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.





Cloud Atlas (2012) Review

30 05 2013

ImageIt has been some time since I have updated this blog and for that I sincerely apologize. Between work, a new hobby that has engulfed a lot of my time and resources (pinball collecting!) and life in general, I just haven’t taken the proper time to keep up with this blog. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching movies regularly. Movies have always and will always be a very important part of my life, and I am hoping that I can find the appropriate time to at least keep this blog up to a much better extent than I have over the past six to eight months. Enough apologies, on with the review!

Cloud Atlas is a film adaptation based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. Somewhat famously, it has become the most expensive independent film to ever be released, having been produced for nearly $100 million outside of the studio system. The narrative structure follows six distinct and separate storylines over six different time periods, and was a co-production between the Wachowskis of Matrix fame and Tom Tykwer who helmed such films as Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior. By co-production, I mean this was very literally a co-production between the three, in that the script was written and re-written by all the involved, as well as the segments being  directed by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, respectively, with two totally separate crews working in parallel.

The separate storylines take place in the following times and places: The South Pacific Ocean, 1849; Great Britain, 1936; San Francisco, Calif., 1973; United Kingdom, 2012; Neo Seoul (Korea), 2144; and The Big Island, 2321. The characters in the respective storylines are portrayed by many of the same actors in different roles. Multiple performances are given by Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy and Zhou Xun, among others. Each storyline is separate of the others outside of the unifying theme that history can and will repeat itself, and that there is an interrelation between people, places, time and the decisions they make.

At nearly 3 hours and with much intertwine between the six stories, the film has polarized critics and managed to end up on both best and worst film lists of the year. With that distinction in mind, it is a bit of a difficult film to review for a wide audience, so I will have to be rather subjective in my approach. For me, there were individual stories I enjoyed more than others out of the six, but none of them failed to pique my interest. I was thoroughly engaged throughout the entirety of the film and actually really connected with the moral of the story and the brilliant multi-faceted performances from the main cast. In time, I could very easily see this film achieving a cult status, as many experimental films do that are originally shunned or misunderstood by the mainstream upon release.

If you don’t mind a narrative structure that interweaves heavily and is primarily held together by the overarching theme of the film, then I think you will really enjoy this movie. However, if turbulent story structure and disjointed parallel structure turns you off, then this is definitely not the film for you.





Shame (2011) Review

18 12 2012
Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few well regarded films of last year that I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to see. After literally months of two Netflix discs (yes, I still get discs because the selection on instant would piss me off if that was all I got) sitting on my kitchen counter unwatched, I finally sent in for some replacements — this film was one of the two that arrived. The other was Magic with Anthony Hopkins (a pretty scathing review forthcoming on that).

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in this NC-17 drama. A successful New York businessman, he spends his days at the office watching porn, his nights at home watching porn, masturbates incessantly and is constantly on the prowl for his next sexual encounter, whether that be through a random hookup or a paid escort. When his somewhat estranged musician sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him out of despair, he finds her desire for a more meaningful relationship with him a hindrance on his routine sexual escapism.

This film is a very slow, yet well-paced study of an addiction that is not nearly as touched upon in mainstream media as many others. Brandon’s character and world are very ethereal, and the artistic approach of the film help elucidate this fantasy-esque overtone in its pace and cold visual style. Fassbender is excellent in the title role, a role which required a great degree of comfortability in the character, being that many sexual scenes are shown quite explicitly and nudity is prominent throughout. Carey Mulligan is wonderful (isn’t she always?) as his depressed sister who longs for a stronger relationship between herself and her brother.

There are a lot of things about this film that seem like they shouldn’t work so well on the surface, but yet, somehow they do. It’s a terribly interesting character study and a film that engrosses, even at its very deliberate and slow pace. I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a deep, intense drama; however, I will strongly warn of high sexual content and physical nudity that may offend or upset certain audiences.





Lincoln (2012) Review

9 12 2012
Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

★ ★ ★ ★

Catching up a bit here, so expect to see about 4-5 reviews over the next week or so. On Thanksgiving Day, right after a wonderful dinner with my family at Bermuda Run Country Club in Bermuda Run, N.C., my brothers, Maddie and I, went to see Lincoln at the theater.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, Lincoln chronicles a very specific time in the 16th President’s tenure. The film begins in January, 1865, and continues through Lincoln’s assassination in April of that same year. The focus of the narrative heavily revolves around the passage of the 13th amendment, a revolutionary amendment to our Constitution that abolished slavery in America. Even without the presence of the southern states in Congress, the passage of this amendment was, surprisingly, still extremely difficult to pass in the House of Representatives. This was largely due to heavy opposition from the Democratic Party of the era (interesting how the Democrats of this time seemed the more conservative and the Republicans more liberal in their stance; a direct opposite of our current state in America today…) Though the passage of this amendment is the primary focus of the film, the viewing audience does get a glance into Lincoln’s private life during this time, as well as how efficient an orator and politician Lincoln could be through persuasion and motive.

