On this page I have film reviews or other film-related comments, which I will blog before they become Sprint Reviews on the s2c database. I would love to hear any comments you might have.
Water, horses, insults and lost children are what I remember most after another wonderful Labor Day weekend spent watching film after film at the 44th Telluride Film Festival. 13 films later, I found myself in a daze driving back to Denver under a full moon Labor Day midnight. I love the drive back to Denver after the festival because I reflect on each film in the order I watched them during the four fantasy days in movie heaven at nearly 9000 feet above sea level.
The water in The Shape of Water is as much a character as the actors. The "leading man," as director, Guillermo Del Toro, calls the creature from the black lagoon, which he remembers as a child, and was 3 years in the making, needs water to survive. Eliza, played by Sally Hawkins in an assuredly Oscar-nominated role, also needs water, not only to begin her day with a treat, but to enjoy romantic encounters with her leading man. Water is essentially taking on many shapes throughout the film. The dark humor in Foxtrot really works well when the soldiers trudge through the muddy pond, which reflects their sinking dwelling, when changing shifts at the Israeli/Palestinian border and when the deluge of rain drenches a Palestinian couple and Israeli guard while they wait to be cleared to enter Israel. (SPOILER ALERT Reza’s life changes in A Man of Integrity when his fish pond is poisoned by his unfriendly neighbors. Seeing him standing in the water surrounded by his dead fish still makes me angry. He also escapes to his private, "think tank" cave at least 3 or 4 times when needing a good soak in a hot spring. SPOILER ALERT) In Downsizing, I’m still confused. Were they in a downsized version of the Norwegian fjord in their downsized boat, or in the normal sized fjord navigating to the downsized town? Hostages begins with young adults swimming in the Black Sea in Batumi, Georgia. When the Georgian authorities show up to ruin their fun, one of the swimmers jokingly says to a guard, "are you afraid we will swim to Turkey?" As we are about to find out, maybe that wasn't a bad idea. Finally, how can we forget the haunting image of the river in Loveless, which frames the tragic story we just witnessed by beginning and ending there?
The Rider is mostly about the relationship between man and his horse, whether it be in the rodeo ring, or horse training, or just riding the range. The Rider was my Moonlight this year. Like Moonlight last year, it is a film with so much heart, unexpectedly moving me up to the very last shot. Beijing-born director, Chloé Zhao, and first-time actor, Brady Jandreau, have successfully presented a fresh slice of American pie, which, I believe, once it is distributed will be so uplifting for audiences needing a break from the depressing, daily headlines. Lean on Pete, which I was disappointed to not see, is also about a man and his horse. I heard from other cinephiles while waiting in line that it was a very dark story. Hostiles is essentially a Western road trip on horses during a time when the West is trying to change its attitude towards how to treat the Native Americans. After watching Jandreau train a horse in The Rider, I thought of the horses in Hostiles more than just animals, but as humble actors participating in the making of a narrative film, much like those Japanese actors who can be seen in the background in Noh theatre playing a tree or rock.
In the film, The Insult, an insult over an apartment gutter almost starts another war in Lebanon. This insult eventually lands in court, covered by the media, which causes violent protests. Loveless is filled with jabbing insults between a divorced couple, which deeply affect their sensitive son who they sadly ignore. One jealous, unforgettable insult coming from Gloria Grahame’s sister in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, unfortunately sticks with me as much as the beautiful love story. Insults are hard to forget. Michael Shannon nails it as Strickland, the McCarthy-like boss, in The Shape of Water, who incessantly insults both Eliza, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and the "leading man" without fail. Who can forget the insults the Native Americans have learned to live with to survive in Hostiles? As Chief Yellow Hawk, Wes Studi’s stoic, statuesque stare says it all.
Finally, lost children are adrift in three films. I am still in awe of Sareum Srey Moch’s performance in First They Killed My Father. At 8 years old, the first-time Cambodian actor has the burden of carrying the film. Boy, does she deliver, thanks mainly to Angelina Jolie’s probable Oscar nominated direction. Through her eyes, we witness how the Khmer Rouge entirely changes her life, her family’s and millions of other Cambodians. In Wonderstruck, two children are trying to find their way in parallel stories told 50 years apart. It takes a long, long while for the stories to connect, but what a connection it is. I am still reeling at the very last image we see of Alyosha in Loveless, as he listens to his mother and father argue right before he goes lost.
