt being cheated by this slow-tempo doze-inducer, and took their umbrage on the internet and media, wreaking havoc on the film's repute and prospects....
continue to read my review on my blog: cinema omnivore
Another Oscar Best Picture winner to tick off any so-called cinephile's watchlist
Another Oscar Best Picture winner to tick off any so-called cinephile's watchlist, like the titular no-name boxer which would become his most iconic screen image, Sylvester Stallone's career skyrockets after his wholesome, heartily-committed turn in John G. Avildsen's ROCKY, for which he also moonlights as the sole scribe, with both his script and leading performance are Oscar nominated, which catapults him among the rarefied company of Orson Welles and Charles Chaplin, the triumvirate who has yet achieved that exceptional feat in Oscar's history, although time has proven Stallone is a somewhat overachiever standing side by side with those two cinematic giants....
continue to read my review on my blog: cinema omnivore
Terumae romae (2012)
A gleeful if frivolous potboiler mines into Japan's prevalent kuso culture
Whopping temerity abounds in Hideki Takeuchi's THERMAE ROMAE, an adaptation of Mari Yamazaki's massively popular eponymous manga series, which is parlayed into a gigantic box-office smash hit, Japan's second highest-grossing domestic film in 2012 and also spawns a sequel.
In this time-travel cock and bull story, an Ancient Roman architect Lucius Modestus (Abe) multiply stumbles upon present world in Japan through magic watery portals which the movie gives no explication whatsoever. Lucius takes his cue from mod cons to improve his design of Roman baths, which is pertinently yoked to the historical process of the Roman Empire under the reign of the peripatetic Emperor Hadrian (Ichimura), not only does Lucius' copied private bath console the emperor's loss of Antinous in 130, but his discovery of therapeutic hot springs is able to miraculously heal the wounds and dissipate the fatigue of jaded Roman warriors as well, which in turn, secures Antoninus (Shishido)'s standing as Hadrian's successor, to the chagrin of the obnoxious skirt-chaser Ceionius (Kitamura). It is all thanks to Japanese bathing culture, that human history doesn't go astray in the wrong hands, temerity, yes, but also innately droll....
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Blood and Sand (1941)
a polychromatic version retrofit and varnished with a sumptuous veneer by Rouben Mamoulian
Spanish novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928)'s BLOOD AND SAND has already been adapted to the silver screen twice (including a Rudolph Valentino picture in 1922) prior to this polychromatic version retrofit and varnished with a sumptuous veneer by Rouben Mamoulian, BLOOD AND SAND stars Tyron Power as the Seville bullfighter Juan Gallardo, with two mesmerizing screen beauties Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth counterpoising each other as Juan's saintly wife Carmen Espinosa and the minxy socialite Dona Sol des Muire respectively (a proviso to appreciate any Tinseltown production is that Hollywood never takes ethnic authenticity seriously, at least not in that antediluvian insensitive era)....
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The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
a chipper vibe is a good change if one can squeeze some frivolity out of a tall-tale predicated on gruesome madness
Far more a romantic musical than a grisly horror, Universal's 1943 Technicolor remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA shares the same set of Rupert Julian's 1925 silent predecessor (starring Lon Chaney as the Phantom), directed by contract director Arthur Lubin, it is a costly production that brings all the chromatic resplendency to wow its audience, notably, the replica of the Opéra Garnier interior, seen in color, with its grand live performance (lead by Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster, both belters of orotund register), no wonder the Phantom's doleful tale takes a back seat here.
Here, the Phantom aka. Erique Claudin is played by Claude Rains, a veteran violinist of the opera house, after a perfunctory chain of occurrences, misfortunes push him into murderous act and he ends up a wanted man at large with a disfigured visage, conveniently hiding in the immense and palatial Opéra Garnier (containing thousands of rooms, boasted by one of the managers), he continues creating every possible opportunity for his unwitting obsession, young opera star Christine DuBois (Foster) - both hailed from Provenance and enchanted by the same lullaby, including a flagrant murder of the haughty diva Biancarolli (Farrar, sharing a Celeste Holm resemblance and emanating naive derring-do when encountering a masked maniac), the barrier is clearly for her understudy Christine, who seems too blithe to be bothered by the macabre affairs as long as she has the stage to sing, not to mention that she has been clandestinely and financially supported by Erique for expensive singing lessons, yet she has no clue of anything about her secret admirer.
For hardened horror fans, this hybrid of two tonally incongruent genres never pay off, Rains doesn't sport a mystic killer's flair and any trace of gore is excised completely, not to mention the comic relief of Christine being simultaneously courted by both baritone Anatole Garron (Eddy) and Raoul Dubert (Barrier), the policeman who investigates the Phantom cases, and surprisingly, she gladsomely opts for a third alternative, leaving the two men in buddied chagrin.
Be that as it may, Lubin's opulent-looking pageantry prides itself with its own idiom in recreating Gaston Leroux's belle époque succès de scandale, for what it is worth, a chipper vibe is a good change if one can squeeze some frivolity out of a tall-tale predicated on gruesome madness.
we must hand it to Sorrentino for laying an undue outpouring of his outrageous brainwaves with an enormous trowel
This international cut of Paolo Sorrentino's sumptuous-looking biopic of Italian media tycoon-turned-former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (1936-) runs 145 minutes, collated and edited from LORO I and II which were subsequently released in Italy and in toto clock in at 204 minutes, nearly one-hour length of footage is truncated (may it all be bikini-clad, pneumatic girls roistering in abandonment), so for cinematic purist, please refrain from this version.
Otherwise, let's dive into this sybaritic adventure which kick-starts with a wacky caveat: a kawaii lamb plumb drops dead seconds after it stumbles into the cavernous living room of Berlusconi's summer residence in Sardinia, the message seems clear - Agnus Dei aka. innocence cannot survive in that toxic environs.
It takes a good 40 minutes before Mr. Berlusconi's first official appearance, during which, Sergio Morra (Scamarcio), who runs an escort business in Taranto with his partner Tamara (Axen), aims to branch out by getting the former PM's attention - who is scheming to win the upcoming 2008 election - through the brokering of Kira (Smutniak), Silvio's current mistress, among others. Sergio arranges a rip-roaring party mainly consisted of barely-clad nubile girls, in a rented villa right in front of Berlusconi's. Will he rise to the bait? There is no question about that.
