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The Tillman Story (2010)
Shattering, powerful, inspiring
I saw the documentary 24 hours ago and I can', for the life of me, shake it out of my brain. The United States of America is an extraordinary Country. We all know that, whether we like to admit it or not. A Country that managed the impossible by growing in spite of its, ethnic, religious and political diversities. Glued together by the Bill of Rights. That's it. So, a story like the Pat Tillman story makes me shiver. When a government is prepared to concoct a lie, regardless of what that lie will do, not just to the family of the fallen soldier, like Pat Tillman's mother says "It's not about my son anymore is about the American people" but in fact to the foundation of America itself. I believed her feelings completely because one things that comes out of the documentary is that the Tillman family is truthful to the core, courageous, inspiring. They should be the poster family for what America is all about. The speeches of Kevin Tillman, Pat's younger brother, at the memorial service and at the Congresional hearing still ring in my ears. And when I recall it I can't stop the tears running down my face.
A remarkable performance by Frank Langella as Richard Nixon transforms this unexpected Ron Howard film into a gripping and unforgettable experience. The behind the scenes of the famous David Frost, Richard Nixon interviews pale in comparison to the compelling sight of Nixon/Langella thinking. It was difficult to forget that Michael Sheen was not Tony Blair but David Frost. Sheen's Frost is an entertaining foil to Langella's somber,sad, desolate portrait of the former president. Ron Howard finds a winning pace giving the true tale a fictional slant. Unfortunately I never saw the stage production and the film never betrays its theatrical origins. In a bizarre sort of way this is Ron Howard's most cinematic film. I highly recommend it.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger's Dark and Brilliant Swan Song
I couldn't believe "The Dark knight" could live up to the hype. That's perhaps the biggest surprise. The secret, I believe, is a stunning, mature, intelligent script. That makes it the best superhero movie ever made. As if that wasn't enough, Heath Ledger. He, the newest of the tragic modern icons present us with a preview of something we'll never see. A fearless, extraordinary actor capable to fill up with humanity even the most grotesque of villains. His performance is a master class. Fortunately, Christian Bale's Batman is almost a supporting character. Bale is good but there is something around his mouth that stops him from being great. "The Dark Knight" is visually stunning, powerful and moving. What else could anyone want.
Eastern Promises (2007)
Viggo Mortenssen and David Cronenberg together again
Russian mobsters, a rainy, murky London, a midwife and Viggo Mortensen makes this David Cronemberg film a perfect companion piece to his "A History Of Violence". My two favourite films of this idiosyncratic and fascinating director. Naomi Watts and motherhood go beautifully together and it's her gutsy maternal instinct that throws her in a world populated by truly horrible people. The trick is, we go with her and within that brutal world we meet some memorable characters. Viggo Mortensen, what an actor! His fearlessness is riveting, he's also beautiful beyond words. We think we can read him but we doubt our own thoughts, he's in total control of his character and of his audience. He has the face of an icon and he underplays it, over playing it. If you see History Of Violence and Eastern Promises you'll understand what I mean. This is not a film to like but to love and I loved it.
The Miracle of the Bells (1948)
Stranger Than Fiction and Funnier Too
I don't mean to be disrespectful, but the fact that this film may be based on a true story makes the whole thing insaner than it really is. The dialogue alone may have you roaring in the aisles. Frank Sinatra as a priest with a priestly voice even sings a song and Fred McMurray towering over Sinatra as he stands next to him tries to act convinced and at times he almost succeeds. The one remarkable feature here is Alida Valli or as she was billed "Valli" trying to sell her as the new Garbo. She is stunningly beautiful. You wouldn't guess it for her performance here but she went on to star for Luchino Visconti in "Senso" and years later for Bernardo Bertolucci in "The Spider's Stratagem" What she's asked to do here is virtually impossible. To makes us care, let alone believe in what she's suppose to be telling us and yet, there is something, don't ask me what but something, that makes "The Miracle Of The Bells" a guilty pleasure of major proportions.