There are usually about 35 feature films in the main program. No one can see them all in 4 days. This year I was disappointed that I did not see any documentaries. It is just how it played out. It really is a fun game we all play for four glorious days in this beautiful, mountain town in Colorado. On Friday, I always think, let the games begin and bring on the Game of Shows. Each one of us has a unique strategy, which we all plan once we get our program, and alter as each day surprises us with surmountable challenges, most of which become our favorite memories of the festival experience.
Once I catch up on my sleep, I’ll be adding the credits to the Swimming to Casablanca database of all the above-mentioned films and, when it moves me, some reviews. Check back for endorphin ratings. There will be several beta endorphin ratings. It was another very good year in the mountains.
TCM hits THE MARK.. again. Thanks to them, this buried treasure has recently resurfaced. When it was released in 1961, the controversial subject matter was determined by the "powers in control" that it should be hidden from the public even though it is a superbly crafted film, well written without the predictable, embarrassing plot points and so well acted it earned Stuart Whitman an Oscar nod for Best Actor. Add the always adorable, never half-hearted Maria Schell and the always reliable, upbeat Rod Steiger to the cast in support of Whitman in probably his finest acting performance in a career spanning decades.
SPOILER ALERT: We first meet Jim Fuller (Stuart Whitman) trying to rehabilitate himself after 3 years in prison for being convicted of child molestation. Thanks to Dr. McNally (Rod Steiger) he fearfully attempts to fit in at work, in his new apartment and in public. In flashbacks we see McNally in charge of group therapy at the prison. McNally treats Fuller as a sick patient instead of as a criminal. He doesn't believe in curing Fuller because it is a sickness that he believes has no cure, but he believes he can help Fuller become confident enough to control his sick desires out in the real world. What really makes it a fascinating and unique case is that Fuller is arrested before he ever has the chance to physically act out his desires. In a flashback, we see Fuller with a young girl who he abducts, but instead of sexually abusing her, the thought of what he wants to do makes him nauseous before he can act out his desire for her. He knows he is wrong. A psychological trigger prevents him from hurting the innocent 12-year old girl. He returns her to her home and is arrested. He knows he needs help. He believes he should be institutionalized. McNally doesn't. After rehabilitation, Fuller actually says his life is like living on top of a powder keg. It can explode at any time. One of the "ticking bombs" happens when he falls in love with Ruth (Maria Schell), a widow, with an 11-year old daughter. The suspense builds. We are rooting for Fuller, which is probably why the film was pulled out of the mainstream for years, but like him, we feel his fear that his life can blow up at any time. Because of its timely subject matter, a disease that unfortunately will never go away, the film will never get old. It is one for the vaults.
Victoria (Laia Costa) is visibly or audibly in every second of this 160-minute rare gem. She has recently moved to Berlin from Madrid. One night Victoria goes to a nightclub, looking a little lonely. On her way home on her bicycle she meets four inebriated male Berliners. At this point in the film, probably about 10 minutes into it, I realized it has been one long shot with the camera fluidly following her out of the nightclub into the street. As in most films of this sort with a clever long shot like this one at the beginning (for example in SPECTRE), I was wondering when there would be a cut. It never comes for the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes. Knowing this will not ruin the film for you. Enjoy the ride. The camera follows Victoria and her new friends so easily that I needed to check with myself whether a cut just occurred or not. It truly is a work of original art, much like SON OF SAUL, BIRDMAN and RUSSIAN ARK.