The first part of this film was a bit slow for me. However, I quickly became engaged in the narrative, due largely to Day-Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of Lincoln. Without much reservation, I consider Day-Lewis one of the best and most well-rounded actors of our time. His credit list, though not large, encompasses an array of interesting and brilliant performances. I always look forward to his films, whether a brilliant opus like There Will Be Blood, or independent Irish films like Jim Sheridan’s wonderful dramas My Left Foot and  In the Name of the Father.

Spielberg, for me, sometimes gets unduly praise for his work. Yes, he is a brilliant director and has given us a wide range of amazing films; however, his praises sometimes go beyond a reasonable measure, in my opinion. This film, for me, was one of his better in recent years and, being a biographical period piece, something he seems to excel at. Likewise, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was quite pretty, and though not the most visually stunning of his career, it was perfect ambience for this film.

I definitely see this film taking home some awards this year, and highly recommend it from both an entertaining and historical perspective.





My Name is Bond Series: Diamonds are Forever (1971)

13 11 2012

Copyright 1971 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★

After a one picture hiatus in which Australian model/actor George Lazeby briefly picked up 007’s licence to kill, Sean Connery returned for his final portrayal as Bond, at least, his final portrayal that falls into the official canon of Eon Productions films. He did pick up his Walther PPK one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, an interesting re-take on Thunderball that only came to fruition because of some sticky copyright dealings.

One of Bond’s arch enemies, Ernst Blofeld, this time portrayed by Charles Gray, is supposedly murdered early on in the pre-title sequence. However, with experimentations in facial reconstruction surgery, it soon becomes apparent that Blofeld was not as easily killed off as originally thought. In the meantime, Bond is assigned to a case involving a supposed smuggling ring in the South African diamond industry. To intercept the targeted diamonds, Bond travels to Amsterdam disguised as smuggler Peter Franks. It is here that he meets the primary “Bond girl” of this film, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a liaison in the smuggling circle. When the real Franks shows up, Bond kills him, and switches identities in Case’s eyes by saying the dead man is British agent James Bond. The diamonds are then smuggled to Los Angeles via the real Franks coffin, and later, through to Las Vegas. As he becomes involved deeper in the disappearance of the diamonds, he realizes that the true cause is much deeper than just depressing the diamond industry as originally thought. The diamonds are being used in a contraption within a top secret base that belongs to billionaire recluse Walter Whyte (Jimmy Dean, taking cue from real life billionaire Howard Hughes). As Bond digs deeper, he realizes his supposedly deceased foe, Blofeld, may in fact be behind the whole operation. Furthermore, he has a pair of sadistically witty, homosexual assassins, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (bassist Putter Smith) on his tail.

Whew, gotta love writing a synopsis for a Bond film. This one might be more convoluted than most, however, with a story that kind of weaves in and out of direction as the movie progresses. Of all of Connery’s performances as Bond, this might be one of the weakest, if not the weakest. The villains aren’t particularly novel, Jill St. John is not a very well-rounded Bond girl as neither really an adversary, nor a solid ally, and the suspense that Bond gets himself into is not particularly exciting. It’s not a terrible film, but it doesn’t capture the magic of early Connery movies like Dr. No, From Russia with Love or Goldfinger. Directed by Bond alumnus Guy Hamilton, this is a novel effort to recapture the magic of Connery’s early era as Bond, but somehow misses the mark and falls short of full potential.





My Name is Bond Series: Skyfall (2012)

11 11 2012

Copyright 2012 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Even though it’s only been released in the US for a couple of days now, it feels like I finally got to see the new Bond film.  Coincidentally, I saw it on the heels of The Living Daylights last night, a selection from the Bond 50th Blu-Ray series which was my birthday present from my sweet girlfriend, Maddie.

