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I love movies that take me to emotional familiar territories through paths I've never taken. "If..." "Apartment Zero" "Ed Wood" "King Of Hearts" "The Conformist" "Blue Velvet" for instance.
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The Go-Between (1971)
The Past Is A Foreign Country
To sit through "The Go-Between" again, after years - maybe 20 - since the first time I saw it, turned out to be an almost religious experience. Harold Pinter adapted L P Hartley's novel and Joseph Losey directed - Lose, a blacklisted American who became one of the pillars of British Cinema in the 60's - think "The Servant" or "Accident" - Then, of course, Julie Christie, sublime. Alan Bates at his pick and the spectacular Margaret Leighton ensure that "The Go Between" will always be alive and relevant. Dominic Guard is wonderful in the title role as well as Michael Gough and Edward Fox. Michel Legrand and his score are the only elements who seem rooted in 1971. The film opens with the line "The past is a foreign Country...." Yes indeed, I believe that that applies to film too because in the past, even a recent past, is like a foreign Country, even a close and friendly Country, people behave differently there, then.
A Bigger Splash (2015)
Fiennes at his Fiennest
I hadn't seen A Bigger Splash but after being dazzled by Call Me By Your Name, I rushed to find and see this Luca Guadagnino 2015 film and it confirmed without a doubt that Luca Guadagnino is a remarkable filmmaker with a retro eye and a futuristic sensibility. His elegance makes cinematic the most unpalatable of tales and this one, a four sided triangle, it's unpalatable and scrumptious all at the same time. Tilda Swinton is superb as the voiceless singer, Dakota Johnson gave me, for the first time, a glimpse into what she could be, Matthias Schoenaerts hits all the right notes even the most unexpected ones but Ralph Fiennes gives a performance that it hast to be seen to be believed mostly because this is the same actor in Schindler's List, Quiz Show, In Bruges and last year he provided me woth one of the funniest scenes of the year in Hail Caesar. So, as you must gather, I had a great time and I'll wait for the next Guadagnino with childish anticipation
The Post (2017)
A Timely Reminder
"The Post" arrives to remind us about the indispensable role of the press in a democracy, ours in this particular case. An historical fact that comes to illustrate the dangerous times we're living now. The story of The Pentagon Papers is not ancient history and yet people seem to have forgotten. Americans in their 20's don't know about it as they didn't know about the House Of UnAmerican Activities. Education is at the center of our future so thank you Steven Spielberg for contributing to the awakening. In "The Post" the economy of the retelling is part of its brilliance. Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee is not Jason Robards but a Hanks, profoundly human, version of the man and Meryl Streep - Oh Meryl Streep ! - gives life to a woman who was not used to be the center of attention. A daughter a wife never in charge. Her dilemma is the sort of dilemma that, artists, teachers, parents, often confront. Her process to arrive to her decision is immensely moving and real. One of the miracles that Meryl Streep manages to perform again and again is that one forgets that it is her a second after she appears on the screen. I know this is a film I see again and show to youngsters at every possible opportunity. Thank you for that.
Why Him? (2016)
Why him? I tell you why, because I can't think of any other actor who can transform this this cinematic excrement into a gourmet dish. There is a matteroffactness in his character that lives somewhere between Rupert Pumpkin and Howard Hughes, the thing is that the life James Franco gives to his character is absolutely real. The film could have turned into a horror thriller, because Franco forces you, in the most entertaining way, to feel slightly off-balance. That alone keeps you glued to it in spite of the moronic lack of ideas. Bryan Cranston, of course, is sheer perfection. Reacting hilariously to the absurdity with infinite generosity - A trait of great actors - I wish them a Billy Wilder next time or a Preston Sturges or...you know. Fearless originals just like Franco and Cranston.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
At The Very Center Of It All
We knew already that Mel Gibson is a filmmaker with a powerful vision and the craftsmanship to go with it. Extraordinary battle scenes. Violence, Gibson style, which means Peckinpah plus, because here there is such a personal intention that makes every frame, utterly compelling. The only drawback and I have to say it, Vince Vaughn. Why? In the moment he appears, this extraordinary film becomes a movie. It took me completely out of it. When you look at him you see an actor, acting. On the other hand, Andrew Garfield. Sublime. He makes totally believable a character that could be fictional. The humanity in Andrew Garfield's eyes makes everything real. It tells us, in no uncertain terms, that at the very center of it all, there is love. Love!