First time Mr. Berlusconi (Servillo) entering the scene, he is dressed like an Arabian woman, veiled and everything, holding a posy and trying to delight his estranged wife Veronica Lario (Ricci), but her dismissal hits like an icy knife, "Don't be a clown, Silvio." an inner voice exclaims. Indeed, Sorrentino's tack is to peel off this plutocrat's layered guises to reveal what he is made of, a salesman and a clown, two bullet points are shored up by a nocturnal cold call to prove he still gets his pitchman mojo and the irreparable dissolution of his 20-year-old marriage with Veronica, who despises him for his incapacity in statecraft and unrestrained debauchery. And there is more spiteful sideswipe, what is at the rainbow's end for an elderly man who literally has everything in his life? His long lost youth, of course, Sorrentino's senescent barbs levering at a septuagenarian through the mouth of a 20-year-old nubile girl Stella (Pagani), whom Silvio intends to bed in the course of another lavish quarry-hunting party organized by Sergio, is piercingly cruel, and even afterwards, he dredges up the spat and tries to erase its verity by a wisecrack, but a passing thought is: if Stella's grandfather indeed shares the same denture cleaner as his, she might not need to be at that pathetic party in the first place.
Contrasting the unconscionable razzle-dazzle (which Sorrentino has honed to the hilt with a dash of absurdity and saturated bling-bling pizzazz) with a muted emptiness - which seeps in in the wake of the calamitous 2009 L'Aquila earthquake occurring after Berlusconi's re-election, the way Sorrentino linking these two events together deviously implies that the calamity could be the Almighty's irate answer towards his ascendency, LORO (means "them" in English) finally junks it materialistic ballast/frippery as well as the subplot of Sergio's grasping pursuance, in lieu, Berlusconi's self-reflexion tangentially alludes to an inconvenient truth: a leader's characteristics reflect those of the multitude who chooses him, and now, they want Jesus back.
Toni Servillo is, to be expected, superbly eloquent and all-around (also playing Ennio Doris, a billionaire businessman and one of Berlusconi's closest associates) in embodying a well-known real-life character whose tics and elocution the mass (Italian audience in particular) is very au fait with, subtly buries his diligent imitation under a self-parodying conviviality (top-notch make-up achievement too), shouldn't one be alert if his Berlusconi comes off as rather sympathetic? Among a vast supporting characters, Scamarcio and Smutniak both turn heads, but it is Elena Sofia Ricci who plays off Servillo's motor-mouthed accusation and interrogation with a calm but smoldering despair that preciously retains her vestigial dignity.
LORO is largely what one can expect from Sorrentino's sardonic disposition and ostentatious modus operandi, even if your mileage may vary towards his controversial subject, at the very least, we must hand it to Sorrentino for laying an undue outpouring of his outrageous brainwaves with an enormous trowel.
Secret Beyond the Door... (1947)
an edge-of-the-seat, albeit derivative startler
Potently invoking Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940) and SUSPICION (1941), Fritz Lang's SECRET BEHIND THE DOOR... shrouds a well-to-do heiress under the unrelieved dread that her husband has an ulterior motive to snuff her (only this time, monetary concern is not a major impetus).
After the death of her brother Rick Barrett (Cavanagh), who bequeaths her a large sum of fortune, Celia (Bennett) is stuck by a coup de foudre while peregrinating in Mexico before her intending marriage with the straight-and-arrow lawyer Bob Dwight (Seay). Told through her voice in her head (a ploy Lang utilizes efficiently to propel the narrative momentum and spell out her inner thoughts), it is interesting to see under what circumstances her eyes meet his for the first time, their attraction shimmers with danger from the very start, ensorcelled by the mystique of Mark Lamphere (Redgrave), the pair hastens to the altar in situ, and Celia becomes Ms. Lamphere, but to her, Mark, the architect is a total stranger, she feels that she has a life-time ahead to get to know a man she truly loves, but even before they set their feet back on the US soil, Mark's labile behavior during their honeymoon pours cold water on Celia's marital anticipation and after the initial disquietude, she is bent on finding out the psychological reason behind that, even it means to put herself squarely in the harm's way.
More and more secrets emerge when Celia moves into Mark's domicile, his previous marriage which leaves him a son David (Dennis), his spinster sister Caroline (Revere), and a (presumably) disfigured secretary Miss Robey (O'Neil), plus the smothering atmosphere and rumors about his mother and first wife, both pushing up daisies now. Mark is in evidence, under a plethora of petticoat sway, especially the hand that rocks the cradle, which might be significantly accountable for his none-too-sane mindset.
But the most startling revelation is that Mark has a macabre hobby of collecting and recreating "murder rooms", a quixotical idea but is effectuated with almost risible formality by everybody acting dead serious about it, as if it is a workaday thing. Celia is further intrigued by the seventh room, which Mark claims it is finished but allows no one to see. The secret behind that closed door will confirm Celia's mortal fear (with Miklós Rózsa's thrilling, sonorous accompaniment in its crescendo), but also emboldens her to put on the caper of an amateur headshrinker and finally disinter Mark's psychopathic roots (lilacs and closed doors are two key clues) once and for all, Lang might take liberty with the high concept of psychoanalysis, but as a cinematic mystery, he holds fast to an arresting, alluring tale (starkly Gothic set design and expressive shadow and mist play are right up Fang's alley) that the couple needs to rescue each other (one mentally and another physically) before forming a salutatory union, in another word, a happy-ever-after trite.
Joan Bennett's star glamor aside, she really strengthens her spine to telegraph a gritty facade that befits a heroine who will sillily go out on a limb and ready to die for the man she loves, and Michael Redgrave's suave persona is intermittently disrupted by the demon sizzling under the skin and makes a persuasive plea in his self-trial figment. Both Anne Revere and Barbara O'Neil leave strong impressions playing the friend-or-foe cards with a beguiling ghost of ambiguity. In the event, SECRET BEHIND THE DOOR... is an above-average entry among Lang's oeuvre, an edge-of-the-seat, albeit derivative startler submersed in his expressionistic conceit and intoxicating syntax.
Ming yue ji shi you (2017)
Ann Hui's historic and geopolitical masterwork
After sinking her teeth in the Second Sino-Japanese War period (1937-1945) with THE GOLDEN ERA (2014), a biopic of Chinese literary writer Xiao Hong (1911-1942), Hong Kong auteur Ann Hui returns to the same time-frame to limn heroic real-life events during Japan's occupation of Hong Kong.
In OUR TIME WILL COME, the focal point is trifurcated, the central one is Fong Lan (Zhou Xun), a young girl whose kismet changes forever when she becomes an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter; then there is Blackie Liu (Eddie Peng), a fellow comrade and lead figure who is very adept at point-blank firefight, and shares a deep camaraderie with Fong; finally, Fong's boyfriend Li Jinrong (Wallace Hua), a spiffy chef who ostensibly works for Japanese military corps, but in fact is a mole trying every possible way to get cardinal information out to the subterranean compatriot fighters. Therefore, Liu represents the external front with outright confrontation, Li the undermining internal force and they are linked together by Fong's precarious courier mission, the whole anti-Japanese coalition converges with a pellucid blueprint.