OK, so the 23rd Bond film, and Daniel Craig’s third go round in the part. Upon hearing of the production of this film I was wildly excited, first because one of my favorite DPs, Roger Deakins, was going to be shooting the film, but even more so, that it was being helmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Granted, an acclaimed artistic director doesn’t always make a great Bond film (Michael Apted and Marc Forster…ahem), but I have consistently been amazed with Mendes’s work over the years (outside of Away We Go, which was terrible.)

This paragraph of my reviews is usually reserved for a synopsis of the film; however, for this film, I feel I would be cheating you, my reader, by divulging much of the story. This film carries nearly all of the staples of a classic Bond film, yet if I gave you too much of an overview, it would spoil the brilliance of its execution. So, I opt out of this usual section of my review format (you’ll thank me later).

What I can say, is that this is one of the best Bond films in many years. I will have to let it all sink in a bit more, but it might actually be one of the best Bond films of the entire canon. Daniel Craig seems quite comfortable in the role now, even more so than his previous two installments. The script is sharp, the action sequences are breathtaking, the direction apt, cinematography exquisite, the villain is evil, really there is nothing I can say bad about this film. It fits the Bond formula to a tee, but also manages to add something new and invigorating to the mix. Its achievement in doing this, make it a very fitting film for the 50th anniversary of this iconic franchise, and I think, proof that Bond will continue for many generations to come.





Casanova (2005) Review

21 06 2012

Copyright 2005 BBC

★ ★ ★

OK, so I’ll be honest from the get go.  The only reason I watched this was because it had two of my favorite actors in it: Peter O’ Toole and David Tennant (10th Doctor!).  Furthermore, it was written and produced by Russell T. Davies, who was the head writer and show starter for the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who.  Davies and Tennant’s working relationship actually began on this picture.

I’m sure most people are at least generally aware of who Giacomo Casanova was, if for nothing more than the fact that his name is a common term for lotharios the world over.  Well, this movie is a loose adaptation of his life, pulling many overall generalized points from the history books, but embellishing them extensively for entertainment purposes.  The narrative switches back and forth between old Casanova (Peter O’ Toole), who now serves as a librarian for an Italian nobleman, and young Casanova (David Tennant) as he makes his way in the world.  A lonely chambermaid makes fast friends with the older Casanova, who has just finished writing his life’s tale.  During her innocent stays in his chambers, he recounts the many adventures and loves found and lost during his lifetime, with a primary focus on one elusive woman: Henriette (Rose Byrne).  Through the back and forth of the narrative, the life of Casanova is presented in only a way Russell T. Davies could come up with (i.e. extravagantly and at many times flamboyantly).

The “series” encompasses two one and a half hour segments, so it’s not really a movie, but not quite a mini-series.  I really enjoyed the first segment and thought there were some very entertaining scenes, but the second installation was a bit of a let down and I found myself growing bored by the end.  The fun of this film only seems to last so long, though the performances by O’ Toole and Tennant are a treat to watch.  However, I may err on the side of caution here because I am biased, so I would even hesitate to give too much credit in that regard.

In short, a fun and exciting television “mini-series” that starts strong, but fizzles out some towards the end.  If you are a Tennant or O’ Toole fan, I think you would have a greater chance of enjoying this sometimes disjointed flick, but even those who are not may find some interest here.





Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Review

4 06 2012

Copyright 1972 Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors.  I absolutely adore his style, wittiness and straightforwardness in his prose, and like many others, the novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” was my introduction to him.  With the novel being held to such high regard for me personally, I was a bit nervous going into this film.  However, though slow to begin, the movie was actually quite well done.

Directed by George Roy Hill, this film sat nicely between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and his phenomenally huge success with The Sting the following year.  Michael Sacks stars as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes, famously, unstuck in time.  Like the novel, the narrative of Billy’s life jumps back and forth through his timeline with heavy emphasis on his time in Germany during World War II.  Vonnegut, himself a POW during World War II in Dresden when it was bombed, tells his autobiographical tale of the feelings he encountered and the time there vicariously through the fictitious Pilgrim.  Through Pilgrim’s turmoil during the war, his average subsequent life and, ultimately bizarre encounters in the world of Tralfamadore, we see the portrait of a man who was forever changed by the moments he experienced during the brief part of his life he lived as a soldier.