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Blanche and Stella in Woodyland
What a treat! Cate Blanchett gives a stunning performance as a Blanche-like character written and directed by the most prolific American author of the last 40 years. Cate seems to be an actress without emotional borders. Jasmine walks a very tight rope, her sense of despair etched in her magnificent face vanishes ipso facto when she meets Peter Sarsgaard. She realizes in a sort of disbelief -extraordinary, heartbreaking and horribly funny moment - that he could be the rescue raft in her own personal tsunami. Sally Hawkins, another stroke of genius in the casting department, is a profoundly human creature very much the Stella of the situation. This two sisters, adopted both from different parents are also from different, if immediately recognizable, universes. I could go on and on but I'm not going to, I just wanted to urge you, in this times of 3D super extra loud marvel sequels, to run and see it.
Stars in Space
Visually stunning. A real first in the technical department and presumably that was the extent of its intent. None of the great themes of Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey", are present here. This is a superlative, 90 odd minutes of remarkable beauty but the 90 odd minutes become really long because, just like the heroine we have so little to cling on to, story wise. It seems petty to criticize a film of this kind for whatever it doesn't accomplish because what it means to accomplish, it does in spectacular fashion. I just felt that I was served a glorious appetizer without a main course. Two huge stars in space Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Why? If the idea was to dazzled us with something we had never seen before, great unknown actors would have added an extra something. Kubrick used Keir Dullea in "2001: A Space Odyssey", yes, Keir Dullea, or as Noel Coward put it, Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow. We know that if Sandra Bullock was in charge she, one way or another, will land safely. She's terrific, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't as worried about her as I should have been. The last problem was the score. Why? A standard horror/action flick musical score with cheap shots here and there. I think the purity of the work needed to be extended on every department. Now, putting all that aside, director Alfonso Cuaron must be applauded and I strongly recommend you to run and see it in the biggest screen you can find and in 3D.
The Watch (2012)
The nerve! I can't believe it look better on the page. Ben Stiller should know better by now. Or it's just a question of money. Not a moment of real comedy, not one. Vince Vaughn totally out of control in a non-character part. Oscar nominee Jonah Hill, lost. I felt hopeful when Billy Crudup makes his appearance, but the hope was very short lived. Random, inexplicable touches, that include explosions as a form of production value,I presume, but how embarrassing. The script is cheap and opportunistic but also misses its target, completely. Aliens in suburbia could have been a great idea. They needed writers and a director to execute it with some degree of oomph. Awful and depressing.
The Daniel Day Lewis Factor
I remember fondly, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey as Lincolns in "Young Mr.Lincoln" and "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" They gave remarkable performances. But, here and now in this extraordinary Steven Spielberg/Tony Kushner version, the illusion is complete. I was watching the president and not for a moment thought of the actor. That in itself is close to unique. I left the theater with the feeling I've just had an out of body experience. Everything around the central performance - and I call it a performance because I don't know what else to call it - falls into place in a miraculous way. The photography, the production design, the wardrobe made it possible to actually smell the period. Congratulations and thank you.
The Master (2012)
Oh Master !
I don't remember when was the last time I got so engrossed in a film that the ending felt like snapping out of a trance. Remarkable in every detail but the detail I appreciate the most is the acting, if one can call it that. Joaquin Phoenix introduced us to a character I had never seen before on the screen. I was compelled, mesmerized. A sensation I hadn't experience since Colin Firth gave us Adrian LeDuc in 1989's "Apartment Zero". A total original but solidly planted in a reality that is undeniable. Shattering. Love him or hate him, he's not asking for sympathy on the contrary. He is defiant. Philip Seymour Hoffman adds another spellbinding character to his already extraordinary collection. And you, Mr. Anderson, who are you? Long Live The Cinema!
Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)
Rashida and Andy For Ever
Oh, finally! A smart romantic comedy with great chemistry between it's charming protagonists. Rashida Jones is, not just beautiful, but unique. And what about Andy Samberg? Wonderful. With his enormous features, big nose, big mouth, lots of teeth in no particular order, he manages to be delicate and tender. I believed him, totally. Okay, well, that's the solid base in which you can build anything. To connect with the characters on the screen is a principal ingredient for a fulfilling tale of any kind. I left the theater feeling upbeat and optimistic. I worry a little for Rashida left to try her luck with Chris Messina. He's far too convincing in "The Newsroom". Joking aside, go see it.
Less Than Lawless
Wanting to be so many things, sometimes, leaves you with very little. "Lawless" is a blatant example of that. Everything feels so unauthentic no matter how much effort has been put into accomplishing the opposite. The script is rambling and sketchy as well as starchy and, at times, downright annoying. Tom Hardy is one of my favorites of late, but here, he seems to be impersonating someone. It felt like a self-conscious parody. And Shia LaBeouf? What's with this man? Why is he playing leads in films? He, I'm sure, must have acting coaches and he is, clearly, following instructions, but what about the truth? He acts up a storm but there is not a moment of truth, not one. Look at the moment when he's told his friend Cricket has been killed. I felt embarrassed for him. Jessica Chastain's character suffers a radical change in the middle of the story and I kept wondering, how? when? and more importantly, why? Gary Oldman is always a pleasure to watch and Mia Wasikowska is lovely and does the most with the little she was given. The lack of chemistry between her and LaBeouf is unavoidable. He is acting all the time. The only highlight, really, is Guy Pearce. His performance is fearless and enormously entertaining.
Hope Springs (2012)
Melancholic Comedy About Intimacy
Meryl Streep is a wonder, let's start right there. After her towering portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, an ordinary woman in real danger of disappearing all together. Real and enormously moving. Tommy Lee Jones gives us a face we hadn't seen before. Someone so settled in his ways that he doesn't notice what's happening around him. That's why, I though, his realization is so poignant. The film is based on a solid script but the direction is sluggish and uncertain to say the least. It feels as if the director didn't trust his material. The songs and the score, out of a Lifetime TV movie, doesn't allow us to connect with the real truths unfolding in the screen. That, I must confess, was very annoying. I recommend the film on the strength of the two central performances. Intimacy between two grown ups reflected on every look on every move until the score comes to interfere and derail our emotions.
Magic Mike (2012)
Great buns, shame about the script
So many elements that could have made this a truly original movie. Instead it's confusing, meandering and ultimately pointless. Alex Pettyfer, the innocent entering the world of male strippers has a good face a great body but lacks life, yes, that's it, he's kind of lifeless. Channing Tatum, whose story, apparently, this is, has a body that seems to have been shaped by a genius, but a face that looks slightly unfinished. I didn't get his character at all. As an actor Channing tries far too hard. Matthew McConaughey is a hoot, Great chest and he seems to be relishing the spotlight. So, all in all, entertaining and little, very little else.
To Rome with Love (2012)
A Half Cooked Italian Dish
Rome must be one of the most photogenic cities in the world, no matter how you look at it or who is looking. The Rome of Fellini with all its magic corners or Pasolini's Rome with its poetic darkness. Woody Allen's Rome is pure postcard glitter. What a let down. This is Allen's weakest script so far. Seems undecided and downright lazy. The tribute to Fellini's "The White Sheik" verges on theft and the Italian actors delivering their lines in Italian look and sound as participants of a provincial amateur hour. Even Oscar winner Roberto Benigni gives a pale and tired life to a thoroughly underwritten character. Allen himself is very good as is Judy Davis as his wife. But, I wonder what was in the writer/director's mind. I believe that in Allen's filmography from best to worst, To Rome With Love will appear very near the bottom. But, let's not despair, the master is already prepping his next flick.
