Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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This is a film that makes me think of 'real' people and life, rare for an American film- I guess the message is that every moment and station of life is a kind of limbo- the space between learning something new and reacting to it (or not reacting to it)- give it time, fellow viewer, through its slightly stolid first half, and it proves truly rewarding
A film that launched a thousand indies, Sayles maximises low production values with witty dialogue and fleshy, reflective characters, and also shows what a dab hand at direction he can be in an odd little basketball scene! Quite remarkable how Sayles, in this his first film, so deftly explores the political through the personal
A book-keeping Billy Liar starts his own Fightclub-like crusade worthy of the Unibomber....
Christie Malry's Own Double Entry should get a rare reprieve from the vaults of British film obscurity, a rare thing in British film, particularly as it came out during the attack of British idiotic indies, out-and-out failures,
mostly funded by the Taxpayer (e.g Shooting Fish, Rancid Aluminium, Lock,
Most of those films came and went. But Christie Malry, based on the novel by cult English experimentalist novelist BS Johnson, and in which Lock Stock actor Moran plays the lead, is the best of these, although ironically it was never released or given any attention, presumably due to its playful, po-faced attitude to terrorism, which would never play post 9/11 (it was made before those events). This in itself is ironic, as Christie is an interesting study in terrorism, a sort of book-keeping Billy Liar who starts his own Fight Club-like crusade worthy of the UniBomber, which attains an added poignancy post 9/11- after all, in the film, made remember in 1999, Christie's surreptitious efforts help start the second Gulf War (and he is portrayed by the media as an Arab).
I understand some of the criticisms of the film made by others below, such as Christie's unbelievable jobs, although Christie's bizarre double-entry system- e.g. "debit: Wagner's Lack of Sympathy: Credit: girl at butcher's shop smiled at me", to my mind makes him a more believable character- after all, he is hardly a balanced character.
I can add some more myself (the failure to update the seventies novel to the present decade, leading to weird anachronisms- a result of lack of funding or attention in art direction?). But I also believe the film is a brave attempt at finding intelligence and depth in the British indie.
Tickell is clearly an admirer of Greenaway, and this shows throughout, in the film's theatrical flair and sense of the visual, as well as the oddball eroticism, all part a way of understanding Christie's abnormal psychology. This is particularly evident in the 'historical' sub-plot of the film (the development of double-bookkeeping in Renaissance Milan by a priest with links to Da Vinci).
And I think the acting is marvellous throughout, particularly the Renaisance Italians and Shirley Ann Field as Christie's mother, and Moran, while not a brilliant actor, clearly works hard in the complex task of being Christie (he says it is his best film, although I don't think there's much competition- with the exception of Puritan, another little known British Indie with Moran at its centre).
A film for all those who think they know Greenaway- Belly of an Architect is very Greenaway in its playful intellectualism and visualisation. However, it also has a proper plot, for once, and heart, in the hulking form of Brian Dennehy.
Dennehy really does justify the blurb on the DVD covers, and gives the performance of a lifetime as Kraklite. He IS Kraklite. I have read an interview with Greenaway who said Dennehy really got nto his role, and surprised everyone with such a great, committed performance.
However, in a way, Greenaway shold really have let someone else direct the film. His distant, cold eye, excellent on the definite misanthropyand bustling ideas within the film, has no place for Dennehy's forlorness and pathos, which yet still manages to fill the screen. In fact Greenaway's attitude to Dennehy seems to be that of a tolerant headmaster to a highly gifted prefect- one of respectful, admiring distance.
All in all a definite obscure gem in film, and Mertens does a very Nymanesque soundtrack- if Nyman had spent a few years playing piano in a Belgian bar that is!
It's strange for such an exalted film to have such a left-field plot. A medieval knight literally plays chess for his life with death, and while the game goes on, falls in with a travelling troupe of actors, death stalking them along the way. If it was not for Bergman's quite undeserved reputation for austerity and solemnity, it would be clear this is a playful, comic film.
