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.
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."