The Iron Lady (2011)
The Humanization Of Margaret Thatcher by Meryl Streep
Biopics are always a problem. That's why the long form, HBO style is infinitely more suitable and altogether more satisfying. Okay, now, once that aside, let me talk about Meryl Streep. A miracle! She does the impossible, not only manages to inhabit Thatcher, she also reveals her under a slightly different light. The human light. No matter how much at odds I've been with her politics, I saw that human side through Meryl Streep's eyes and realized that I had forgotten to remember, Thatcher was a human being, a woman breaking ground. She loved her husband but put her career first, as most men in her position do. Her drive is a mystery as much a mystery as Meryl Streep's art. After seeing the film, me, a life long anti-Thatcher, I have to say that it's a fair portrait of the woman. The ones who never heard of Margaret Thatcher, and there are, two of them were sitting next to me in theater, I think they thought "The Iron Lady" was the female version of "Iron Man" but even them surrendered to the character trough the glories of this other giant of our generation, Meryl Streep.
War Horse (2011)
A Very Pretty Movie
John Williams score - wall to wall - reminds us this is a Steven Spielberg film. The Spielberg from "Always" not the Spielberg from "Munich" To say the film is a sentimental boy and horse tale kinds of says it all but, to be honest, not quite all. The battle scenes, WWI this time, are from the same man (men) who gave us those glorious first 45 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" The display of means is staggering. "Paths Of Glory" and "Pride Of The Marines" came to mind. Our hero, played by Jeremy Irvine, reminded me of young heroes in Disney movies, Tommy Kirk for instance. He's pretty and harmless. But the horse, well the horse is a whole other story. Brilliant performance. I think the Academy should be seriously considering an animal category. This year alone we had this remarkable horse, plus the amazing dogs in "Beginners" an "The Artist" I know, I'm rambling, well so did "War Horse" but in a much prettier way of course.
Humanity is the thing
That's what I took with me and stayed with me. The humanity in Ewan MacGregor's eyes. Sadness and joy unmistakable in its deepness and its pungent recognition. Christopher Plummer is superb as the 75 year old who confesses to his son, he's been gay all his life and after the death of his wife, a sublime Mary Page Keller, he allows that side of his nature to take off and experiment, for the first time in his life, in an honest loving relationship with another man, the odd and lovely Goran Visnjic. As if this wasn't enough, a dog. An extraordinary creature who carries as much humanity as its human counterparts. Melanie Laurent adds an extra pinch of sexual sympathy. "Beginners" will play beautifully on the small screen so I predict a long life for this unexpected treat.
An Opportunistic Mess
What is this? and then, how is it possible? The most unbearable, sentimental, opportunistic piece of nonsense I've seen all year. Top notch talents put themselves at the service of this jarring tale lead by Thomas Horn a young actor, talented I'm sure, but here, he is utterly unpleasant. A precious child with a jarring voice that should be stopped, now! The intention of the director, Stephen Daldry, Eric Roth, the writer,yes, Eric Roth! Unbelievable! it's crystal clear. To build a tear jerker around the defining tragedy of 9/11. How appallingly dishonest. My only question remaining is: are audiences going to fall for this trick? Quite honestly, I don't think that's possible and not even the attraction of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in the cast are going to lure, unsuspecting movie goers to the theaters. I'm giving it a 2 and not a 1 out of respect for Max Von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright.