Laia Costa is remarkable as Victoria, emoting a performance worthy of the highest praise. And, need I remind you it is done in one take. Let's not forget her costars, the four carefree, fun loving young men who eventually get into something way over their heads. She is most attracted to Sonne (Frederick Lau), who was the one who made the first move to connect with Victoria. The four friends seamlessly interact with Victoria making it look like it could be improvised, but not feeling at all like it is. I'm guessing it was well rehearsed instead of improvised. The timing has to be precise, especially since there are several locations accessed by either foot or car. I'm still in awe of the shots in the car. Where is the cameraman sitting? And, what is so impressive is the characters are so engaging and the story is never boring that I never really was distracted by the thought of where the cameraman is until later. The story takes place in real time, some time between four and seven in the morning. A lot happens to all the characters. The two plus hours just fly by.
Kudos go to director, Sebastian Schipper and cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who also shot another one of the year's best films, RAMS, for giving me such a surprisingly, original gift. It's not easy to make a work of art so viscerally enjoyable and so rewarding to watch.
Almost anyone, whether married or not, who was an adult 45 years ago can relate to this profoundly, intelligent film. During the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary party, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling), both independently process an event that happened in Geoff's life before they were married. On Monday he receives a letter reminding them of this tragic event in his life. Even though it took place before Kate knew Geoff, she becomes emotionally distraught as she witnesses how it affects Geoff's normal routine. Each day of the week is presented as daily, short vignettes within the film, evenly pacing the buildup to their anniversary party on Saturday. So each day Kate discovers more about this event through her own detective work. These subtle discoveries are major revelations for her and us thanks to the pacing by writer/director, Andrew Haigh, and the superb acting by Rampling and Courtenay who perform as though they really have been married for 45 years.
Wouldn't it be a wonderful moment on Oscar night if Charlotte Rampling came out a winner? Even though Saoirse Ronan for BROOKLYN and Brie Larson for ROOM also deserve to be winners, I think it would be a great way to celebrate an actress who has really come into her own in the last 15 years or so. What a class act!
Spoiler alert: In a year of violent, headlining films; such as, MAD MAX, THE REVENANT and HATEFUL EIGHT, all of which I must admit I really enjoyed, it is refreshing to know that films like 45 YEARS, ROOM and BROOKLYN can still be made even though they will not be box office blockbusters. To me, hearing Tom Courtenay explain in detail how his pregnant lover tragically died, is more evocative than the images of "Mad" Max escaping his twisted, obsessed pursuers or DiCaprio's Hugh Glass returning from a near-death experience.
With Valentine's Day over a week away, I got inspired to finally write something about LE NOTTI BIANCHE after my most recent viewing. It is a wonderful, innocent, romantic film based on Fyodor Dostoyevksy's short story, "White Nights," written in 1848. Italian director, Luchino Visconti, known more for his post WWII neo-realistic films, chooses to update the Russian story to the canals, streets and back alleys of an economic-recovering, 1957 Italy instead of the streets, parks and embankments of a more cheerful, affluent Petersburg. The love triangle is still the same, the intense feelings of love for one another are still the same, the heart-breaking ending is still the same, even their storied lives are similar, but instead of quiet summer nights in Petersburg, vacated by most residents on holiday, we see in this Italian city, presumably Venice, a busy nightlife providing some distraction for the lonely, some "cat-walking" for criminals, and for others another homeless night spent huddled on the cold, cobble stones abutting the canal. Shot entirely on a Cinecitta set, Visconti makes it look as realistic as his other films (OSSESSIONE or ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS) shot on location.
Spoilers: The two lovers are oblivious to the late-night distractions on their first two nights together as most new lovers are when getting to know one another. As Mario (Marcello Mastroianni) listens to Natalia (Maria Schell) confess why she was crying on the bridge over the canal, the third party (Jean Marais) is introduced in flashbacks. He is the absent lover Natalia has pledged to see one year later at a designated time and place, the bridge where Mario first sees her. This sets up the age-old premise of which lover will be the lucky one in the final act. In this final act, their third night together, they enjoy some of the nightlife that others are enjoying. Choreographed to the rock and roll, Bill Haley song, "13 Women," Mario and Natalia brazenly shed their shy inhibitions, transformed now as exhibitionists as Mario jumps in the middle of the encircled crowd for his solo dance routine, eventually coercing Natalia to join him as the crowd cheers them on. I love this scene. They are both so happy to be in love. However, reality literally chimes in as the clock strikes to remind Natalia she is late for another hopeful rendezvous with her returned lover, Marais. Will the tables turn on poor, shy Mario, or will he be happy for once in his life?