This film is the best representation of Bergman's middle style, stressing theatricality and pictorialism.
Bengt Ekerot is suitably striking as death, and Max Von Sydow is about as close a modern actor can be to a medieval knight, towering in masculinity, a natural intelligence and stature, with his unworldly distraction. And Bibi Andersson is both beautiful and striking too as the actor's wife.
Still, apart from being a good, high-value romp, I can't quite see how this was so lauded at the time.
Disregard the misleading one star rating this has somehow got on flixster, the thoughtful as well as gripping Red Mercury is everything the much greater hyped and financed, but very immature Britz, was meant to be.
With a cast of great TV actors, Stockard Channing, Pete Postlethwaite, Juliet Stevenson, to name but a few, and an excellent script from the writer Farrukh Dhondy, I was definitely interested to see the film when it was listed on satellite TV.
What other films with the subject nature of terrorism fail on is insight into character. As a long standing British Asian writer and educator, Dhondy has a clear insight into the three dimensional Asian terrorists he has created (all well played by young, little known actors). These are people he understands intimately, and represent the patchwork nature of British Islamism. Further, Dhondy does not flinch from telling harsh truths, both about Muslims and Non-Muslims. It is a must for all who want an insight into the roots of British Islamism.
Moreover, Dhondy's gifts as a storyteller also shine through and his script is intelligent, funny and gripping, a rare combination. His only fault is in trying to pack too many characters and plot-lines in. I can understand he was trying to create a climate around the theme of generation gap and cultural degeneration, but the tapestry feeling seemed a little contrived.
What lets the film down is its clearly pathetic budget. In a small, low-key drama, this hardly matters. However, in an upmarket, 'big' thriller such as this, the cheap production jars in the eye of the viewer. This doesn't matter so much when dealing with the holed-up terrorists and their hostages, but on the parallel plot following the police, it really shows. The police seem to have the resources not of the entire Met, but of a village police station. Related to this, the direction, while competent, is also uninspired, making it look very much like another piece of unoriginal TV, and there is one truly howling continuity error, for which the editor should be shot (figuratively, of course).
Red Mercury certainly would have been better off as a Channel 4 Mini Series, instead of the childish, unimformed Britz (even stranger when you consider that Dhondy himself was a senior Channel 4 Executive). It is also a real shame that this film was made in 2005, clearly just before the London Bombings, as its ultimately upbeat message was obliterated by the actions of real 'home-grown' terrorists. This must have been one of the reasons for its commercial collapse when it was finally released.
Who would have thought a two and a half hour film about Batman, a sequel second time round for an old comic franchise, would be so good?
I thought Batman Begins was a worthy attempt at updating Batman, but the Dark Knight far outstrips the first film. It has all the harsh, visceral power and intellectual weight, as well as the wild, imaginative energy of a great graphic novel.
Christopher Nolan, as usual, shows his adeptness at weaving together explosive cross-cutting narratives, while all the time holding to his faith as a writer (along with his brother) in strong situations and characters. Gotham feels a real place, and its heightened characters strangely make sense in a way the eighties/nineties Batmans never did, at least to me.
No doubt alot of this is due to the acting. Christian Bale hasn't been given enough attention for his wonderful performance. And Gary Oldman is superb as Gordon, truly wonderful to see him in a relatively straight role in a big film- he really delivers.
I felt Heath Ledger, while brilliant throughout, was overexposed (largely due to his death, if he hadn't have died it wouldn't have been so obvious). In the first hour of the film he is genuinely and riotously thrilling and terrifying at the same time, particularly in the snuff videos he sends to Batman. He needed less screen time, and some of the monumental attention he has received should go to Aaron Eckhart.
And, while Maggie Gyllenhaal was good in her limited role (The Dark Knight really is a bit of a 'Boys Own' adventure), I felt her innate oddballness could have been better utilised. And to really be pedantic, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, while obviously limited to their support roles, weren't stretched at all.