The Look (2011)
Charlotte The Great
It was thrilling, moving and at times startling to look into Charlotte Rampling's faces, all of them. For me, an added plus because only a few weeks ago I heard director Martin Donovan at a lecture talking about her. He described her as a fearless artist who forged her own path in the most unconventional way. He also confessed that she as one of the actresses he dreamed to work with and, he added, "I haven't given up on that dream". The Look" confirms Donovan's theory in spades. Confronting her own fears seems to be her mantra. Her face, unique. Woody Allen dedicated her a full segment of riveting close ups in "Stardust Memories" and the cold intellectualism of Liliana Cavani put her through a torturous road of sado-masochism in "The Night Porter" If you love acting and films, you can't afford to miss "The Look"
Long Live Scorsese
A film adventure in every sense of the word. I was propelled into Martin Scorsese's cinematic mind in a film he made for his 12 year old daughter. Everything about it speaks of love of cinema. I wept, I must confess it right here and now. I really wept. Not just for the humanity of the story but by the heart and mind of the man behind the camera. This is the same man who gave us "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas" Every detail enriches our experience. Dante Ferreti's production design is, monumental, costumes, photography and Howard Shore's score are, quite simply, breath taking. I'm running out of superlatives and I haven't yet mentioned Sacha Baron Cohen, priceless. There is moment in which our young protagonists sneak into a movie theater and sit in amazement watching Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock. For me, to see Lloyd in the big screen as part of Martin Scorsese's latest dream, is the highest and most moving point of my movie going year.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
A Nordic View Of A Very British Tale
Freezing. John Le Carre's spy story has a new version. Tomas Alfredson the Swedish director of the chillingly great "Let The Righ On In" understands the British climate. Impersonal raincoats wore by the very personal Gary Oldman are only part of the story. An undercurrent of passionate wheelings and dealings with poker face players makes for an engrossing tale that allows us some kind of distance. The production design is a masterpiece on its on. Just look at the wallpapers. I'm not going to venture into the actual plot but the performances. Gary Oldman is superb in a slightly younger and more virile version of Alec Guinness who played George Smiley in a celebrated British miniseries in 1979. Colin Firth's bisexual turn brings a dark sort of lightness to the proceedings. Tom Hardy is also superb as are Mark Strong and John Hurt. If you're a Le Carre fan you'll be enthralled, if you're not you may become one.
Michael Fassbender's commitment is overwhelming. He must trust his director, implicitly. Good for him. Very rarely we've been exposed to so much sex without an ounce of erotic flavors. Well, that was not the intention, clearly. This is a remarkably serious film about addiction.To make matters even darker I had seen Michael Fassbender as Jung only a few days before. What an actor! Now I feel I'm as familiar with his anatomy as Mrs. Fassbender must be. I must admit the film stayed with me because within its mathematical coldness there is a palpable element of horror. Was it me or Fassbender shows the face of death in one of the many sexual occasions? Chilling really. I will take my chances and recommend it, as long as you don't take your children - I guess you can't NC17 - or your grandparents.
The Human Beast
It is startling when an actor can embody a living contradiction. Woody Harrelson does exactly that in "Rampart" He manages to give a human center to this creature created by a system that seems to repudiate as well as nurture him. Chilling perfection Mr. Harrelson. Oren Moverman, the writer director is emerging as one o the most pungent of Hollywood writers. His dialog is superb and the opening scene alone is a remarkable confirmation of that. The film has a sticky uncomfortable atmosphere captured in every detail by the underrated Bobby Bukowski's photography. Glimpses of Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi add considerably to the pluses of this unexpected treat.
A Maddening Work Of Art
After "Anitichrist" I had given up on Lars Von Triar but I was tempted back after reading some articles on his new opus "Melancholia" I'm glad I did. He is still the most maddening of filmmakers because his chutzpah is larger and more up front than his talent, that means a huge, monumental chutzpah. "Melancholia" has many things going for it: the performances by the two female leads, Kirsten Duntst and Charlotte Gainsburg are pure cinematic brilliance. The photography, superb with some sound design worthy of superlative praise. Glimpses of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling are also a major plus but the script littered by infantile dialog was a crashing blow. The film left me without appetite or willingness to talk. The one thing that I have to confess, I may, just may see it again one day.