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Forbidden Games (1952) Review

4 06 2013
Jeux_interdits

Copyright 1952 Silver Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I was in a pretty open mood as far as movies were concerned yesterday, one of those rare times where almost any genre would do. Due to a tight time frame, Maddie and I were looking for something under an hour and a half, so we settled on the 1952 French war drama Forbidden Games.

The film, based on the novel Jeux interdits by Francois Boyer, was directed by renowned filmmaker Rene Clement and was the winner of multiple awards including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film upon its release.

In 1940, during the German air assault of France, a crowded highway in the French countryside is bombarded. A young girl, Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), runs after her dog, Joch, after he jumps from her arms in fear of the bombs. Her parents pursue her in terror as the bombs and bullets fly down from overhead. In the aftermath, both of her parents and her little dog are slain. Alone and confused, she wanders from the dirge of people on the crowded highway into the wilderness with her deceased puppy in arms. Nearing a family farm, a young farm boy, Michel (Georges Pouljouly) finds her in the woods as he is wrangling a strayed cow. They make fast friends and he brings her back to his house. His poor family reluctantly agrees that she can stay, only out of disdain that the feuding neighbors might get rewarded for their patronage by taking her in their stead if they declined. Michel, who is schooled in his catechism quite well, tries to comfort the distressed Paulette over the loss of her parents and dog by explaining that people and pets can be buried in a cemetery under the rites of God and be accompanied by others so they won’t get lonely. The next day, they retrieve Joch from the woods where he was left, and bury him in the mill on the farm with a cross and last rites. Worried of his loneliness, young Paulette wants more animals for the cemetery and more and prettier crosses for their graves; Michel obliges and, perhaps, takes things too far resulting in renewed family strife.

There are a lot of powerful images in this film and scenes that are painfully realistic. Brigitte Fossey and Georges Pouljouly, just 6 and 12 at the time of filming, are tremendous on screen and have a wonderful chemistry together. Though much due needs to be given to these young actors, an almost equal amount needs to be given to Clement who would have had to have run a very nurturing and comfortable set to allow these young children to give the performances they gave. This film explores the innocence of childhood, especially in a time of chaos, and the very special bond between two children trying to cope with the circumstances surrounding them.

It’s always refreshing to see such a simple, yet moving story on the screen. Clement’s visual capture of the script was very unobtrusive, so the natural element of reality and humanism was preserved, which is what I think, makes this film such a powerful and moving movie to watch.

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A Separation (2011) Review

24 09 2012

Copyright 2011 Hopskotch Films

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finally got around to seeing this film recently and, if you haven’t seen this one yet, stop what you are doing right now, go to the local redbox, and rent this tonight.  Seriously, it’s the best film of last year, and I don’t mind saying that in the first sentence of my review, which says a lot.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this now Academy Award-winning film, stars well-known Irania actress Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi as couple Simin and Nader.  Together, they have a adolescent daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  They reside in Nader’s father’s apartment, who is essentially an invalid due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  When Nader refuses to leave their native country and his father, Simin demands a separation, to which he readily agrees.  With Simin leaving the household, Nader hires a sitter for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  However, after having to clean up an accident his father has on her first day, she tells Nader she can no longer do the job; the drive is too far, and she has religious concerns over touching his father to clean him up if he soils himself.  She, however, recommends her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is out of work and deeply indebted to creditors.  The following day, when Hdjat can’t make it to the house due to a court appearance, Razieh, who is pregnant, returns with her young daughter to do the work.  However, she leaves his father unattended during the day for personal reasons.  When Nader comes home to find his father tied to a bed and nearly at a point of death, he blows up at Razieh when she returns.  The scuffle includes a slight physical interaction on his part; she, subsequently, miscarries her child.  It’s left to the court and the families to decide whether Nader is responsible.

This film, made on a minuscule budget compared to even independent American films, is a powerhouse dramatic effort.  The acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and most of all, wonderfully dramatic story, come together to create an engaging, passionate and engrossing film that will go down in history as a classic.  It’s once in a blue moon that you get to view a film that is as truly cinematic as this, and its always a special occasion that will be savored in an your mind long after it’s running time is over.

It’s films like this that renew my hope in cinema whenever the general Hollywood “fodder” has be down about the industry.  I can only hope that I can be a part of a film as special as this one day.





Silent Film Released in 2011 A Possible Oscar Contender?

27 05 2011

Copyright 2011 La Classe Américaine

This film was recently brought to my attention by a co-worker and I can’t tell you how excited I am to hear about it.  Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist was completely shot in black-and-white, in Academy Ratio (1.33:1) and is completely silent!  Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and Penelope Ann Miller, the film takes place in 1927 and centers around silent film star George Valentin.  At the dawn of sound, he’s worried his career might fall into shambles; whereas, in contrast, young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) sees the transition as an opportunity to propel to stardom.