Couldn't Find The Blooming Town
I love Cameron Crowe. Let's make that absolutely clear. The casting of his movies is superb not to mention the writing or the sound tracks. Here, however, in Elizabethtown, the leading man is a hole on the screen. No charisma, no projection, no involvement. I'm not a teenage girl, I grant you that, but I don't think Cameron Crowe made this film for teenage girls. There was something about returning, about rediscovering and/or perhaps about first love. Elizabethtown aims higher than most teenage bound movies. The comatose performance of Orlando Bloom makes everyone else appear as if they were high on something. Billy Wilder is always a little bit present in Cameron Crowe's movies and Kirstin Dunst's character is a Wilder character if I ever saw one. I kept seeing the young Shirley MacLaine, or longing for, I should say. Dunst is an interesting actress but here she has to work with a wooden leading man, so that piece of miscasting throws the whole well intentioned enterprise way off course. Never mind, my love and admiration for Crowe will survive this one.
Thank You for Smoking (2005)
Coughing And Laughing In Another Planet
Ivan Reitman must be so proud. I'm not kidding, his son Jason has come out with a caustic original comedy all his own. I don't know what people outside Los Angeles may make of this. They may think is science fiction when, in fact, most people who have spent any time there knows that this is as normal as going to church in the Vatican. The scenes inside the CAA like agency are even underplayed if you believe that. Aaron Eckhart is as perfect as they come. The charming monster with human sides. William H Macy, Rob Lowe and the rest of the cast are great fun to watch. I'm rooting for this movie to make a zillion bucks. It'll be nice to have more good writing, good acting and good direction in March for a change.
Alexander Desplat, the splendid composer of "Birth" starts us off in a such away that I though I was in for a real treat. Then Nicole Kidman, with her astonishingly beautiful, intense, intelligent face. Elegant fades to black, scrumptious cinematography. Then what? As soon as 10 year old boy makes his appearance telling her, them and us who he is, the film stops and dwells on that point without knowing where to go. Round and round and round again. Among the writers of "Birth" is listed the great Jean-Claude Carriere with amazing titles to his credit. I don't believe for a minute that he had anything to do with the appalling structure of this mess. The most frustrating feature of this film is that it promises a memorable journey within the first ten minutes and then ignores it, ignore us it cheated us. I really want to blame someone for this, who shall I call?
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
The one and only reason to see this new and much weaker Manchurian Candidate is Meryl Streep. The little space allocated to her character makes the film rise to undeserving levels. True, I would pay to see Meryl Streep do the weather but that's quite besides the point. Even so, the memory of Angela Lansbury's performance in the role towers over Meryl Streep's, mostly because the original Frankenheimer's Manchurian Candidte towers over Demme's. What a silly idea, really. To update the story doesn't contribute a thing to the results. No matter how many monitor screens and details about the experiment we're let into. We, quite simply, don't care. We care about the drama of that mother and son. Of the soldier's and their nightmares. But those elements are treated in a sketchy, sluggish way. Frank Sinatra gave a sterling performance in the original and we believed in his torment. Here Denzel Washington floats throughout the film without giving us the chance to connect the dots of his journey. Liev Schriver is a credible Raymond Shaw but the script doesn't help him to go where Laurence Harvey had ventured. After "The Truth About Charlie" I was fearful of what Jonathan Demme (the great man behind "Silence of the Lambs") would do with this classic black comedy but I went to see it anyway, because Meryl Streep was in it and because it was Demme again working with Dean Stockwell after that lovely romp they did together "Married to the Mob" but Stockell's work in Manchurian Candidate, how can I put it? If you blink you miss it. How strange. How disappointing. However, the scenes with Senator Meryl Streep are worth the price of admission.
The White River (1992)
I Think Abelardo Is Wrong
Although I agree with Abelardo's comments about "Seeds of Tragedy" I don't think this film is the same film. "Seeds of Tragedy" was a film of 1991 this one is from 1992. The language listed for "Thw White River" is Afrikaans, "Seeds of Tragedy" is in English. The coincidence is that both films credit Martin Donovan as the director and Alex Lasker as the writer. It is also true that I have looked for this film everywhere without success. I'm a huge fan of Martin Donovan and I know for a fact that I'm one of the very few lucky ones who've seen "Seeds of Tragedy". A film that comes in and out my subconscious with alarming regularity. Sometimes something reminds me of something, an image and I spend days thinking, where is that from? "Seeds of Tragedy" is usually the answer. Can IMDb help us clear up this confusion?
