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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The Informer (1935) Review

24 08 2011

Copyright 1935 RKO Radio Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

When you mention the name John Ford, most people are going to think of westerns.  However, this film, which gave the famed director his first of four subsequent Oscars for directing, was not a western at all.  Far from it in fact.

Victor McLaglen plays down on his luck Irishman Gypo Nolan.  A tall, strong fellow, he makes his way as a swindler and all around low-life for the most part.  However, he wants to get out of Ireland and find a better life in the United States with his girlfriend, prostitute Katie Madden (Margot Grahame).  The only problem is that tickets to a better life cost 10 pounds each, an astronomical sum for the broke Gypo.  When delinquent friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) arrives in town to visit his family, Gypo sees an opportunity in the 20 pound reward for his relinquishment to the authorities.  After deliberation, Gypo informs on Frankie, who is killed during the assault on his house.  The Sinn Fein realize that Frankie must have been pointed out by an informer and they quickly begin their pursuit for the culprit.  Meanwhile, Gypo spends the evening partying and drinking with his new found riches.  As the money dwindles on his escapades, Gypo becomes more and more caught up in something much worse than he originally expected.

The film won four Academy Awards; they were for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing and Best Score.  At first, I thought this movie wasn’t going to be very interesting.  It seemed like a fairly cliched story (at least by today’s standards) and seemed a bit heavy-handed and melodramatic during the first ten or so minutes.  However, as the narrative progressed, I realized how wonderful a film it was.  John Ford’s direction is precise and provides the right amount of suspense for the story.  In return, the script has many surprises and moments of true intrigue.  My favorite part of the film, however, was Victor McLaglen’s amazing turn as Gypo.  He really nails the part and definitely deserved his Oscar statuette for this performance.

Even though this picture is over 75 years old at this point, it still retains all of it’s entertainment value.  I would recommend this movie to classic and modern film lovers alike.





Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) Review

17 08 2011

Copyright 2010 Modus Operandi Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since hearing about this film several years ago, I have been extremely anxious to see it.  Upon noticing it’s appearance on Netflix’s Instant Queue, I immediately added it.  Maddie has been gone this week for orientation for a new job, and I knew that this film would not appeal to her at all.  In fact, she made it pretty clear she had no interest in seeing this one.  So, since I had the house to myself this week (along with a couple of cats and a dog), I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful ode to one of cinema’s finest technical artists.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Cardiff was a leading British cameraman who began as a child actor in the industry in the late 1910s.  In his teens, he began moving up the ladder in the camera department from camera assistant to camera operator and, ultimately, to a full fledged cinematographer.  His work with the Archers, Pressburger and Powell, is renowned and his contributions to the field of cinematography, specifically color cinematography, are legendary.  My first personal encounter with Cardiff’s work was in my early teens.  One of the VHS movies I had recently purchased contained a preview for a re-release of the 1948 film Black Narcissus.  I was shocked at the imagery I saw during the preview!  The colors were so real, so palpable and brilliant that it made any of the current films that were in theaters at the time look dull in comparison.   I knew I had to see this film, but it would be many years later before I got my Blu-ray copy of Black Narcissus in hand.  Needless to say, the HD presentation of that film is amazing.

Cardiff would win an Oscar for Black Narcissus and go on to receive two more nominations for King Vidor’s War and Peace and Joshua Logan’s Fanny.  A further nomination would be for directing the film Sons and Lovers, making Cardiff one of the few cinematographers to achieve great success in directing.  In 2001, Cardiff was the first and, to my knowledge, only cinematographer to date to receive an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to motion pictures.