The film made it’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival the other week and won Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  In addition, the Weinstein Company have negotiated to bring it to wide release later this year, both domestically and internationally.  Could this film possibly be the first silent film in Oscar contention for Best Picture in nearly 70 years?   Could it be the first silent film to win Best Picture since the beginning of the Academy Awards in 1927 with Wings?  

Being a huge fan of silent films, I can only hope for such happenings.  I can’t wait for the release to see if this film really is as good as so many critics say it is.  In the meantime, I will have to be happy with the trailer, which is available in HD at:





The Accused (1988) Review

12 05 2011

Copyright 1988 Paramount Pictures (Canada)

★ ★ 1/2

This film was recently added to the instant queue and, since its got an Academy Award-winning performance in it, I decided to give it a try.  I can’t say that I was too impressed overall and, don’t get me wrong, it’s not because of the delicate subject matter being a put off; I just don’t think this was a very good movie.

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the movie is loosely based on a true story that happened in Massachusetts in 1983.  Jodie Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a low, working class waitress, who is gang raped at a dive bar by three different men during a late night of drinking and doing drugs.  The prosecutor for her case, Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGills), agrees to a plea bargain with each of the three men and they get 3-5 years in prison; however, in the plea bargain their crime is not listed as rape, but as a lesser offense.  Tobias is, understandably, upset over not getting to tell her story in court and the light punishment the three men receive for the heinous crime they committed against her.  Soon after, in a video store, a man starts to taunt her and associate her with the rape victim from the bar.  She wrecks her car into his truck out of frustration and it is found that this man was in the bar that night as one of the cheering crowd who watched the rape.  Murphy, determined to bring justice and make up for the plea bargain of the assailants, brings a case against three patrons of the bar who cheered the other men on, trying to convict them as accessories to the crime.  A court case is held and Tobias gets to tell her story, as well as a key witness who is a friend of one of the assailants.  Is retribution achieved?  I’ll let you watch the film if you want to find out, though I’m sure you can probably guess and figure it out.

The story for this film is a decent premise for a courtroom drama, but it just kind of fizzles out over the course of the movie.  The whole film seems like a good premise for a movie, but just doesn’t fully work in execution.  Kaplan’s direction was completely and utterly boring.  Every shot felt as if it were out of a filmmaking 101 textbook.  Furthermore, the one supposed shining moment of the film, the Academy Award-winning performance by Jodie Foster, didn’t really knock my socks off.  Sure, she had some great scenes and it was an impressive performance, but I wouldn’t call it electrifying or stand-out as some critics have suggested.  It most certainly is not the caliber of performance she delivered for her second Oscar in Silence of the Lambs.

Maybe I saw this film on a bad night or something, but I just couldn’t get into it.  It’s rated pretty well by IMDB and most critics seemed to generally like it.  For me, it’s not terrible, but it’s nothing to write home about either.





Pietro Germi: Unknown Master of Italian Cinema

1 04 2011

Pietro Germi - Italian Film Director

When you think about Italian cinema, several names generally come to mind: Fellini, Visconti, de Sica, Bertolucci and possibly even Benigni.  One name that is rarely mentioned in cinema circles, but whom is one of my favorite Italian directors, is Pietro Germi.  Germi, unlike some auteurs, was able to expertly master the mechanics of both comedies and dramas, while all the time keeping his own style evident throughout.  Even a couple years ago as Wikipedia was becoming very popular, Germi still hadn’t an article on his life and career.  The article that is currently live for him on the site is one that I took the time to write myself.

Germi was born in Genoa, Italy in 1914.  After a brief excursion into nautical school, he decided to enter the film industry.  He attended film school in Rome and performed many functions on various sets including acting, assistant directing and occasionally writing during his youth.  His first film as a director was The Testimony in 1946.  Following this film, he released a film every year or two for the next 25 years as a director and, more often then not, served as either writer or co-writer as well.

Germi’s first films were in the Italian neo-realist style with a deep rooting in dramatic content.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the neo-realist style, it generally covered topics that were true-to-life and the protagonists were generally the everyman type.  In addition, the films were generally shot in natural locations as opposed to shooting in a studio and the cinematography and direction had a grittier, more realistic style to it than a polished Hollywood film.  Most all of his output during the 1950s was in this style and focused on dramatic content, though he would later be more known for his comedic efforts.  Just to give you a Germi starter kit so to speak, I’ll recommend three of his films that I feel will get you on your way to either liking or deciding that Germi’s work is not for you.

One of my favorite films from Germi’s dramatic material is 1956’s The Railroad Man. In addition to writing and directing, Germi also played the lead role of Andrea Marcocci.  Andrea is, as the title suggests, a railroad worker.  He is happy in his career and spends many a night drinking with his fellow workers after getting off the job.  However, after nearly colliding with another train while trying to avoid someone attempting suicide on the tracks, Marcocci is laid off.  Further misfortune begins to complicate his life after this incident, and between his problems at work, his drinking and troubles in his family life, Marcocci’s mood gets more and more despairing.  However, his youngest son Sandro (Edoardo Nevola), wants to help his father and through Sandro’s love and support his father is able to find some form of peace.  The film is a complex study of the everyman through the life of this common railroad worker.  It touches on the human emotion on every level throughout the film and is an outstanding example of the Italian neo-realist style.