The chemistry between Mastroianni and Schell lights up the screen. Schell flirtatiously seduces each frame of the black and white celluloid in her closeups. Her subtle nods of the head, mixed with her adorable smiles and surprise looks are invaluable. Mastroianni, a rising star in one of his first major roles, embodies Dostoyevsky's Mario as much as Visconti's. He totally is Mario, the shy dreamer who has wasted his life away hoping for a relationship just like he has now discovered with Natalia. He's at his best when strolling the streets alone when there is no dialogue. You can understand why he attracts a stray dog to follow him as the camera floats along as he meanders through the streets and back alleys. I can't imagine this film in color, especially when the snow begins to fall on that final "white night."
Final note: this film would make for a great Valentine's gift for that special someone in your life. Criterion has recently released a version, which includes a reading of the short story in case you haven't read it. By the way, if you haven't read it yet, it makes absolutely no difference whether you read it before seeing the film or after. You can also rent the DVD on Netflix.
There is an abundance of love found in this wonderful, sublime film. In fact, there is only one undesirable character and only one major incident, which results in adding some suspense to the natural flow of events. Its like one of those Irish Ballads that brings a tear to the eye. We even hear a ballad sung at a meal served at a mission for the Irish homeless in Brooklyn. It comes at a time when Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is trying hard to overcome her homesickness; not much help there. If this Irish Ballad doesn't move you then you should begin moving to the nearest exit.
Not much original is happening. What makes this an excellent time spent at the movies and a refreshing experience these days, is the acting, writing, and directing. Ronan is obviously at home in the role of a young lady leaving post-war Ireland in search of new opportunities across the pond. Her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), is the one who is intent on gifting Eilis this life-changing opportunity. We find out later in the story why. To avoid the copious pitfalls awaiting an innocent, young immigrant in 1952, Eilis is safely guided by more worldly, earth angels: Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), her ship berth-mate (Eva Birthistle), her supervisor at work (Jessica Paré) and Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters) her boarding-house landlady.
Her luck dances on when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen) at the local Irish dance hall. He is Italian, but likes Irish girls. He also loves the Dodgers, affectionately nicknamed the "Bums," before breaking all of Brooklyn's hearts when leaving Ebbets Field for Los Angeles in 1957. Hopefully for Tony, Eilis won't break his heart when returning to Ireland after an untimely turn of events. There she meets Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson) and the suspense begins. Who's heart will she break? Remember, it is an Irish Ballad, so someone's heart has to be broken.
Quentin Tarantino delivers another engaging, black comedy screenplay, this time a Western set in Wyoming during a blizzard. It takes place all in one long, hellish day. The film is almost 3 hours in length, but it felt like half the time. I was so focused on the dialogue, which is the result of some, or all of the main characters, being confined in two spaces; first the inside of a stagecoach, then later in Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach roadhouse in the middle of nowhere on the way to the town of Red Rock. Because two of the characters are bounty hunters, Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth (Kurt Russell), the dread of something awful going wrong lingers in almost every scene. John Ruth is nicknamed the Hangman because he has the reputation of delivering his bounty alive to be hanged, while Major Warren usually kills his bounty because it is easier to deliver. This is their job and they are intent on drawing their paycheck no matter who gets in their way.
I was reminded of RESERVOIR DOGS, THE PETRIFIED FOREST, STAGECOACH and DAY OF THE OUTLAW, all excellent films in comparison. Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, who were both in DOGS, reappear along with other Tarantino regulars, Jackson, James Parks and Zoë Bell. Tim Roth plays the polite, European character usually played so well by Christoph Waltz. Jennifer Jason Leigh as John Roth's bounty donates her face to be bloodied in many violent, Tarantino-esque, tongue-in-cheek ways. Bruce Dern, still looking as confused as he did in NEBRASKA, does fine work as the confederate General stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. The snowy, mountain winter scenes are beautifully photographed by Robert Richardson in and around Telluride, Colorado. The wonderful Ennio Morricone soundtrack, sometimes sounding like Bernard Herrmann, adds the final ingredient for this latest tasty Quentin Tarantino gem, which rewards all of his fans for the long wait and mega-hype usually surrounding his films.