Commencing with a hefty mission of aiding 800 Chinese intellectuals to leave the occupied Hong Kong - among which there is literary dignitary Sheng Congwen and his wife (Guo Tao and Jiang Weili), who happen to be the tenants of Fong's mother (Ip), and Fang has the first brush with the guerrillas when Liu has to dispatch a fifth column squarely in her abode, OUR TIME WILL COME (whose Chinese title is borrowed from a proverbial Song Dynasty poem written by Su Shi, can be approximately translated to "When there will be a bright moon?") perversely goes against the grain with mainstream patriotic crowdpleasers, Hui adopts an unflinching holistic perspective to cover the three-pronged coalition with loosely connected events, effected by both the ordinary and the extraordinary folks, valiant acts are interlaced with commonplace activities: nuptial ceremony still goes on despite of privation, a close encounter with Japanese soldiers while transporting concealed arms is saved by a fortuitous ploy, and Li's uneasy rapport with a verse-conversant Japanese Colonel Yamaguchi (Nagase) is undercut by their indissoluble political schism.
However, the clincher is actualized by Ms. Fong, played by veteran actress Deannie Ip with copacetic flair of a cipher's flesh-and-blood metamorphosis from a canny busybody to an unlikely martyr, whose seemingly ingenious but ill-fated decision of hiding an important note in the hem backfires with severe repercussions. Just as we naturally expect a go-for-it rescue mission might bring about a heroic, bloodletting crossfire spectacle, Hui, pluckily opts for an unorthodox approach, by entrusting Zhou Xun to lay bare Fong Lan's profound oscillation as she has the toughest decision to make, to rescue her mother or not, and Zhou delivers a heart-rending explication that hits home the movie's emotional zenith.
Stage-managed with Hui's gracious pace of her felicitous narrative and DP Nelson Yu Lik-Wai's vibrant palette of a tumultuous era, OUR TIME WILL COME culminates with a majestic coup de maître, a panning shot that transcends time to the current Hong Kong, where we see senior Ben (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), an erstwhile Fong Lan's pupil and guerrilla fighter, whose Black-and-White faux-documentary interview snippets begin and punctuate the chronological recount, get into his taxi and drive away, pertinently brings down the curtain of Ann Hui's historic and geopolitical masterwork which bears out that she is the last (wo)man standing in Hong Kong cinema, whose artistry propitiously inhabits a niche under the overlaying climate of Chinese government's harsh censorship.
The Ladykillers (1955)
A handsomely made jewel that never goes beyond the pale in juggling with materials both macabre and jocose
Technically, how difficult can it be for 5 hardened criminals (posed as a string quintet with the whole combo of its instruments) to liquidate a petite old lady like Mrs. Wiberforce (Johnson), who lives alone in her lopsided manse in the vicinity of London's Kings Cross railway station, a perfect locality for planning their well-organized robbery of a security van loaded with cash?
Surely it looks like a cinch, but in Alexander Mackendrick's cracking Ealing black comedy THE LADYKILLERS (later would be remade by the Coen Brothers in 2004), this ill-sorted cohort will eventually be hoisted by their own petard, because Mrs. W is protected by an armor of her ironclad integrity, she is good-natured, hospitable, righteous (even to a fault), albeit slightly loopy and garrulous, but not without a keen judgement of right and wrong. Her new lodger is Professor Marcus (a fake-teeth-sporting Guinness, flawlessly mimicking Alastair Sim with pitch-perfect gesticulations and nuances), the ringleader of the quintet, which also includes the gentlemanlike Major Courtney (Parker), a surly killer Louis Harvey (Lom, likened to a more malevolent-looking Yul Brynner, is a spot-on villain), the gormless muscle "One-round" Lawson (Green) and a mousy sidekick Harry Robinson (a corn-fed Sellers in his major celluloid introduction), so as per the descriptions, it is pretty obvious who is the aptest candidate for that particular dirty deed, after they succeed in their heist but is stuck with Ms. W, who is bent on tackling the issue in the straight and narrow.
Nope, they must do it in a democratic way, ergo, the unfortunate, soft-centered Major takes the shortest stick, and from that moment on, their racket has slumped on a slippery slope until each of them ending up a stiff lying on the passing railway wagons, is it a thinly veiled joke on the impracticality of democracy? Meritocracy could have solved the matter in a heartbeat!
On the strength of William Rose's BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated script, the criminals' downfall principally is caused by their internal disintegration, which makes sense that they must deal with each other first, before getting shot of the defenseless Ms. W, yet, serendipity is on her side this time, not only she finds out in the morning all the men have vanishingly disappeared without a trace, but also, thanks to her predisposition of frequently hobnobbing with the police department, her tall tale is habitually dismissed and she even gets to keep the swag!
Character actress Katie Johnson is bestowed a precious leading role in her seventies, which she runs away with copious alacrity and amity while obliviously maundering smack in harm's way, for which she wins a BAFTA! A handsomely made jewel that never goes beyond the pale in juggling with materials both macabre and jocose, and reaches that sought-after equilibrium which points up its filmmakers' all-around comedic facility.
Too Late for Tears (1949)
She fails and falls, but what a splendid failure and a fantastic fall!
Among scads of film-noir productions, what makes Byron Haskin's TOO LATE FOR TEARS stands out is its portrayal of an unrivaled femme fatale in the form of Lizabeth Scott's Jane Palmer, who should stand side by side with and look daggers at Gene Tierney's chilling turn as the murderous socialite Ellen Berent in John M. Stahl's Technicolor noir LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945), both amoral, Janus-faced, self-centered, cold-hearted to the core and as cool as a cucumber in face of adversity, no heinous act is above them in their single-minded pursuance.
In TOO LATE FOR TEARS, what Jane covets is money, an implausible windfall thrown right in the back seat of their convertible when Jane and her hubby Alan (Kennedy, a painfully sympathetic Mr. Nice Guy) are on their way to a party. Against his best judgement, Alan agrees to Jane's supervening proposition regarding the $60,000 cash and from her very first instinct, Jane betrays that she will never let go of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a new life in the lap of luxury (with or without Alan), and Alan is too amenable in nature and too close to see through Jane's grasping avarice, he doesn't have any chance to have his way and is shockingly and conveniently left out of the picture.
Neither does Danny Fuller (Duryea), the supposed recipient of the ill-gotten lucre, a ruffian who can grossly smacks Jane in their first round of gamesmanship, but soon Jane gets the better of his browbeating braggadocio and licentious disposition, and turns him as another biddable accomplice, in spite of knowing all too well of Jane's fly-by-night empty-promises and none-too-subtle wiles, Danny's tragedy is that he is totally drawn to that kind of dame, and Duryea's solid performance registers a weird hybridization of deep-dish misogyny and fateful concupiscent attraction, which makes Danny a very useful disposable asset foolishly yet involuntarily dancing to Jane's murderous tunes.