Fight Club (1999)
I sat through the first half of this movie with my mouth open. It was so exciting, brilliant, a Fritz Lang for the new millennium. Edward Norton's face. That insomnia that he carries all over him is so magnificently drawn that creates the opposite effect on its audience. I was awake, very awake, sitting on the edge of my seat, devouring every moment, enjoying it like hell. Helena Bonham Carter was a like a great silent movie star doing her first talkie. Pola Negri, Theda Bara. As if this wan't enough, Brad Pitt, and Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt with all its fabulous connotations. Then, can you explain to me why I detested this movie? Why it made me so angry? Can you? I can only tell you that half way through I turned against the movie or the movie turned against me, either way I didn't like it. I felt cheated in the worse possible way. I felt treated like a moron. You start promising me the most unique film experience I've had in a long time but what you delivered was a tired, opportunistic, gimmicky, easy piece of nonsense. Why? David Fincher is one of the most consummated craftsmen American movies have ever had. Don't you agree? He can tell you a story, even something like "Seven", a horror thriller, in a way we've never seen before, at least half of it. He has an eye like no other. That's why my frustration. An artist like that putting himself at the service of something that's not done, not finished not worthy of his talents. You may think I'm being a bit too hard on the man. But let me tell you, it's out of love. I expect so much from him, I've seen what he is capable of. But so far have been only halves. Brilliantly acted, sensational to look at, but halves, just halves. He should look at Fritz Lang, Pietro Germi, Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell, William Wellman and naturally John Ford, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Fincher already inherited something from each one of them. Now the trick is that it isn't a trick. Half is better than nothing. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not enough.
Star 80 (1983)
The Explosion of Eric Roberts
Whitin this shockingly beautiful docudrama there is a performance by Eric Roberts that goes beyond anything we had ever seen an actor do on screen. He explodes in front of our eyes. Fearless, horrible, pathetic, sad but above all truthful. With the kind of truth we're not use to deal with. I was horrified because I understood it, like James Mason in Lolita. I'm not sympathising with him but I'm understanding him. The counterpart to Roberts's human monster is not Mariel Hemigway's beautiful Dorothy Stratten but Carroll Baker as Dorothy's mother. We can tell by looking into her face that she knows. She knows,she senses, she fears to be right because there is so little she can do. Carroll Baker's superb portrayal represents us. We dread what she dreads and like her, we're impotent to the unavoidable. Star 80 is a masterpiece. Like all of Bob Fosse's work, nothing is casual. The puzzle that he presents us with, connects the dots in a twisted, although immediately recognisable, pattern, leading inexorably to the most excruciating domestic tragedy. From Othelo to O J Simpson. Our every day horror served cold as a shattering work of art.
Spartacus or How I learnt to live away from Hollywood
This is Kubrick's farewell to Hollywood. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall. I don't believe for a minute that it was a cordial parting of the ways. I mean, Kubrick never returned, never! With "Paths of Glory" Kubrick gave Kirk Douglas, not just his best part as an actor, but his best movie. By the time Douglas called Kubrick to "take over" "Spartacus" Douglas was already a huge star with too much saying in the matter. Look at it, it's clear. "Spartacus" is more Douglas than Kubrick. Great fun to watch, yes, absolutely. A terrific script by black listed Dalton Trumbo. Some fight sequences unequalled in the history of film. Look at the fight between Douglas and Woody Strode and compare it to the ones in "Troy" or "Gladiator" for that matter. It is sad an embarrassing to realise how low we've fallen. Computer generated images or not. The cast is unbelievable but it's clearly not Kubrick's. The casting of his movies was part of his master plan. He would cast a Ryan O'Neil as Barry Lyndon for instance so he can blend perfectly with the magnificent tapestry, without adding any colours of his own. The same can be said of Keir Dullea, in 2001, a robotic non entity in a showdown with a voice. When he needed actors to be at the very pinnacle of his universe he went to Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell or James Mason. Even the casting of Tom Cruise made a lot of sense. He used the star and his wife to talk about the dreamlike powers of betrayal. In "Spartacus" Tony Curtis, plays Antoninus, a teacher of the classics. A campy idea never seen in a Kubrick film, before or since. To be fair, there are some spot on, brilliant pieces of casting. Charles Laughton is, as usual, superb. Peter Ustinov, terrific. Laurence Olivier manages to give a multifaceted portrait of weakness, fear and greed. Jean Simmons makes the reason to survive totally believable. But the cutesy love scene between her and a shiny muscular, coiffed Spartacus is truly terrible. As a final blow, the scene is enveloped in a sticky, corny music theme. Having said all that. Don't you dare missing this epic. I'ts Kubrick's goodbye to Hollywood and like everything else that the master said or do, he really meant it.