Last but definitely not least is the way Nolan, having undertaken such a huge production, still somehow manages to handle with such assurance and ease all the big actors mentioned above. After all, this is a man who only made his first film, an extremely low budget British amateur film called Following, eleven years ago!
Alternative History Aussie-style! Children of the Revolution poses a similar counter-factual to Robert Harris' novel Archangel, what if Stalin had a secret son? But whereas Harris approached the question from a thriller angle, director Duncan has gone for comedy.
But there is a large range in comedy, and I felt Duncan didn't know quite at what level
to pitch the film at. And so there are is a lot of tedious slapstick, particularly in the early Russian scenes, in among the more involved satirical (and much more promising) scenes, and a lot of the humour is over-sweetened. I also felt the varying tone of the comedy was part of a wider vacillation in the film. For one thing there is no firm central character. Judy Davis' mother starts off as the central character but is usurped to support (where she is best in this) with the late arrival of Roxburgh as young Aussie Joe Stalin. Also, the whole film-within-a-film cultural critique thing seemed forced and unnecessary.
If the director could only have cut down on the silliness and sweetness, as well as some of his archness, and settled down in Australia among the crazy but strangely believable Welch family. The rise of young Stalin in Australia, from callow delinquent to cold-blooded plotter, as he takes on the behavioural traits of the man of steel and his notorious physiognomy, is wonderfully well-handled. Davis reaches her natural age (and beyond) with aplomb (she is just too old to play a naive youth), and forms a genuine mother-son relationship with Roxburgh, entering halfway as the adult young Joe Welch (and Stalin).
On top of this, the Welch family is extended to include not only the ghost of F Murray Abraham's wonderful Stalin, but Sam Neill's Double Spy (who slept with Joan on the same night as Stalin and thinks he's the real father), as well as Geoffrey Rush as Joan's repressed husband, and Brenda Griffith, who is good despite being given a dud character (Joe's wife). It all sounds unbelievable, but the extended Welch family does work and Duncan should have had more faith in the viewer and his own characters.
Hammer Horrors have always been extremely popular. Recently, they have been subject to critical revision and are now held up proudly as a worthy sub-genre in the British film tradition.
I've never been a fan of the Hammer genre myself. But this version of The Hound of the Baskervilles has converted me. It starts with a foreshadowing scene that even I couldn't stop watching, an attempted rape and murder committed by a medieval Baskerville which starts a curse on the Baskerville family. It is fantastically visceral and shocking in its sense of brutality.
This first scene sets up a strong narrative that drives the whole film. We come straight to Holmes' vibrant Victorian boardroom, to find the curse being retold by Dr Mortimer, in London to ask Holmes' assistance in pursuing an inquiry into the death of the current Baskerville.
Cushing makes an exquisite, superior Holmes and Morrell, thankfully, is a thoughtful, underplayed Watson. And who else but Christopher Lee to play the returning nephew and new master Baskerville? While he essentially plays a straight role as the decent young Baskerville, it is Lee's mixture of seeming both light and dark at the same time that leaves you convinced he is basically a good man, but one who has been infected by the bad blood of his noble (and also ignoble) ancestor.
What follows is a return to the Baskerville estate in the moors of the West Country, and the film gives a sense of its raw savage beauty, which is embodied in the delectable form of the sinister local neighbour's daughter, the feral Marla Landi.
What impressed me most about this Hammer Horror was the sense of care and restraint in the film making (not what you're led to expect from other Hammer products!). It is as sly and knowing as any good B movie, but also imbued with a genuine sensibility. Contrast this to modern British horrors, mostly made on TV, which pretend to be inheritors of films like this, but are really mostly just gratuitous and tedious.