At any rate, Jane will meet her nemesis, Don Blake (DeFore), who claims to be Alan's old army buddy, but hides his real identity. Apart from trying to get the bottom of Alan's unusual disappearance, he also gets smitten with Alan's comely sister Kathy (Miller, trying her very best to compensate Jane's outright connivance with umpteen positiveness, ultimately, what a characterless good girl she is). Narrowly spared his life under Jane's pistol, Don will cunningly/cruelly let Jane have a taste of living the life of Riley before divulging his arrière-pensée and occasioning her undoing, again, revenge is a dish better served cold.
A competently shot independent B-movie, whose budget restraint begins to tell when the camera keeps lingering in its anonymously studio-built apartments where most of the goings-on takes place, and Roy Huggins' quixotic screenplay indulges in oceanic artistic license to pull off all Jane's crazy schemes and the logical threads (although a shoutout to the red herring of Kathy's glass of milk, naughtily misleads us to some illusory dreadful thought), but owing to a terrific Lizabeth Scott, who holds fast to Jane's mad-keen monomania with sterling nicety, moxie and a delectable aroma of mystique, TOO LATE FOR TEARS is not buried in oblivion. We know her misdeeds will eventually go south in one way or another, still, for what it is worth, Jane is a stouthearted anti-heroine that dares to flout all the established hurdles to go for broke, she fails and falls, but what a splendid failure and a fantastic fall!
a scathing sideswipe to humanity is borne out of the story that it virtually takes centuries to search for one individual who is truly "pure at heart", are we really doomed?
This latest DCEU enterprise proves to be a box-office lightweight compared to its predecessors, but "lightweight" is exactly the operative word here. SHAZAM!, the superhero origin story directed by horror genre practitioner David F. Sandberg (LIGHTS OUT, 2016 and ANNABELLE: CREATION,2017), constructs it distinctive lightweight tonality that goes diametrically different from DCEU's tried-and-tested idiom pervaded by relentless darkness and solemnity.
Given that the protagonists are a bunch of school-age foster children (inclusivity is attentively put into action), SHAZAM!'s tonal shift seems rather apt, no globe-trotting saving-the-world agenda, astral or deep-ocean monarchally familial rivalry or off-putting, swaggering anti-hero riffraff, the story can be boiled down to a teenager's rite-of-passage of looking for a real home, which does not derive from bloodline, but non-related kindred spirits, meanwhile everyone is having a whale of a time!
A superhero's mask is superseded by his/her adult alter ego, adolescent Billy Baston (Angel) is chosen by an ancient wizard (Hounsou) from another dimension, as his successor, and bestowed with his almighty power, by enunciating the magic word Shazam! (the wizard's own name), he can alternate physical forms between his usual self and a towering superhero (Levy), whose multiplex arrays of superpower have been continuously tested by his best friend and foster brother Freddy Freeman (Grazer, sometimes too attention-seeking in front of a more reserved Angel), disabled and geeky in superhero stuff (of course, DC comics only).
Actually Billy's ascension to a super-being is a last-ditch move from the desperate ancient wizard, after a bad apple, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong), who in the prologue, is deemed unworthy as the wizard's chosen successor when he was a child because he is not "pure at heart", then years later, vindictively steals the Eye of Sin and becomes a human vessel of 7 sins after defeating the wizard. Now, Sivana is bent on acquiring Billy's bequeathed superpower, and eventually he will wreak havoc on, not the entire city of Philadelphia, but moderately, a winter carnival.
Playing tongue-in-cheek jokes at the drop of a hat and amusingly teasing its genre platitude, SHAZAM! is a small-scale (the bus rescuing scene cannot hold a candle to Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN 2's sensational metro escapade, which is made 15 years ago), family-friendly (6 foster kids with different characteristic traits and an almost-perfect pair of foster parents), and innocuous funhouse ride that everything diligently plays to the gallery, from adult actors play-acting their inner kids (including Strong's one-trick-minded villain panache), to a laidback atmosphere only marred by several horror tropes (the visualization of the grisly 7 sins and the boardroom massacre). Visually adequate for its ilk, for a casual viewer (not a diehard comic book fan), SHAZAM! is too endearing to hold any grudge against. En passant, a scathing sideswipe to humanity is borne out of the story that it virtually takes centuries to search for one individual who is truly "pure at heart", are we really doomed?
The Parent Trap (1961)
THE PARENT TRAP proves to be a delightful confection when Disney is very much in its winsome wheelhouse
Not the Lindsay Lohan 1998 remake but the original Disney bonanza starring Hayley Mills, re-teamed with director David Swift from her breakout POLLYANNA (1960) one year prior, it is a wholesome family jewel that can appeal to kids and adults alike.
But, there is a catch here, in order to pull off the identical twins separated at birth premise, a logical reason behind their parents' seemingly cruel decision of keeping a lid on the truth as if they never give a toss about another half of the twins, must be propounded, only the result is not quite satisfactory, temperamental incongruity is a way-too-facile occasion of their failed marriage, especially both parents lead a well-to-do and respectable life, respectively, severing their consanguineous tie is not something of their ilk's disposition.
Anyway, enough of this reviewer's caviling about the set-up, 14-year-old twins Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (Mills, with the help of Susan Henning as her body double), meet for the first time in the summer camp, after latching onto the fact (in a cabin named Serendipity!), they decide to switch places, Sharon visits California to stay with her father Mitch Evers (Keith), while Susan is hot to trot to meet her mother Maggie McKendrick (O'Hara) in Boston, by impersonating each other.
Their tricks work wonderfully to warm the cockle of one's heart, belated union larded with heartfelt embraces and affections, only Mitch's housekeeper Verbena (Merkel, having a ball with her hilarious tight-lipped loquaciousness, but not without astuteness) senses something iffy when Susan's dog refuses to approach Sharon. But time is running out for the twins who are spoiling for getting their parents back together, as Mitch is bewitched by a sultry gold digger Vicky Robinson (Barnes), and soon they will tie the knot. The hurdle is inevitably, stemmed from a man's inanity, it doesn't need a keen eye to discern the motive of Vicky and her mother (Watkins, sporting a perfect hag voice), and truth to be told, a magnificent Maureen O'Hara is simply out of the league of a bungling David Keith (although he has a terrific comic bent to make Mitch somewhat more than tolerable, bar an incredulous pratfall that is too slapdash for Disney's standard).