"Divorce, Italian Style" - 1961

In 1961, Germi moved into comedic material and would stay in this genre for the majority of his career following.  The film, Divorce, Italian Style, would be his greatest success, winning him a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award and garnering a nomination for Best Director.  The film tells the story of Sicilian nobleman Ferdinando Cefalù, played with precision by famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, who hopes to marry his beautiful cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli).  The problem, however, is that he is already married to Rosalia, and in Sicily at the time it was illegal to get a divorce.  Determined to succeed, Ferdinando tries to manipulate a plan to get his wife caught up in an affair; then, when he “finds” her in the act, murder her and only receive a short sentence for an honor killing.  Mastroianni is brilliant in the part of Ferdinando and the film overall has amazing timing for comedic effect.  Following the international success of this film, many Italian comedies of the 1960s tried to emulate Germi’s style and there were a few direct off shoots of this movie.

The last Germi film I’ll go into detail on is his 1963 film Seduced and Abandoned.  It directly relates in style and mood to his previous film Divorce, Italian Style. Agnese Ascalone (Stefania Sandrelli) is the daughter of a prominent Sicilian miner, Vincenzo.  She is found in the kitchen by Vincenzo and her mother being seduced by her sister’s fiancee, Peppino.  To uphold strict Sicilian mores, Vincenzo demands Peppino marry Agnese instead.  The  resulting demand leads the story through one hilarious situation after another.  Saro Urzi, who plays Vincenzo, was perfect for this role as the frustrated, comical patriarch.  In America, he is probably best known for playing Signor Vitelli in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Unfortunately, Germi would pass in 1974 from hepatitis at the age of 60.  His last film was the mediocre Alfredo, Alfredo with Dustin Hoffman and favorite muse Stefania Sandrelli.  There are many other films in this brilliant Italian director’s repertoire worth seeing, but if you just want a tast of his comedic and dramatic style, then I feel these three films are a good place to start.  In my opinion, Germi’s abilities as a writer and director were as reputable as any of the other illuminaries of Italian cinema and hope his work will reach a wider audience in years to come.





Inside Job (2010) Review

16 03 2011

Copyright 2010 Sony Pictures Classics. Dir. Charles Ferguson

★ ★ ★ ★

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to see this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature, Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job.  The film deals with the events and practices that lead to the economic crisis of 2008-2009 that we are still recovering from.

First and foremost when I watch a documentary, I am interested in how well the film presents the information on the topic it is focusing on.  The shady practices of Wall Street and our capitalist system were presented in great detail in this film from the beginning of Iceland’s financial collapse all the way to our present situations.  Secondly, I watch for how entertaining this educational material is to actually watch and the film’s ability to keep a viewer engaged with the material.  It seems the filmmakers of this film borrowed a bit from Michael Moore with some of the “shock and awe” ways of presenting information and the fun, tongue-in-cheek musical selections interspersed throughout (including Big Time by Peter Gabriel and New York Groove by Ace Frehley).  Some audiences don’t like this approach to a documentary and prefer a straighter, less enhanced presentation of material, but for me personally, I think it helps create a stronger impact and keeps the watchability at a high.

Technically, the film looked great.  It was shot on the RED One digital cinema camera in 4k mode, so the resolution and dynamic range of the interview sequences are quite high for a documentary.  A lot of the “run and gun” segments were shot on the Sony EX-1 which still retains a high visual quality, but not to the level that the beautiful sweeping intro shots of Iceland are on the RED One.  As previously mentioned, I really loved the musical picks they decided to use throughout the film and many of the montage sequences had a nice, machine gun paced editing flow that keeps true to the music video age documentary style we have become accustomed to in the last 10 to 15 years.

Without getting too political in the review, the film’s content is hard hitting and definitely ignited a strong response against how our system is currently run.  However, I will be honest and admit that I am a liberal and this film was made by liberal filmmakers, so there is a certain level of bias.  However, I don’t think anyone could argue after seeing this film that what was happening in our financial markets was right.  Essentially, a few super rich decided to take their greed to a new level which, in turn, has collapsed a global economy.  If nothing else, I think the film wants the viewer to take away one encompassing theme: that the system as it stands today HAS to be changed.  We can’t continue going on in a crippling financial system that, as the Who would say, is “in with the new boss, same as the old boss.”

I haven’t seen many of the other documentaries that came out in 2010, but I can see why the Academy chose this film as the Best Documentary Feature this year.  It’s not perfect and not the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but it’s a good, solid film that deals with a subject that is probably the single most important topic of our time in relation to global tranquility.








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