There seems to be a well-established niche in American cinema since the 1960's, filled with films like The Graduate, The Swimmer, and more recently American Beauty and Lawn Dogs. These films share an acidic, dysfunctional vision of the American nuclear family and Suburbia. Secretary shares and continues these themes, but bravely breaks new ground in the area of sexuality.
It would have been so easy for the filmmakers to have misjudged the deeply unconventional and transgressive relationship that is the basis of the film. It is not censorious and condescending towards its subject on one hand, and does not simplify the film into a fetish-based sex comedy on the other. Rather, Secretary achieves a rare balance between pathos and comedy. It is funny, arousing and moving, but also deeply disturbing (and painfully honest) in its depiction of people caught in the grip of unwanted, socially-proscribed thoughts and feelings.
This is no doubt due to director Shainberg, but also a truly original (but also natural and believable) story and inspired acting from the two leads, Maggie Gyllenhaal as the callow self-abusing Lee and James Spader as her oddball middle-aged lawyer-boss Grey.
Unfortunately, in my mind at least, the film's inspired originality starts to wither in its third act. While I appreciate the clever turn of events and play on female empowerment, I feel it is a reaction to the starkly pessimistic vision the film has created in the first two acts, and so Secretary is sweetened with a gimmicky denouement which usurps a more logical, dark conclusion.
Separate Lies belongs in that category of films which have been directed by promising screenwriters who have tried, and failed, to make the leap towards direction.
Separate Lies has a strong sense of character and situation, as you would expect from a good screenwriter like Julian Fellowes. Indeed, Fellowes cleverly weaves an intriguing plot from the heart-felt predicament of his central characters and their quietly desperate middle class lives, which spin out of control after a crime. Fellowes avoids the usual Brit cliches. Instead, he creates individual characters and develops, from a small situation, a more universal message about the inherently flawed nature of humanity.
However, there are some significant problems with the script. Firstly, Fellowes' screenplay is based on a novel from the early 1950's. While he succeeds in updating his central character (but then the up-to-date Manning is clearly from the old school), the other characters suffer from anachronism. While Anne is far from a one-dimensional wife and adultress, her choices make it apparent that she is from a time before female emancipation. The supporting characters have it worst- Bill Bule isn't far from an upper class cad, and while the police Inspector is a welcome reflection of Britain's contemporary multicultural society, he still comes across like a dinosaur from classic crime fiction.
But it is as a director that Fellowes really fails. He has no eye for London, Paris or the Home Counties (rather he seems to have mostly kept his face shoved in his script). Maybe this is why the film feels more like a stage play. While the individual acting is very good, I felt the group scenes weren't well-handled. And as mentioned above, poor Rupert Everett and David Harewood don't have much to go on with their underwritten, anachronistic characters.
Overall, Separarte Lies is an interesting little film with a promising screenplay, but one that suffers from its updating to the present, and which needed a far more experienced director.
A 'small' French film worth a hundred 'big' American Rom-Coms. Monsieur Hire is like Rear Window, as the person below me stated. But whereas Rear Window is, like most Hitchcock, an exercise in voyeurism that is imbued with the fascination and thrill of film, Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire is a more intimate and deeper reflection on unrequited love and the forlorn desire that feeds voyeurism.
Michel Blanc is affecting as the tragic, maligned Monsieur Hire. He is suitably put-upon and downtrodden, but avoids the easy option of making Hire a victim. Rather Blanc finds the strange, almost sinister power within Hire, as well as his sense of pathos. Sandrine Bonnaire is similarly brilliant. She brings a sense of unusual depth and understanding to her role as the double-crossing local beauty who is the object of Monsieur Hire's affection.
As a director, Leconte reveals the great depths within the story with a deft touch that side-steps mawkishness and sentimentality. Moreover, his recreation of postwar France seems wonderfully convincing.
Last but not least, Monsieur Hire has my favourite Nyman soundtrack. Having heard the music many times before finally seeing the film, I felt on seeing it that I had already experienced its striking emotional tones in his music, such is the power of its expression.