A note on the viewing experience. I tried to see the 70mm film version during the first week when it was released exclusively nationwide, called The Roadshow. When I arrived 30 minutes before the show, I found out there was already a line forming one hour in advance, so I was one of the last in line. I got a refund planning to return at a more convenient time. In retrospect, I'm sorry I missed out on seeing the 70mm film print, but not sorry to have missed the crowds. All exclusive performances were sold out. Ironically, when I went today, only 8 people were in the theatre. And, ironically instead of paying the exclusive ticket price of $14.99, I paid only $6.99, 8 dollars less. Eight was my lucky number today.
With the end of 2015 nearing, while analyzing LOST BOUNDARIES it seems only fitting that it should be my surprise discovery of the year. Having never heard of it and only stumbling upon it recently on TCM, what makes it such a salient film is the controversial subject matter for its time in 1949. I cannot think of an earlier film that directly confronts racial prejudice mainly between black and white as the main plot rather than as an unspeakable minor one. The drama is one of traditional storytelling for the most part in that it almost plays out as an educational film, one that you might see in a high school Health Ed class, which almost makes sense since racial prejudice and bigotry is a social disease destroying many lives, spreading throughout society without much media awareness back in 1949. Following up such literary classics written in 1940, such as, Richard Wright's "Native Son," and Carson McCuller's "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," and written in 1947 Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," the timing seems apropos to finally have a film at the end of the 1940's addressing what it is like to be an African-American. Being released only months before a similar, more mainstream film, PINKY, I have no clue how to answer the obvious question, why is LOST BOUNDARIES still hidden away in the "vault?"
We are told by an off-screen narrator that it is based on a true story. It begins in the present in a small New Hampshire town. In flashbacks beginning in 1922, the main characters, Scott (Mel Ferrer) and Marcia (Beatrice Pearson) Carter are light-skinned African-Americans soon to be married and first seen at Scott's medical school graduation. Through a turn of events Scott and Marcia eventually find themselves living in the aforementioned New Hampshire town posing as whites. The film quickly jumps ahead 20 years bringing into focus their two children, Howard (Richard Hylton) and Shelly (Susan Douglas) with the backdrop of WWII. I wouldn't go as far to say that the suspense begins, but surely not knowing at this point how the film will end adds a bit of suspense to a drama up to this point that has steered away from being too manipulative with various plot points. It is inevitable that the ruse of being white will eventually be disclosed or else there wouldn't be a story. But how and when and what will be the consequences become the questions that keep our attention focused until the plot-twisting climax.
Spoiler alert: Relatively speaking the racial prejudice in the film is accepted by the black community without showing much anger, more of a calm acceptance of the way things are. It is refreshing to see that bigots are not only presented within the ignorant white community, but also within the black community showing their racism towards light-skinned blacks. When Dr. Carter is refused a job in Georgia at a Negro clinic because he is light-skinned, he and his wife are forced to go north to live with her parents. He swears he will never pose as white, but eventually gives in when offered a job at a white hospital. After saving the life of another doctor, he is offered the job in New Hampshire, again forcing Carter and his wife to pose as white. Twenty years later, the final act deals with how his grown children react to finding out they are black in an all-white community and how Dr. Carter is refused acceptance as a Naval officer because of his color.
Reviewed on 12/17/15
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is not swimming to Casablanca, he is swimming in Casablanca, if that is what you want to call it. However, with his incredible athletic abilities we can easily believe he could swim to Casablanca if he wanted, and do most of the approximately 200 miles underwater.
In this 5th version of the Mission Impossible series, there are the good rogue spies and the bad ones. Ethan and his IMF team (Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg) are the good rogues. They attempt to stop the rogue spy (Sean Harris), head of the Syndicate, from terrorizing the world. In this attempt, Ethan meets his female counterpart in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). You decide what side she is on. In every way she is Ethan's equal. She even joins Ethan in "swimming" in Casablanca. They like to stay underwater as long as possible.