Finding Neverland (2004)
I don't know how good this movie is and I don't care because I loved it. It left me kind of numb. Moved, transported, enchanted. That's exactly how I want to feel when I get out of a movie. "Finding Neverland" gave it to me, in spades. Johnny Depp, hey Johnny you're the best we've got. I forgot that it was you two minutes into the movie, I only knew I loved that character. That in itself is part of the many miracles the movie has in store. Yours, is a performance of perfect beauty. Kate Winslet is quickly becoming my favourite actress. Julie Christie is, was and always will be my "Darling" but Freddie Highmore, you and your brothers gave me one the best evenings in a movie theatre I had in a long, long, time. My girlfriend just read my comment over my shoulder, her comment was very succinct: "You write like a woman" Okay, let's see if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Good night kids.
Open your eyes, if you dare
How frightening. How unnerving. What a spectacular piece of film-making. I saw the film for the first time with a tiresome former colleague who kept turning to me and whispering : "Please exhale" "Are you breathing?" "Please breathe" or "Please stop breathing" I wanted to run away but I couldn't I was glued, stacked, hooked. The world of David Lynch is made of kindly horrors, normal monsters, poetic nightmares. I wonder what planet is he from. I think it would important to know so we can all avoid it. That's what any average Joe may say because every average Joe, me included, finds something familiar in this fascinating, peculiar, horrifying vision of the world. You want to close your eyes, but you can't. Even if you could, you still can hear. the whimpering of the thing, the child, the figment of David Lynch's imagination. How can you recommend a nightmare to a friend? Well you must, if friendship involves sharing every possible experience. "Earserhead" will put you to the test in a way no other film has ever done. Go! I dare you.
The Accidental Tourist (1988)
William Hurt gives one of the most intensely interior performances on record. He is indescribable moving. His emotional paralysis becomes the palpitating centre of this gorgeous Lawrence Kasdan film. I saw the film, when it first come out, on a big huge screen that allowed me the strangely unique privilege of entering a man's soul. In the surface, nothing. Less than nothing, William Hurt floats through his daily existence, surrounded by his quirky family, his wounded, distant ex wife but first and foremost, his impenetrable loneliness. The character never utters a word who could confirm that, and yet is there, ever present, if you look deep, deep into his eyes. The scene in which he almost lets himself go in Geena Davis's arms is as cathartic as anything I've ever seen in any modern American movie. A couple of days ago I saw it again on a normal TV screen and all of the above wasn't there. Still a gorgeous film, a funny, melancholic romantic comedy but what about the interior masterpiece of William Hurt's performance? Gone. Did I imagine the whole emotional ride? Possible but unlikely. I took my VHS copy to a friend's house with a phenomenal home entertainment centre and a massive screen. William Hurt's performance was back. His is a performance conceived and designed for the big screen. One hundred per cent cinematic. The TV screen is far too small to allow us into a man's soul. If you haven't seen it I urge you to see it but in a big screen, the biggest you can find. Now let me leave you with this little tip. Look into William Hurt's eyes when he is in the taxi in Paris and sees the boy, who reminds him of his own son, walking down the street. It is the best performances by an actor in one of my favourite film moments of all time.