After Susan letting on the whole switch scheme, she and Maggie blow in at Mitch's domicile, and the girls will do anything to sabotage their father's pending wedding, but it is Maggie's guile that does the trick, and the rest is par for the course. But as soon as the girls' appearances are unified (by way of a simple haircut in the camp), their disparate personalities built ebulliently in the first half-hour (Mills proffers a convincing yet very subtle dual personae indeed) also harmonize into a sameness, for shizzle their parents cannot tell them apart, so does the audience, quite a misstep to erase their individuality and the zippy city-versus-ranch upbringing clash at that stage, plus, encouraging playing elaborate-looking pranks might partially and insidiously incubate the heinous bully culture which would have been rampant for decades and then some.
In a nutshell, from Richard and Robert Sherman's chirpy titular song accompanied by its dainty opening credits and title cards scenes (two chubby Cupids sharing a kiss steals my heart), to its seamless construction of two Mills in the same frame, THE PARENT TRAP proves to be a delightful confection when Disney is very much in its winsome wheelhouse.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
A catharsis-inspiring chamber drama that is worthy of Williams' name, regardless of the compromises inflicted by an odious force majeure
Damn the Hays Code, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer-winning play is bowdlerized on its way from Broadway to the silver screen, where all its homosexual reference is tactlessly papered over. That said, riding on the strength of its top-line ensemble cast, Richard Brook's exquisite film adaptation still dazzles and hurtles upon a Southern family's trouble waters.
The crises of the Pollitt family, an affluent rags-to-riches Mississippi empire of cotton plantation built by the patriarch Harvey aka. Big Daddy (Ives, reprises his role from the stage), are multifarious: his youngest son Brick (Newman), a former athlete who abuses himself with alcohol and despondency in the wake of the suicide of his best friend Skipper, and doesn't want to have any physical intimacy with his sultry wife Maggie (Taylor); then their is the ominous dread of Big Daddy's doom, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and has less than one year to live, but Dr. Baugh (Gates) fabricates a lie to appease him and his wife Ida aka. Big Mamma (Anderson), only the cat will finally get out of the bag, and its theme of dual courage (for Brick to face life and for Big Daddy, death) plays out with elemental emotional upheaval on the eve of Big Daddy's 65-year-old birthday, which occupies 99% of the time-frame and takes place entirely in their sumptuous family manor.
The nexus here is the raison d'être behind Brick's indifferent attitude and self-abandoning intemperance that puts himself against everyone else, since homosexuality is off the table, Brooks and James Poe's script has to scrape the bottom of the barrel and leaves it mostly to the rage of being (presumably) two-timed, when that proves to be not the case, the barrier causes Brick's connubial inaction naturally vanishes, ergo, that inconsolable guilt and grieve derived from losing a loved one in Williams' original play is pitifully deadened to conceive a perfectly heteronormative ending, with a dated, self-congratulatory whiff of natalism (especially grating after hammering home what kerfuffle a band of bratty, insolent kids can engender).
Doused in booze and whose mobility is impeded by a crutch, Newman is magnificent and passionately engaged from A to Z and rightfully receives his first Oscar nomination for a very difficult and complex role. Underneath his Adonis appearance, Newman unleashes Brick's harrowing obduracy to the hilt, he is self-centered enough to submerge himself entirely in his existential cynicism and doesn't give a damn about the whole world after what he suffers, not even his father's death knell, but deep down, he is merely a love-wanting child borne out of a poor rich boy's misery and destructively waging war on the mendacity of the world, a tour de force loaded with fiery explosion.
An Oscar-nominated Taylor, adorned only by two pieces of finery and a pearl choker, also utterly takes our breath away with her ineffable beauty, a refined southern belle locution and superbly lived-in performance, whenever she and Newman are on screen together, they are the perfect specimen of what divine human gorgeousness looks like, for that reason alone, the film should be included in any film buff's must-see list. Her Maggie is a valiant fighter, a can-doer, a go-getter, and her allure is fiendishly underlined by the presence of her super-fertile sister-in-law Mae (a plain-looking Sherwood), the wife of Brick's elder brother Cooper (Carson, walking a fine line between grasping and subservient), fanatically battling a losing game to earn affection from Big Daddy with all her pesky tailed assets, Williams' misogynistic partiality is quite revealing.
Performance extraordinaire suffuses the rest of the ensemble, in the co-leading role, Burl Ives' larger-than-life bravura as Big Daddy is equally impressive, delivering Williams' florid texts with resounding decibel, and brings about incredible gravitas and compassion in the third act when reconciliation shapes up during a barnstorming tête-à-tête between a befogging father and his prodigal son. Then there is the ever-forbidding Anderson, refuses to give Big Mamma a simple caricatural veneer, and finds her disparaged yet supportive wife a strong purchase in the catharsis-inspiring drama that is worthy of Williams' name, regardless of the compromises inflicted by an odious force majeure.
La promesse (1996)
Dardenne Brothers' third feature, which heralds their incredible rising into the stratosphere of cinematic auteur-land
THE PROMISE is Dardenne Brothers' third feature, which heralds their incredible rising into the stratosphere of cinematic auteur-land, and reaping coveted top-shelf international awards almost with every each feature henceforward.
Starring a 14-year-old Jérémie Renier in his breakthrough role as the young Belgian boy Igor, an apprentice mechanic often at beck and call of his single father Roger (Gourmet, also a bonanza due to the brothers' discovery), THE PROMISE plays its realism trump card implacably through DP Alain Marcoen's handheld camera, staying ultra-close to the involving incidents, mostly inside a mangy tenement house dwelled all sorts of immigrants in Belgium.
Setting the story in an unnamed city's twilight zone with a subdued palette, Dardenne Brothers resolutely eschews any imagery that betrays a semblance of a developed Western country, Roger is a stony-faced backdoor organizer of illegal immigration, in a purely business manner, all he cares is the money (transportation fee and rent), meantime, employing several immigrants to refurbish his own house, also it is not above him to sell any of them down the river when situation demands.
During a police raiding, one of the African immigrants Amidou (Rasmane Ouedraogo) accidentally falls from the scaffold and is mortally wounded, naturally Roger will not allow him to be taken to the hospital, against Igor's supplication, and before Amidou kicks up the bucket, he solicits a promise from Igor to look after his wife Assita (Assita Ouedraogo) and their infant boy, who have newly arrived on the premise. So how far Igor, ridden with cumulative guilt, will go to keep this promise, when his inchoate moral righteousness doesn't see eye to eye with Roger's high-handed, callous directives?
Dardenne brothers' no-frill narrative seldom takes our attention away from their characters, and withholds a stamina of matter-of-factness so pertinacious that the story never slumps into mushiness, for instance, Assita's hardened hostility towards the father-son duo hardly ever relents (she appears more bemused than touched when Igor impulsively embraces her), even in the film's most emotive moment, a simple gesture of gratitude is more than enough. In a typically veiled case of mollifying a white person's own guilt, that is as good as that person can expect.