Part of the British 'New Wave', when radical British theatre directors like Anderson and Richardson moved into film, 1963's This Sporting Life is one of those films which detonated my Twenty First Century assumption about the cosiness of postwar British cinema! I couldn't believe a British film from the early 1960's could be so hard-edged and off-the-wall.
Richard Harris plays a powerful but discontented Northern Rugby League star, Frank Machin. He is fed up with being treated like a commodity by his superior bosses, and cheered by the baying masses for his cruel weekly performances. But he has nowhere else to go with his working class background. His options are severely limited and the only way forward is to continue knocking lumps out of people on the rugby field like a latter-day gladiator.
He seeks comfort in the worst place, in the chilly arms of his widowed landlady. But she only has eyes for her dead husband, a weak-bodied man of strong conviction and radical passion, and derides Machin for being a meathead who follows orders.
The resolutely grey cinematography of This Sporting Life suits its very grim post-war subject matter. The sense of moral outrage at the postwar English and their smug, backward attitudes becomes a force that drives the film on. It was a force which would similarly drive the later If...., Anderson's masterpiece.
If....expressed Anderson's outrage wonderfully through a chimerical fantasy in a context that he himself had experienced (the Public School), being upper middle class. However, This Sporting Life, to me at least, shows up Anderson as an outsider, a class tourist who lacks the vital personal understanding of Machin's small town predicament.
Anderson also shows his inexperience with film at this point- This Sporting Life is wonderfully offbeat and daring, like If...., but also overlong and over-theatrical, with its set-pieces full of intense but mannered acting and clunky narrative.
Still, with all the above faults, Anderson's This Sporting Life is an outstanding breakthrough in British film, though I do think this has as much to do with the contributions of actors Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts, and writer David Storey.
A Black & White film that can shock even the hardened sensibilities of those living in the 21st century. In the case of The Letter it's not, surprisingly, due to Bette Davis, who was the Meryl Streep of her time, but the little known English B-movie actor James Stephenson, who ironically steals the film he was nearly fired from with his scintillating performance as Howard Joyce, the high-minded lawyer brought low by his defence of Davis' manipulative English wife, Leslie Crosbie, accused of murdering a fellow colonial in British Malaya.
Indeed the film seems to lose a gear when the 'supporting' Stephenson is not on screen. It is as if director Wyler wished us (as in the audience) to identify with Joyce. At first, Wyler puts Stephenson on the margins and often in shadow, surveying the story and characters from a distance, rather like the audience. Then as Joyce encounters the infamous letter of the film's title, Wyler draws Stephenson out into the foreground as he reacts to the secrets it reveals, so that we further identify with Joyce, and suffer along with him. And Stephenson is vital as the conduit of this process that makes The Letter so special a film. His performance is so subtle and nuanced he seems strangely modern and leaves everyone around him, even the great Bette Davis, looking dated.
In fact, Stephenson is so vital to the film that his virtual non-appearance in the denouement is nearly fatal, and with Stephenson the film also discards its real sense of damage and despair, so that The Letter ends with meretricious melodrama. This is a shame because it is unusual for a 1940's studio-based Hollywood film to have such a sensual, poetic understanding of the conditions and effects of tropical colonial life. This goes, in a smaller way, for the natives as well, who are given more space and time than films of this era usually allow for, even if their depictions in The Letter remain quite coarse and condescending.
An unlikely Oscar contender, Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for best film, director, screenplay, and won best actor (for Wlliam Hurt) at the Academy Awards in 1986.