Sacks, who went on to be a top executive in the financial sector with such companies as Morgan Stanley after leaving his acting career in the mid 1980s, does a reputable job in the lead role.  His nuances playing the older Pilgrim were quite well timed in contrast to the young Pilgrim, this being especially impressive considering that Sacks was only 24-years-old at the time of filming.  George Roy Hill as a director has never wooed me to any speakable degree, but he is a solid director, and for that I laud his talents more than someone who tries to thrill you with each and every shot like Terrence Malick.  A director’s job is to select the shots and direct the actors to performances that best suit the story; Roy Hill seems to pass this test with flying colors in each and every one of the films of his I have seen.  Some of the best magic is that which tricks, but doesn’t overwhelm the eye.  The cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek was very pleasant.  Tinged with the grittiness of early 1970s experiments in faster film stock, the naturalness and softness of the light were provocative of this era, one of my favorites in the evolution of the motion picture.

If you loved the book, you will like the movie.  As far as adaptations go, it’s probably one of the better ones.  If you’ve never read the book and plan on never doing so, then well, shame on you, but you’ll probably like the movie too.





The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) Review

23 05 2012

Copyright 1989 Allarts Cook

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Probably the most universally known of director Peter Greenaway’s films, I happily sat through my second viewing of this picture last night.  Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing my girlfriend to a second helping of Greenaway’s bizarre film aesthetic following her original dose with A Zed and Two Noughts several months ago.

An ensemble cast of Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard complete the title characters in order, respectively.  Richard Borst (Bohringer) is the head cook of a restaurant that is co-owned with villainous thief, Albert (Gambon).  About 95% of the story takes place in and around this restaurant over the course (no pun intended) of one week.  Albert, along with his clan of baddies and misfits (including a young Tim Roth), dines and disturbs the restaurant on an almost nightly basis.  His wife, Georgina (Mirren), is brought along reluctantly and bears the brunt of his cruel jokes and boisterous rants.  Michael (Howard) is a regular patron and a book aficionado who has a refined palette and sits at a table just several away from Albert’s raucous party.  He and Georgiana eventually spark a sexual relationship that is fostered and kept secret by Richard and the wait staff.  As their relationship blossoms outside the sexual realm, the dangers of Albert finding out grow until climatic results occur.

Greenaway’s usual motifs are in full force here: nakedness, metaphoric use of color, rotting animals, stylistic camera movements, heavy reliance on and pictorial representation of famous painters; in short, you can’t mistake for a minute that you are watching a Greenaway film.  I say this, however, not as a sign of distaste for his work but as a applause to his artistic style.  Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the man understands and brings the most out of each and every shot.  The final scene of this film, which I won’t spoil for those of you who have not yet seen it, is what I consider pure cinema.  It is perfect, the acting, the direction, the cinematography by Vierny, the sublime score by the wonderful Michael Nyman, production design, everything.  Give me an auteur who can bring the elements of that scene to an entire motion picture and you have a brilliant masterpiece.

Though I have not seen every Greenaway film, this still stands as my favorite thus far.  It is, in my opinion, probably the most accessible to the general public in regards to content and script, but it still has that special element that make it a Greenaway picture.





Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father (2008)

11 04 2012

Copyright 2008 MSNBC Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Maddie wanted to watch this one on Netflix Instant Watch.  I read the description, and was not at all interested; however, once she started playing it, I found myself straying from the iPad to the television screen within a couple minutes.

Without giving too much of the story away, this film chronicles the journey of documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne in compiling video footage of his childhood friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was the victim of a suspicious murder.  Bagby’s assailant was thought to be his estranged girlfriend at the time, Dr. Shirley Turner, 12 years his senior.  After the murder, it was found that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, Zachary, whose name is where the title derives.  Through interviews with family, friends, colleagues, extended family and others, this film tries to piece together the pieces of Bagby’s life for his young son, as well as analyze the crimes of Shirley Turner.

Kuenne borrows heavily from the style of Errol Morris in his presentation of the facts in this film, and it works wonderfully.  I have always felt the Morris style exudes a sort of narrative progression to real life events that keeps the viewer not only informed, but also entertained and engaged in the subject matter.  There are surprises along the way, and the case becomes more and more involved as the film progresses.  Furthermore, being that the filmmaker was a childhood friend of the victim, this movie carries a very personal and heartfelt vision throughout.  Rather than being just a wallflower to the events, as many documentaries are, Kuenne uncovers elements about a man that was like a brother to him, which makes the filmmaker himself an engaged participant in the story.

This is a beautifully done work that advocates a powerful message.  I will warn that it is almost impossible to watch this film without eliciting a strong emotional reaction.  Even the least emotional of people will likely have a hard time keeping dry eyes through this movie.








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