Splendorous Alexander The Great Irishman
Oliver Stone is Oliver Stone. When you go to see one of his films you know you'll enter unknown territory. I though that was what movies were all about. A personal vision. Not documentaries or Sunday school classes. Richard Attenborough's "Ghandi" was that, and as a consequence Oscars, praises, oodles of cash. Ben Kingsley was superb but the title character is treated as if nobody had ever heard of "Ghandi" the same can be said of another Attenborough biopic: "Chaplin". No, Oliver Stone gives his audience a little bit more credit and, naturally, he is paying the consequences. I think the film is mind blowing. Arbitrary? Yes, beautifully so. Even the accents of the actors is one of the many strokes of genius. Within its historical context those characters spoke with different accents. They were in the ultimate melting pot. Colin Farrell bold portrayal, Irish accent and all is bound to leave its mark. Oliver Stone took every imaginable risk and I for one, applaud him with a loud Long Live the Cinema.
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
Strange, "ET" made me weep so did "Close Encounters" but I didn't weep in "Schindler's List", where the horrors depicted are devastating and the pain, unbearable. How can I explain that? It's not just me, discussing the subject with friends we were all in agreement, a situation more unique than rare, the only in disagreement was a friend from Aberdeen, she cried in "Schindler's List" from beginning to end, but she doesn't count, she also cried in "Zoolander". So the mystery persists. Steven Spielberg, the most commercially successful movie director of the last 30 years, has touched and ventured into different genres with the uttermost confidence. His most artistically, emotionally and financially successful movies are the ones that appeal to a child's imagination. The child in all of us. So, why is it that "Artificial Intelligence", with a child, and what a child, at the centre of the story, is so cold, so confused, so unsuccessful. I think, I suspect, I imagine that it has to do with intellect. Spielberg is an anti intellectual. When he feels we feel when he thinks we don't feel anything. The boy's need for his mother's love could have been the definitive Spielberg movie. Instead, is as if he was telling us the story against his will. The scene in which the mother has to abandon his robot son, could have been unforgettable, instead, a lot of acting in a Disney like little forest. That's also the end of the movie. It is followed by a second feature that should be called "Mad Max meets Dr.Who" with a splendid Jude Law. I went to see the film at the first matinée on its opening day. I left the theatre kind of depressed, not sad, depressed. I was reminded of it today because my friend from Aberdeen had rented the DVD, she was watching it and of course, she was crying.
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)
After the success of "The V.I.P.s" the year before, Anthony Asquith and Terence Rattigan are at it again with uneven results. The excuse this time is a Rolls Royce that passes hands from star to star. It is a formula used before many times, most successfully in Julian Duvivier's "Tales of Manhattan" in which a dinner jacket plays an important part in the destinies of Edward G Robinson, Charles Laughton, Henry Fonda and Paul Robson among others. More recently the formula was used by John Badham in his "The Gun" and then Martin Donovan in the lyrically powerful "Seeds of Tragedy" in which the Rolls Royce there is cocaine. Terence Rattigan was master at dialogue and his characters tended to move in confined spaces, take "Separated Tables" for instance. In "The Yellow Rolls Royce" we travel from England to Italy to Eastern Europe and the only confinement Rattigan finds for his characters is the interior of the luxury car. On the first segment, Rex Harrison and Jeanne Moreau show Rattigan at his best, they are great fun to watch. Harrison, playing a big shot at the foreign office, does wonderful things with Rattigan's words. On the second episode Shirley MacLaine and Art Cartney are lovely as a gangster's moll and her minder but the Italo-American gangster, as played by George C Scott, is so over the top that, practically, sinks the whole little segment. French star Alain Delon plays an Italian gigolo of sorts. He is beautiful to look at but hopeless at delivering Rattigan's lines. On the third episode Ingrid Bergman plays Ingrid Bergman, beautifully and Omar Shariff plays Omar Shariff, just as beautifully. Joyce Grenfell plays a cameo as Bergman's companion, as usually, when she's on, she steals the scene. As you may have gathered, this is the kind of picture that one would enjoy the most on a rainy Sunday afternoon. That in itself is a recommendation.