This film is an ode to his life and to his work.  It celebrates and recounts his vast history in the film industry, and includes many candid interviews with Cardiff that were filmed before he passed in 2009 at the age of 94.  I thought this was a wonderful documentary and a great tip-of-the-hat to a brilliant cinematographer.  I could understand how some people might not find this film appealing or entertaining, just out of lack of interest in the subject matter.  However, if you are a lover of motion pictures or a working filmmaker, I feel this is a must see.  Cardiff’s ability to manipulate light still brings wonder and delight to any viewer of his work.  If I can be half the artist and cameraman this gentleman was, I will feel like I achieved my goals in the field of cinematography.





The King’s Speech (2010) Review

15 06 2011

Copyright See-Saw Films 2010

★ ★ ★ ★

Where to start?  Well, I think Academy Award winners and nominees might be a good place to freshen up the new stock of reviews to come from the back log.  Why not start here with last year’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech? Sounds like a plan to me.

This was one of the few films last year I actually made it to the theater for.  I hate to say it, but with Netflix, I have become increasingly lazy with the idea of driving to the theater and paying $7 to $8 to watch a picture, but some films are worth seeing on the big screen.  After the well-referred reviews and Oscar nominations this film garnered, I figured it’d be worth the admission.  In the end, it was.

The film revolves around King George VI’s (Colin Firth) reign as monarch of the British Empire beginning in 1936 and primarily focusing on his rule through World War II.  Bertie, as he is referred by friends and family, assumes the throne following the abdication by his elder brother Edward VIII.  Though well brought up to be king, the newly named monarch is worried about his noticeable stammer.  Having been to many specialists for correction over the years, he is quite reluctant to try another; however, at his wife’s behest, he begins sessions with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist with unique methods.  Their tumultuous relationship as “doctor” and patient, result in a lasting friendship and new found courage for the king.

Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Writing, Directly for the Screen, this is a solid film.  Firth and Rush are brilliant in their respective roles, as is Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother.  The direction by Tom Hooper is stagy and textbook, but works for the picture which is driven by performance.  A bit tailored for its eventual Oscar glory, being that it is exactly what the Academy likes to see (historical, period piece, drama), it is still an interesting telling of a truly inspiring story.





Ryan’s Daughter (1970) Review

7 05 2011

Copyright 1970 Faraway Productions

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This was the final of David Lean’s epics made after 1955 that I had yet to see.  The accompanying films in the bunch were Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zchivago and A Passage to India.  A huge Lean fan, I had always heard that this was his least impressive effort.  Actually, because of Pauline Kael’s scathing review of this film upon its release, Lean would wait 14 years to direct another motion picture.  The film itself, however, though very long, is not a bad movie by any means.  In relation to David Lean films it might not stand out, but in relation to other movies in general, it’s actually a pretty good movie.

The story takes place in a small town in Ireland in 1916, as British troops are just beginning to occupy the Irish countryside.  On a grand scale, the film tackles plot points of the rebel’s fight towards arming themselves under the lead of Tim O’Leary (Barry Foster).  Yet, the real crux of the story as the title suggests is focused on the bar keep’s, Thomas Ryan ‘s (Leo McKern), daughter (Sarah Miles).  A spoiled young girl, constantly referred to as “princess” by her father, falls in love with the kind, mild-mannered school teacher, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum).  Though he is much older than she, they eventually marry and settle into the schoolhouse quarters on the edge of town.  At first a happy marriage, she soon starts to look for more in life.  When a crippled British officer (Christopher Jones) comes to the local British camp, she immediately falls for him.  Their torrid affair dominates the middle portion of the film.  So, essentially, you have a love affair set to the back drop of political turmoil in 1910s Ireland.  In the end, the affair proves a terrible mistake for everyone invovled.

As usual with a late Lean film, everything about this movie is epic.  The production design, the locations and the sweeping camera movements are amazingly well put together.  To top it all off is the beautiful, Academy award-winning cinematography by Freddie Young.  I could go on for paragraphs about Young’s work; every shot in this three hour film is just absolutely breathtaking.  I can only hope one day to possess the creative and technical brilliance that he exuded behind the camera.  But, I must say, that this type of film does lend itself quite well to cinematography with its locations and period setting.