Both Renier and Assita Ouedraogo exude an unalloyed rawness from a novice performer that befits their characters, from a street-smart, small-time crook to a brave adolescent rebelling against his violent, amoral father, Igor's rite-of-passage is rendered with steely conviction and persuasion from Renier's simmering, unshowy, tender presence. As for an unprepossessing Gourmet, combing an elemental savagery with a soupçon of canniness, he becomes a lodestone on the screen, and serves as a self-reflexive vector for some viewers to muse upon his outrageousness, which isn't at all far from reality.
Also THE PROMISE has a killer ending, Dardenne brothers is judicious enough to bring down the curtain right after Igor finally makes a clean breast of that gnawing whopper (with both actors' muted reaction and a final and finally static shot gazing at the duo walking back to grasp the nettle), and leave its aftermath merely to audience's own imagination, yet what will happen is fairly clear, certainly no requirement of a justice-prevailing denouement to flog a feeling of satisfaction to death, since the story is hinged upon Igor, when his moral compass is set in the right direction, that is where it should end.
20-odd years after, one can feel a shade dispirited to see that THE PROMISE and its thematic refrain are still painfully topical today, but for Dardenne brothers' unique stock-in-trade and immense humanity blossoming from their works, we should all tip our hats to them with a this-world-doesn't-deserve-you postscript.
Jane Eyre (1943)
Robert Stevenson has made a splash with the adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's timeless JANE EYRE,
Chiefly remembered as a solid hired hand for Disney, and their collaboration's unequivocal apex arrives with MARRY POPPINS (1964), but two decades before that, UK director Robert Stevenson has made a splash with the adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's timeless JANE EYRE, starring Joan Fontaine as our titular heroine and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester, both in their prime of youth.
However it takes a good half an hour before our top-billing stars show up, first, we are treated with a compendious overview of young Jane Eyre (an impressively emotive Garner)'s ordeal at the hands of her guardian, the unloving aunt Ms. Reed (Moorehead), and then a sadistic martinet, Reverend Henry Brocklehurst (Daniell, pompous to a fault), the head of a charity boarding school for young girls, and the only ray of sunshine coruscates in the form of an ephemeral friendship with another girl Helen (an uncredited Liz Taylor appearing as a truly angelic apparition).
When an adult Jane finally arrives at Thornfield as the new governess for the French girl Adèle (O'Brien, another sterling child performer lading out cuteness/cutesiness to excess), audience are piqued to see what kind of a personhood she possesses after such misfortune, and this time, she has to face a saturnine master Edward, Adèle's guardian and a hidden secret manifested by nocturnal spookiness.
Magnificently and sometimes startlingly shrouded in its expressionistic atmospherics, that Gothic edifice and its sinister, lowering settings, attendant by Bernard Herrmann's sonorous score, JANE EYRE shoulders on as an old castle mystery, until Edward slowly dismantles his callous, cynical carapace, and reveals a scintilla of tendresse, Jane finds solace and affection gushing outward, but still puts a strong footing in upholding her self-regard when Edward past (Jane can also viscerally share the experience of detrimental religious clout) stymies their union, Brontë's Victorian spirit of a self-loving woman takes its full shape in Fontaine's flinty farewell, her tremulous figure athwart a towering Welles, begging her to stay.
While, one might quibble that Fontaine's comeliness doesn't wholly befit Jane's self-claimed plainness, her performance speaks for itself, case-hardened by the school of hard knocks, her Jane purveys a profuse air of integrity, composure and self-knowledge on top of all the primping celluloid glamor of Hollywood's usual M.O. and her trademark image of daintiness and timidity; for Welles, still in upstanding physique which can justly pass as a matinee idol at the age of 28 (is he wearing a prosthetic nose or is that make-up artists' flight of craftsmanship?), his rendering of Edward holds well enough against Fontaine's strenuous restraint, sometimes his delivery might edge towards operatics, but at large, it doesn't tarnish this highly watchable work of one of the most famous female creation from British literature.
Die bleierne Zeit (1981)
a steadfast feminist disquisition on the troubled mentality of a historic time in Germany
Two sisters, Juliane (Robinski) and Marianne (Biedermann), are brought up by strict Christian upbringing in the post WWII West Germany, the elder Juliane stands out with her recalcitrant attitude whether facing their priest father or retorting her straitlaced schoolmarm, which pales the younger, blond-haired Marianne almost into a meek lamb.
But when they grow up, mysteriously their respective personalities take a drastic about-face, Juliane (Lampe) is a feminist journalist employed in a woman magazine crusading for women's civil rights movement, earning a stable life and having sustained a ten-year relationship with her boyfriend Wolfgang (Vogler); whereas, Marianne (Sukowa), after a failed relationship with Wiener (Bondy), she leaves him and disowns their young son, pursues an extremely radical way to fight and becomes a remember of the Baader-Meinhof Group - in fact, director Margarethe von Trotta bases her character on the group's real-life intellectual head Gudrun Ensslin (1940-1977).
In von Trotta's Golden Lion winner MARIANNE & JULIANE, which establishes her as a vanguard in the New German Cinema movement, the vicissitude of life plumes with a tangy whiff through the events alternating between present and past, between the adult sisters and their younger selves. Irrevocably and outwardly divided by their disparate political views, what remains indissoluble inside is their consanguineous sororal bond, especially when Marianne is interned during the German Autumn, it is through Juliane's many visits to her in the prison, their ideological discrepancy slowly gives way to a more viscerally stirring blood-is-thicker-than-water communion.
By playing out the story exclusively through Juliane's point-of-view, von Trotta consciously evades a key question, what have Marianne done? All we are led to understand is that she is a bomb-throwing terrorist, but what is the damage? One must possess enough knowledge about that particularly turbulent epoch in Germany, to have a sober assessment of Marianne/Gudrun's action, without that requisite, a fathomless feeling of ambiguity cannot be dissipated. That, might exactly be von Trotta's intention, to elucidate the formative forces that in the last resort, alter one's perspective and even personality, and she has no bone about laying out the macabre truth, the sisters watching Alain Resnais' NIGHT AND FOG (1956) is a defining moment, so is during the visitation, what we last see of Marianne is and its connotation, more or less, on the same heinous quotient.
von Trotta maps out a distinguished complexity in the aftermath, Julianne's relationship with Wolfgang is dissolved inevitably (Vogler, taking on the unsupportive boyfriend role with profuse outpourings of frustration and self-interest), no justice is on the horizon even when Juliane has evidence to controvert the official statement of Marianne's ostensible suicide, and bringing back her only bloodline in the final act brilliantly shows up von Trotta's crystal-clear discernment and what a fine fabulist she is, the damage passes on to her progeny no matter what, can any child survive from such a harrowing history? Fat chance!