A TERRIBLE FATE
Luchino Visconti, the artist with the sword. Courage should be the first word associated with his entire opus. Film. Theater. Music. Revolutions, artistic, cultural, personal. A legacy with powerful consequences and endless ramifications. He introduced the neorealism through the work of an American novelist James Cain in "Ossesione" He gave Anna Magnani the most extraordinarily beautiful close ups of her career. He gave us Alain Delon and Maria Callas. But the last word about his life and work rests on the talents of a certain Adam Low and the voice of Helmut Berger. What a terrible fate.
For those interested, there is a 61 minute documentary by director Carlo Lizzani (a man who really knew Visconti) titled LUCHINO VISCONTI A PORTRAIT. It is out on DVD distributed by Image Entertainment
The Substitute (1993)
As awkward as this film is, there are moments that can only be described as, sublime. The moments are pinpointed by faces. If you read the film through the faces of its characters you'll have a memorable experience. The pain and anger in Amanda Donohue's face is as entertaining and shattering as anything Bette Davis has ever done. Mark Whalberg ambles down into the film scene with a bang, looking straight into the camera, inviting us to "get busy". The faces of the students, Molly Parker and Martin Cummins among them, tell us, in beautiful close ups, how much their murderous teacher has done for them. Then the teacher tells them how much they mean to her, we see the kids faces from above as her point of view. It is just wonderful. Last but not least is the amazing score by Gerald Gouriet (Madame Souzatska, Seeds of Tragedy) All in all I had the feeling that a genial mind was at work here, but chained to some kind of wall of mediocrity. As rarities go, this is the "rariest". Worth the trip.
Somebody Is Waiting (1996)
DEEP INSIDE THIS MOVIE, ANOTHER MOVIE IS WAITING
Glimpses of brilliance and then, what is this? As if a nasty little virus had entered the system to ruin everything. There are moments of such poetry, faces with such power and then... I've heard there is another version floating around, I would love to see it. That may explain the mystery of this frustrating stew. Nastassja Kinski's face has never been so real. A mother's heart peeled in front of our eyes (and she's on the screen for only a few minutes) Gabriel Byrne's weakness, fear and pain are as sharp as anything I've ever seen him do. Johnny Whitworth makes us travel through the torturous roads of his own pain and confusion without asking us to, just by being there. It is a performance of great beauty, Shirley Knight and Brian Donovan are also standouts. And yet, the film leaves us with a sense of loss. As if we've fallen asleep in the middle of it and missed something important. If there is another movie inside this movie, please somebody, let it come out. I'm waiting!
Ed Wood (1994)
The Best of Burton-Depp
Without question it's Tim Burton's best, most complete work and Johnny Depp is superb. Perhaps it's the total understanding of his subject that allows Tim Burton to fly so high here. The beautifully tailored script gives room for some exquisite character drawings, Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, Vincent D'Onofrio as Orson Wells. "When you re-write a script it gets better and better" tells Ed/Johnny to his girlfriend with a smile full of innocence. What a performance! Johnny Depp is a unique kind of actor, we never had anyone quite like him. How can he manage to disappear behind a character and still bring with him his full bag of tricks, I don't know, but he does. I only wish he wouldn't get lost in mediocrities like "Nick of Time" "The Astronaut's Wife" and "Secret Window" He belongs to the world of real, great filmmakers. Better to risk with an original idea by Emir Kusturica than a "safe", tired, Stephen King thing. Johnny, remember, we're looking at you for clues about ourselves. More Ed Woods , please!
Apartment Zero (1988)
I've never had the kind of experience that "Apartment Zero" provided me with. It left me in a daze. I've seen the film countless times since and every time I came out with something new. Last night, I showed the film to a group of people who had never seen it before. Their ages ranged from 17 years old to 41. The reaction was as divided as it was passionated. The point is, nobody could dismiss it. The film has a way to get into your system and question you. Not an easy thing for a film to do. But "Apartment Zero" does it in such an original way that you don't even know its happening. The writer/ director forces us to look into uncomfortable characters straight in the eye and find something of ourselves in there. Chilling! What it may look like a straight forward thriller is in fact a psychological, erotic, puzzle with false doors and moving walls.
Over the years "Apartment Zero" has become a point of reference to me and one of my favourite films of all time.