I have not been a fan of the MI series, however I was thoroughly drawn in to the action and suspense in this one once they got to Casablanca. The mission isn't confusing, just impossible. The inevitable chase scene is exciting in each bump, twist, and vertical and horizontal turn. The fight scenes are choreographed well and just as unbelievable as in every other action film with the goons who never can hit their targets when shooting at them. Yes, Ethan is very lucky, which CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) mentions early in the film when evaluating the worth of the IMF team. Hey, maybe there is something to Scientology after all?
I am now looking forward to the next MI film. Why? Because of the new IMF girl, of course. I'd put her up against any Bond girl any time. What a discovery Rebecca Ferguson is. Smart move to bring her into the fold. She is a rogue nation of one!
Reviewed on 12/13/2015
Thanks to Showtime Now now being available to stream by offering monthly subscriptions, I found this unknown gem. Made in 1966, it is right out of the Roger Corman "school" of film making. Written and starring Jack Nicholson, I wasn't going to miss this one. The digital transfer is stellar. I couldn't believe I was watching a western made in 1966. Monte Hellman does a fine job of directing. The acting is a little rough around the edges, especially Millie Perkins who seems as though she is auditioning for the 1968 version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Of course, it might not be her fault. The writing wasn't in favor of giving her a strong female part. She is the farmer's daughter who's family Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell, two cowboys on the run from vigilantes, take hostage. It is a hackneyed western plot, but with solid directing and a respectable performance by Nicholson, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent on this buried treasure. This might easily be Nicholson's finest pre-EASY RIDER performance, at least one with more screen time giving him time to show off his budding talent as an actor... not as a screenwriter.
Spoiler alert: Nicholson, Mitchell and another cowboy happen to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are between cowhand jobs and heading to Texas for work. After riding all day, they find this secluded cabin looking for some vittles and shuteye. Unfortunately it turns out to be the hideout for Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton) and his gang of outlaws. When the vigilantes show up the next day, the three cowboys are mistaken to be in Blind Dick's gang and there is no time to explain their innocence. There only chance is to head for the hills, literally. So, begins the ensuing chase and their desperate hope to not end up swinging from the end of a rope hanging from the nearest tree branch.
Reviewed on 12/5/2015
Being a sucker for the buddy, road film genre (THELMA AND LOUISE and SALVADOR, quickly come to mind), I was ready to settle in after the first poker game. Add Ben Mendelsohn (STARRED UP, BLOODLINE and SLOW WEST) to the mix and already the endorphins are kicking in. He reminds me so much of Sean Penn in his glory days. He is someone who dominates each scene, having such a range of emotions you just don't know what will happen. Tension seems to linger in every scene Mendelsohn is in. He is perfectly cast as Gerry, a compulsive gambler. Ryan Reynolds also does some of his finest work as Curtis, Gerry's new good luck charm and road trip buddy. Curtis is a gambler, but seems to have a good perspective about winning and losing. He has his own personal issues, which are so complex we really don't know much about him even after the film ends. Gerry's problem is simpler. He knows he has a problem with money because of his gambling addiction. His personal life is quickly spinning out of control and the only way he can handle his money problems is by gambling more, hoping for the big win. Gerry talks Curtis into going on a road trip to New Orleans, hitting casinos, riverboats, horse and dog racetracks on the way. Curtis, being more of the "go with a flow" nature, is drawn in by Gerry's charm, so the journey begins. It is a good one filled with unpredictable turns and twists, which make for a fun time, for us. It is so refreshing to know that films like this one can still be made today. Kudos go out to the writers and directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Thank you, thank you!!
Reviewed on 12/4/2015
Some of the best musicians, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, have died way too early at the age of 27. Add the name Amy Winehouse to that list. Tony Bennett, who Amy idolizes and performs a duet with him on a recording, is quoted in the film as saying "life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough." How profound. I can surely relate to that. Listen to those sagacious words.