Both actresses playing the titular characters are phenomenal, Lampe composedly conveys Juliane's frame of mind in trickles of her oscillating emotional struggle between an ideology she cannot espouse and a sister to whom she holds dearest. Sukowa, in her second feature film, plays down her striking beauty and breathes out every single line with a steely determination and precision, simultaneously mythologizing and personifying Marianne, who can drink the Kool-Aid to her cause, but deep down, her mortal fear and desperation are fervidly expressed through Sukowa's fiery if appositely equivocal impersonation.
In a nutshell, von Trotta's film is a steadfast, rigorous feminist disquisition on the troubled mentality of a historic time in Germany and rings true in every aspect of the emotional spectrum, a fearless legacy in German cinema left to be appreciated and reappraised from time to time.
The Mustang (2019)
a fascinating study of the analogy between a shut-in inmate and an unbroken horse
A redemption tale inspired by an actual inmate rehabilitation program in Carson City, Nevada, THE MUSTANG is surprisingly directed by the French actress-turned-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre as her debut feature.
Complying with recent precedents, such as Chloé Zhao's THE RIDER (2017) and Jacques Audiard's THE SISTER BROTHERS (2018), which indicate that an outsider's status can substantively put a refreshing perspective on the tired legacy of America's vast western, THE MUSTANG is a fascinating study of the analogy between a shut-in inmate and an unbroken horse.
Roman Colman (Schoenaerts), having spent 12 years in incarceration, seems having no hankering for freedom, and newly joins the aforementioned program, he is tasked with training an untamable mustang which he names Marquis, to ensure it can be sold at the auction a few weeks after.
Clermont-Tonnerre shows up a natural deftness in keeping up with the horse's movements and reactions (Marquis and the horse wranglers are equally laudable), as well as a discerning eye for the natural pulchritude, particularly in the opening sequences, grand aerial shots of a herd of wild mustangs rounded up by buzzing helicopters hovering across the plain, their constrained fate is consequentially likened with the freedom-deprived convicts, and Marquis' unbroken nature chimes in organically with Roman's obstinacy and penitence.
In the dead center, Schoenaerts returns to the top form in Roman's bulky physique and withdrawn temperament, whose major crime will only be divulged in a heartstring-tugging confession with his gravid daughter Martha (Adlon). Elsewhere, he subsists studiously of Roman's baby steps of re-connecting with another being with an emphatic urge of suppressing his violent predisposition, limned tenderly, intimately and patiently through his interaction with the feral Marquis.
Granted that the human-horse dynamism is the meat of the film's quiet strength, other human performers are considerably allotted less fodder to chew, Bruce Dern is sprightly and rough-hewn as the cantankerous ranger Myles, yet it turns out that his bark is much worse than his bite. But in the case of Jason Mitchell's Henry, a skilled black trainer/inmate who befriends and counsels Roman about "how to tame the unbroken", THE MUSTANG looks retrograde to, time and again, subject him as an agency of tragedy, especially in the woke era, it does raise one's eyebrows, indeed, the whole ketamine smuggling episode feels fairly detached and stilted as a whole.
Fortunately, on the strength of Clermont-Tonnerre's poetic touch and sober containment of dramatization, as well as Schoenaerts' tour-de-force, THE MUSTANG sustains its momentum right through the homestretch, singing a hymn to untamed souls that harks back to the origin of Hollywood oaters.
Maria by Callas (2017)
a billet-doux to our beloved American-Greek soprano
Any documentary exerts a stratagem that totally constructs its content through its subject's perspective, tends to earn its cachet by a semblance of authenticity, Tom Volf's MARIA BY CALLAS is no exception.
Gleaning and garnering an exhaustive amount of footages of TV interviews, operatic performances, various photos and videos, most of which has never been revealed in public, MARIA BY CALLAS is a billet-doux to our beloved American-Greek soprano, chronologically cruises through her career in glob-trotting venues with her beaming smile often betraying an intrinsic diffidence and feminine sensitivity, and builds the narrative almost exclusively through her own words (TV interview, family videos and private letters, narrated by Joyce DiDonato), except for one short snippet of interview from her teacher Elvira de Hidalgo, who seems to become her only friend when her career and personal live heading to an ineluctable downturn.
For our aural pleasure, Volf cherry-picks the crème-de-la-crème of her vast repertoire: Puccini's MADAME BUTTERFLY and TOSCA, Bellini's NORMA and SONNAMBULA, Verdi's LA TRAVIATA and MACBETH, to accord audience a testimonial of her unimpeachably superlative artistry, particularly in evidence during a rendition of CARMEN's L'AMOUR EST UN OISEAU REBELLE, what makes her name of "La Divina" is not just her tonal perfection and vocal potency, but also a thoroughgoing immersion into her songs and her characters, which makes the whole difference, and in her own words, if played badly, an opera can be very boring. It is obvious Volf eschews any inferior tuneage to mar her repute, there is no showing of her declining voice in her later comeback, which overlays the whole project a tinge of hagiography.
The cynosure of Callas' private lives is of course, her affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis (for whom she divorced from her husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini of ten years), and the hammer blow of the latter's unheralded marriage with Jacqueline Kennedy, rendered with a masterstroke by superimposing Callas' honest and affectionate words laying bare her feelings to Onassis over the imagery of him with his new wife. Only through private letters to her dearest Elvira, we glance the sequela of this seismic switcheroo, as intelligent and talented as Callas herself, she is just another woman victimized by a man's wantonness. Her submissive female nature can overcome any career ambition, but her singular gift is such a double-edged sword, it brings her international fame, wealth and fandom, but also consumes her inwardly, crossing the great divide only at the age of 53 in 1977, it is the downcast side of her story that casts an indelible sigh, even if, that is not entirely the filmmaker's priority.
Another Man's Poison (1951)
this film-noir does pull out all its stops to suffix poetic justice in its cockamamie plot
Whisked away to make this murder-mystery with her newly hitched fourth husband Gary Merrill in Britain, a follow-up of her "all-time best performance" in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), Ms. Davis recruits the director of NOW, VOYAGER (1942), Irving Rapper to take the helm, but overall, the final product is a secondary offering in every aspect.
ANOTHER MAN'S POISON, takes place in a Podunk Northern England town, mostly, sets in an isolated mansion inhabited by mystery novelist Janet Frobisher (Davis), who has no qualms about poisoning her long-absent husband when the latter gets rough, and soon is pressed into playing wife and husband with George Bates (Merrill), her husband's bank-robbing accomplice, on the contingency to cover for her crime and grant George a haven to stay, one stone two birds? Hardly so.
The imposter game is played out with barbs and ploys duly leveling at each other, while Merrill is fierce enough to be alternately menacing, callous and wanton, winning an upper hand for him is a forlorn hope from the very start in the face of Davis' characteristic wide-eyed fearlessness and insidious fickleness. Firing on all cylinders, her madness and vile calculation completely overshadows the danger befalling on a woman mired in a precarious situation, thus not for one second, audience dreads for Janet's safety, which makes her a less all-around character for the sake of characterization. She is no man's fortune and all man's poison, yet, Janet still enjoys a last laugh before ironically hoisted by her own petard.