The acting, on a whole is very well-handled.  Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum both did incredible jobs in their leading roles.  Christopher Jones, who played the British officer, I had heard was very hard to deal with on set and they had to dub his lines over in post.  All in all, they must have done a good job cutting around his performance because I didn’t really notice it being that bad.  John Mills, who played the village idiot, as Tropic Thunder would suggest actually went pretty much full retard, and won Best Supporting Actor for it.  He plays the part with such childlike wonder though, that I can easily see how he pulled off such an award even though his character never spoke a word in the film.  Another fine turn was made by British actor Trevor Howard as the patriarchal preist who brought equality to the small town with an iron fist.

All in all, I don’t see why people give this film such bad reviews.  Yes, I agree that it could have probably been 30 minutes or so shorter than its three hour and fifteen minute running time.  Yet, for such a long running time, the movie carries interest and entertains surprisingly well.  To me, this was definitely as good as  A Passage to India.  Sure, it wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai, but you can’t strike brilliance too many times in a row in one lifetime.





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.





Missing (1982) Review

29 03 2011

Copyright 1982 Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Missing is a 1982 film by Greek writer/director Costa-Gavras.  Like many Costa-Gavras films (Best Foreign Film Winner Z, State of Seige, Music Box), it blends strong political overtones with an interesting and exciting story.  In some films it is difficult for this blend to work without getting preachy or heavy handed, but in Missing, it works beautifully.

The film is based on the true life events surrounding the 1973 coup d’états by General Augusto Pinochet (though the film never actually mentions his name).  Charles Horman (John Shea) is a freelance American journalist temporarily residing in Chile with his wife, Beth, before the coup.  His work in Chile, outside of personal projects, was for a liberal leaning newspaper and, in addition, Horman kept extensive notes on the situation involving both Chilean and American involvement in political matters.  While on a short trip to Vina del Mar with a friend from America who is visiting, Terry (Melanie Mayron), Horman hears of the coup that is rising in Santiago.  He rushes to get back to his wife and, on the way home, notices the military brigades, strict curfew laws and dictatorial rule that is taking over the city.  Once home, Beth wants to leave the country immediately; however, all air transportation has been suspended.

In the days following, Beth and Charles get separated from each other.  When Beth comes back to her hoouse in Santiago, she finds it in shambles and can’t find Charles anywhere.  Charles father, Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon), come to Santiago to help find his son who, by the time he arrives, hasn’t been heard from in over two weeks.  The rest of the film deals with the search for Charles by both Ed and Beth.  Ed, a Christian Science conservative, seems to have never really had a deep relationship with his son over their opposing views.  Yet, in the search, it shows how deeply he loved his son and how he wants justice.  Whether they find Charles or not, I will leave open so that it won’t spoil the ending of the film.

The story and direction by Costa-Gavras is top notch.  His ability to make an entertaining film out of such politically infused material is amazing.  The pacing, the shot composition and overal mood for the film is perfect for this story.  Jack Lemmon, what can you say?  This is a man who no matter what role he takes, shines and brings something special to a performance.  I’ve seen many Jack Lemmon films and never once have I seen one where he didn’t amaze me with his abilities as an actor; this film is no different.  His restrained emotion and no-nonsense attitude towards the whole situation, but deep underlying hurt for the disappearance of his son, is so nuanced and perfect for this role that it is hard to see anyone else playing the part.  The rest of the cast works for their roles; however, Sissy Spacek felt a little out of place to me in this film (though she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role).  Other Academy Award nominations included Lemmon for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart.  Stewart and Costa-Gavras would take home the award for their screenplay.

This is an eye opening film that draws you in on almost every level.  I had never heard about the coup in Chile, so for me, I was quite interested to continue research on the events that took place after watching the film.  As a filmmaker, what more can you ask?  A satisfied, entertained viewer that wants to continue to learn about the topics surrounding the true story you’ve depicted.








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