This is something to celebrate in light of more usual, banal Oscar Contenders (Titanic, Forest Gump, etc.). For Kiss of the Spider Woman is an offbeat, even bizarre film that may seem at first a worthy but miscalculated failure. While there is some fairness in such a view- the film is arty and overblown (and its view of homosexuality is open to charges of being old-fashioned)- there is yet something so brave and beguilling about it.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is rather like Brazil in some ways, Terry Gilliam's film made in the same year, particularly in its examination of dream and fantasy as weapons against Totalitarianism. Kiss of the Spider Woman is not as funny or as page-turning as Brazil. But on the other hand, the feyness of Brazil's sci-fi other-world indicates Gilliam's archness and lack of worldliness. Hector Babenco does not flinch in planting the roots of Kiss of the Spider Woman in the dirt of regional right-wing South America, leaving the viewer with the feeling that it has been informed by a genuine experience of its socio-political context.
Moreover, in Brazil, Gilliam displays his tendency to lose control of his fantasy and let it run riot. But Babenco interweaves fantasy and realism so skilfully and with such control, the fantasy reflects on the 'reality' and becomes more lucid and poignant as the film (eventually) unfolds.
This Herzog/Kinski collaboration was filmed almost immediately after the filming of their better known remake of Nosferatu. And the exhaustion of the back-to-back filming seems to show, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Herzog, the usually obsessive, painstaking director seems, at first sight, to have completely abandoned Woyzeck-it is so devoid of the usual grammar of modern film and more like an early talkie with its long cuts and monotonous shots taken on a static camera.
Moreover, the eccentric, unfinished play, written in 1823 and only first performed a century later, seems again at first sight to have hardly been adapted for the modern screen. And Kinski does look so exhausted.
But moving beyond first impressions, Herzog's presumed disinterest becomes as interesting as his more characteristically charged obsession. His camera creeps into a mad little world with bizarre characters who speak in riddles and are obsessed with doing down and showing up the lowly Woyzeck. With his very basic direction, Herzog ironically achieves quite a sophisticated sense of feyness which would have been disastrous had Kinski not played the central character with such force and direction (and had Herzog not in a way given up the film to himi). Of course, Kinski looks exhausted, but this is actually the look best suited to playing the hunted, doomed Woyzeck. Kinski shows us what a great actor he could be when he felt called by the material, which was rarely the case, in this case the growing madness of a forlorn, put-upon man.
As he wrote in his autobiography, Kinski accepted his exhaustion, even revelling it as an aid to his performance. And I think his tired face is filled with pathos and the darkest hints of humour. The rest of his body is utilised in creating one of his finest performances. The awkward, diffident way he moves, for instance, is so different from his more usual, strident self.
While Eva Mattes is good as his wayward wife, I would have been amazed that it was only she who won a prize at Woyzeck's Cannes premiere, if it had been anyone other than Kinski (because it is Kinski, I assume that he must have really incesnsed the judging panel into not giving him anything).
This film won a lot of awards and generated a lot of attention when it was released. Seeing the film, I was pleasantly surprised by the understatement of the film, with subtle, naturalistic script, direction and acting. This low-key, observant approach maximises the drama of the film without a hint of melodrama or sentimentality, a real achievement considering the drama arises from the death of the bright young son of a closely-knit and artistic bourgeois family. Following the family from shock to regret, and then to a genuine sense of acceptance and resolution is very moving and rewarding.
This film seemed to fall under the radar when it was on cinema screens here in England (well Odeon Soho, anyway!). This is a shame as it is so hard to weave something so mysterious and also rewarding, and Sorrentino achieves this rare thing in our been-there-done-that, seen-it-all times. I have never witnessed such a hushed, awe-struck audience at the end of a film. It was more like we were at some kind of religious gathering and had just witnessed something truly touching. And this is no doubt in large part due to Toni Servillo's compelling performance as the enigmatic, repressed Italian exile in Switzerland.
This starts out a rather worthy, superior, and clunky political drama about three young Germans carrying on the lonely torch of extreme continental leftism in the Twenty First Century .
But keep watching, as The Edukators spins off half way into a radical direction with the introduction of the inspired Burghart Klausner's capitalist, and the film changes gear from political drama to road movie, and also turns the premise of the film and its earnest characters' two-dimensional views upside down.