Also enmeshed in the fix (though unwittingly) is Janet's secretary Chris Dale (a comely Murray, calmly nerves herself to confront Davis in a poorly designed role) and her fiancé Larry (a blandly handsome Steel), who actually is Janet's paramour for almost a year. While the bloom is clearly off the rose, Davis (at the age of 43) pluckily knuckles down the cougar town and as this reviewer sees it, takes more pleasure in the scenes where a youthful Chris concedes defeat to her and implores her to give Larry back, lines like "you are a charming woman who can have any man you want." appear many time to reassure Davis that her appeal still prevail (over her much younger competitors), but in hindsight, a self-defeating whiff of deep-rooted insecurity is all one can sniff.
British actor Emlyn Williams, third-billed as the nosey-parker, smart-aleck veterinarian-turned-amateur-sleuth Dr. Henderson, has never bedded in felicitously in his somewhat vexing and often unaccountable blow-ins, a better script can offer more coherence, and one thing is for sure, this film-noir does pull out all its stops to suffix poetic justice in its cockamamie plot.
de Andrade's MACUNAIMA dates quickly in its ideology and mores, but its visual grotesquerie makes it a curio worth visiting
For those who are wanting the essential background knowledge of Brazil's past turmoil, chances are one (like this reviewer) may find themselves unable to suffer fools gladly of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's cinematic adaptation of Mário de Andrade's titular modernist novel.
Macunaima is the son of an indigenous woman who lives in the jungle with her two other sons, the white-skinned Maanape (Arena) and the dark-skinned Jigue (Gonçalves), and Macunaima, first played by the diminutive black actor Grande Otelo smack out of his mother's womb, is, according to the voiceover, "a hero without a character", and indeed we are instantly seized by the film's foolishly nihilistic, surreal style that is vigorously honed by its vibrant palette, zippy rhythm and wacky performance, especially by Otelo, who makes a helluva fun as a bawdy tot inconceivably maturing into an adolescent man, during a roll in the hay with Jigue's lover Sofará (Fomm), magic occurs, he becomes a handsome white man (José, who also plays the role of the brothers' mother). Pigmentation matters, even for the primordial libido.
The family's tapir-hunting good old days come to a halt when the mother dies abruptly (after Macunaima having a brush with a cannibalistic man), whereupon the brothers moves from the tribal land to Rio de Janeiro. Macunaima is captured by a feral guerrilla fighter Ci (Sfat), together they have a son (Otelo again), but bereavement soon catches up with him, and the desultory plot takes him up against a giant merchant Wenceslau Pietro Pietra (a funnily bulked up Filho), who inexplicably has the amulet from the deceased Ci, during which a cross-dressing Macunaima tries to seduce him only to no avail, and many a raunchy snippet punctuates the story with fitful energy and idiosyncrasy, some are hilarious but all shy of a sense of reverberation.
When the wrangle with Wenceslau reaches its improbable coda (a giant swing and a swimming pool full of dismembered bodies make unusual bedfellows to settle the dissension), Macunaima and his brothers returns to their sylvan turf, and this cradle-to-grave rhapsody ends with an inane splash that a connection towards this hammock-lying imbecile is rendered futile.
High on narcissism and male chauvinism, distaff parts are patly sexualized and depicted as erotomaniacs, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's MACUNAIMA dates quickly in its ideology and mores, but on a lesser note, its visual grotesquerie makes it a curio worth visiting, better, if one can comb through its social analogy which is by default missing from this reviewer's limited perspective.
a belter of a debut feature giving an honest voice to the marginal and the underprivileged
Swimming with the virile tide of the latest surging French queer cinema, Camille Vidal-Naquet's debut feature SAUVAGE/WILD, for one thing, conspicuously eschews the virulent sign of its times, which has taken a central role in sterling works of Christophe Honoré's SORRY ANGEL (2018), Robin Campillo's BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (2017) and Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau's PARIS 05:59: THÉO & HUGO (2016), in fact, the poor health of our protagonist Léo (BPM alumnus Maritaud), a 22-year-old homeless prostitute drifting in Strasbourg, is much due to malnutrition than any sexually transmitted diseases.
Opening with a beguilingly titillating twist of a role-play Léo participating with one of his clients, SAUVAGE/WILD lives and dies with Maritaud's resilient and profoundly moving performance, investing himself thoroughly to inhabit Léo's sleeping-rough, miserable existence, Maritaud brings to the fore of Léo's otherness, an almost angelic being that uncharacteristically seeks no temporal value like other men of his trade, more liable to his own instinct than any social norms (he doesn't even understand why crack, from which a kindhearted female doctor advises him to abstain, is a bad thing because for him, it is a boon that makes him feel good). Whether impassively posturing to be picked by potential kerb-crawlers, or tenderly looking for a moment of human contact with his clients, a battered Maritaud unyieldingly draws our attention and compassion through his lived-in vulnerability and wounded masculinity, not to mention those eye-popping, demandingly graphic sex scenes, which bears out an audacious resolve for authenticity without any voyeuristic agenda to sexualize the subject matter, hats off to Vidal-Naquet and his intrepid cast.
Vidal-Naquet's diligent script covers a whole gamut of what could happen to a sex worker in this parlous line of business, from Léo's love-hate entanglement with the gay-for-pay Ahd (Bernard), seeped with the latter's macho toxicity, to his sundry encounters: a gerontophiliac bonding with a senior widower; a demeaning penetration preyed on him by two callous youngsters; a skylarking bunco conducted with his fellow escort Mihal (Dibla), to whom Léo cannot reciprocate his feelings. All those segments are shot with a clinical matter-of-fact-ness that leans towards a reportage with its hand-held amateurishness.
When Ahd decides to leave with his sugar daddy, it lays bare of the best scenario which could ever happen to the practitioners of rough trade, and soon Léo's savior materializes in the form of Claude (Ohrel) exactly when he hits the rock bottom (the startling perversion and violence is rendered off screen considerately), although as a deus ex-machina, Claude is a dreamboat too perfect to be true, however Vidal-Naquet perversely goes against the grain (after his indiscriminate stock-in-trade towards all sorts of patronage, it is appalling to see Léo rebuff Claude as "old and ugly" when the latter is overlay with brimful innocuousness and tenderness), only to shatter our cexpectation and suffix a true-to-his-nature coda to Léo's self-emancipation and precious independence, with his final in utero attitude, smells like a missed opportunity for this reviewer's two cents' worth, otherwise, SAUVAGE/WILD is a belter of a debut feature giving an honest voice to the marginal and the underprivileged.