Early in the documentary Amy tells someone that she really doesn't want to be famous because she doesn't think she can handle it. But, with that voice she was destined to be a star. Think of Sarah Vaughn doing Ella Fitzgerald or vice versa. Who cares if you can't understand a word. It literally is a soulful sound. Fortunately, for jazz fans, she grew up listening to Thelonius Monk among other jazz greats. Once she establishes her reputation she is able to assemble a talented group as backup. Eventually touring does her in. One of her hits is a song called "Rehab," which she definitely knows a lot about. Unfortunately, she is beyond help. It seems as though she is doomed to die early.
Director Asif Kapadia successfully tells her life story by editing the impressive collection of footage, with interviews of friends and family, along with an occasional aerial shot of London (one shot is mind blowing in that it begins at street level in front of a car on the street, then fluidly pulls back through a stone arch far back into the air). We first see Amy in a video shot by her best friend when she was a teen before starting a singing career. She is a healthy looking teen. Normal build, maybe even leaning to be a little overweight. Quite buxom. After years of performing on the road, we see her shortly before her death in Africa in rehab. She is skinny as a rail. The signs are there that she is unhealthy; in fact, her doctor is quoted as telling her she could easily kill herself the next time she drinks too much. Another sad ending to an incredibly gifted musical talent.
Reviewed on 11/28/2015
Its all about the editing. Peter Ettedgui is editor and co-writer. Knowing its narrative and editing the footage to its story makes this documentary work. It is a compelling way of bringing Marlon Brando back to life. Using tapes narrated by Brando, intercut with his filmography and slices from his personal life, Ettedgui creates a masterpiece.
The film does not shy away from Brando's history as a controversial actor with whom to work. In fact, when listening to the tapes we get Brando's side of the storied headlines that were criticizing him during the making of such films as MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and APOCALYPSE NOW. We learn that he believed strongly in mixing the rectitude in his personal life with his work up on the screen. He constantly refers to lies in many different contexts, with acting the most salient one in his life. Marlon is not ashamed to admit to the disasters he made in the '60's, in particular, CANDY and COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG. On one of the tapes labeled "hypnosis" he tapes to himself how to relax by remembering tranquil times from his past, which most likely is where the title is conceived. When the film ends on a very sad and tragic note, we realize we have just witnessed almost 80 years in the life of one of Hollywood's most engaging actors, past or present. Many believe he was the best actor of all time. I certainly won't disagree if we are talking about the '50's and '70's.
Not only are the sound tapes rare, but as a bonus we see some rare interviews of Stella Adler, the renowned acting teacher who studied under the Russian acting director, Stanislavski. Brando comments that without her coaching he never would have been a successful actor. He ponders on what his life would've been like if he wasn't an actor and he says he probably would have been a con man. We never would've have seen him in one of the most famous scenes on celluloid, pleadingly and passionately screaming for "Stella... Stella."
Reviewed on 10/24/2015
Denis Villeneuve, the director, sure knows when and how to play his trump card (see reviews for INCENDIES and PRISONERS). Because the success of SICARIO relies on its suspense, the timing of releasing important information to the viewer is essential. Sicario essentially means hitman. So, who is the hitman? Perhaps it will be easy to guess, but why is more important to find out than who.
Basically, the film fits into the "war on drugs" subgenre, similar to TRAFFIC and TRAFFIK and more recently the engaging Netflix series, NARCOS. Featuring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as the "good" guys, the opening shot shows us a closeup of an Emily Blunt we have never seen before. Based on previous performances, on paper she might seem miscast in this genre, but kudos go out to her and the filmmakers for taking the chance because she really pulls off a gutsy, credible performance as the experienced drug-busting FBI agent, who soon learns how inexperienced she really is when it comes to actually tracking down a Mexican druglord. She struggles with her own definition of what is right, her own ethics when it comes to getting in the trenches with those like Brolin and del Toro, who have years of experiencing the battles with druglord terrorists.
Written in or around 300 BC, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" says in the "Weaknesses and Strengths" chapter that "an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strengths and strikes weaknesses. And as water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy. And as water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions. Thus, one able to gain the victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine."