Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vibrator (2003)

Reviewed by Shu Zin

Wow! What an exhilarating little gem, Ryuichi Hiroki’s VIBRATOR is! I loved this sensitive, perfectly paced film - which has absolutely nothing to do with a vibrator - just a heads up! The story is about a troubled, but oddly spontaneous, young free-lance writer, who decides to hook up with a truck driver who catches her eye at a convenience store, just as he heads out on a long haul. This is a road story that held me entranced and responsive from the first scene through the last notes of the credits. Astonishingly realistic and subtle, with no apologies, the story develops as these two intelligent, eccentric characters get to know and trust each other.


It is breathtakingly observant, sensual as can be, kindly in its sensibility, and funny, too. All this said, you might be surprised to hear that it moved me to real tears more than once. The production is wonderful, with great, well-observed scenes along the road, a leisurely camera and beautiful composition, and the acting and direction are absolutely first-rate. Shinobu Terajima as the adventuresome writer is astounding and compelling, even though she is no raving beauty; her acting and persona are hypnotic.


The chemistry between her character and that of Nao Omori (the truck driver) is wonderful beyond words; as soon as I buy this DVD, I’m going to check out other films made by Terajima, and by Ryuichi Hiroki, the director. This is the best film I’ve seen in ages. Highly recommended. Postscript: Ryuichi Hiroki also directed TOKYO TRASH BABY, which was quirky, engrossing and richly original, and I AM AN S&M WRITER, also engaging, and very funny. I’d recommend them both and, if you are like me, you might want to see all three of these at the same time, so you can wrap your mind around his style and vision through total immersion. He spent his early years making “pinku” films, by the way, and I think he is one of the most interesting Japanese directors today.


Reviewed by Shu Zin

Vibrator (2003)

Reviewed by Shu Zin

Wow! What an exhilarating little gem, Ryuichi Hiroki’s VIBRATOR is! I loved this sensitive, perfectly paced film - which has absolutely nothing to do with a vibrator - just a heads up! The story is about a troubled, but oddly spontaneous, young free-lance writer, who decides to hook up with a truck driver who catches her eye at a convenience store, just as he heads out on a long haul. This is a road story that held me entranced and responsive from the first scene through the last notes of the credits. Astonishingly realistic and subtle, with no apologies, the story develops as these two intelligent, eccentric characters get to know and trust each other.


It is breathtakingly observant, sensual as can be, kindly in its sensibility, and funny, too. All this said, you might be surprised to hear that it moved me to real tears more than once. The production is wonderful, with great, well-observed scenes along the road, a leisurely camera and beautiful composition, and the acting and direction are absolutely first-rate. Shinobu Terajima as the adventuresome writer is astounding and compelling, even though she is no raving beauty; her acting and persona are hypnotic.


The chemistry between her character and that of Nao Omori (the truck driver) is wonderful beyond words; as soon as I buy this DVD, I’m going to check out other films made by Terajima, and by Ryuichi Hiroki, the director. This is the best film I’ve seen in ages. Highly recommended. Postscript: Ryuichi Hiroki also directed TOKYO TRASH BABY, which was quirky, engrossing and richly original, and I AM AN S&M WRITER, also engaging, and very funny. I’d recommend them both and, if you are like me, you might want to see all three of these at the same time, so you can wrap your mind around his style and vision through total immersion. He spent his early years making “pinku” films, by the way, and I think he is one of the most interesting Japanese directors today.


Reviewed by Shu Zin

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Never Let Me Go (2010) ****


Never Let Me Go is an intriguing dose of speculative fiction, set largely in the 1980s, and tracks the relationship of 3 friends - Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly) – from childhood to their late 20s. The story contains some familiar thematic elements from popular sci-fi, but places those elements in unexpected pastoral settings, creating a film that’s ultimately an odd mixture of Blade Runner and How Green Was My Valley. The plot hinges on hidden nuggets of information – quite shocking information - that are slowly doled out in baffling hints and whispers in the first act. By the time a sympathetic boarding school teacher (Sally Hawkins, back to being normal again after Happy-Go-Lucky) spills the entire can of Heinz beans, the film has tricked us into caring about these bright-eyed waifs. The explanation makes perfect sense and ties up all the dangling strings, but it’s cold comfort because confusion has been replaced by creeping dread.



Carey Mulligan has a unique ability to play a victim without ever seeming weak or wobbly. It’s a trait she exploited in The Education to great effect and director Mark Romanek leans heavily on it here. The friends eventually graduate from their special school, and take residence on a sort of foster-farm, where they spend their days dodging cow pies while going for long walks through the dales. Mulligan maintains a stiff upper lip through it all, for not only is she fully aware of her fate, she must also contend with the burgeoning romance of foul tempered Ruth and innocent Tommy, for whom Mulligan has carried a torch for years.


As the principles approach their date with destiny, Romanek confounds our expectations by injecting  stately temperance in place of desperation. The film is based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, and Never Let Me Go has the same repressed loathing of awkward embarrassment; the same admiration for those who allow resolute duty to trump fiery hysterics. When Kathy and Tommy have their last hope for happiness cruelly dashed at a meeting with their retired former headmistress (Charlotte Rampling), it is Kathy who delivers the final blow in an effort to spare all involved  a moment of social unpleasantness.


Through imagining a world devoid of medical ethics, Never Let Me Go is a film that raises questions about what it means to be truly human. Like the subservient household staff in The Remains of the Day, thoughts of individualism or rebellion never seem to enter the minds of Never Let Me Go’s young protagonists. Perhaps such notions have been bred out of the species – the film never really addresses that issue directly – but Romanek and Ishiguro have created a chillingly placid world resigned to sacrifice and subjugation. As the film intently marches to its prescribed conclusion, its fulfillment hits the soul like a sledgehammer. We are accustomed to a cinema of hope, a cinema of catharsis, and Never Let Me Go intentionally swims against that popular tide. Like Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, we are left with poignant memories as our only proof of earthly existence .

Never Let Me Go (2010) ****


Never Let Me Go is an intriguing dose of speculative fiction, set largely in the 1980s, and tracks the relationship of 3 friends - Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly) – from childhood to their late 20s. The story contains some familiar thematic elements from popular sci-fi, but places those elements in unexpected pastoral settings, creating a film that’s ultimately an odd mixture of Blade Runner and How Green Was My Valley. The plot hinges on hidden nuggets of information – quite shocking information - that are slowly doled out in baffling hints and whispers in the first act. By the time a sympathetic boarding school teacher (Sally Hawkins, back to being normal again after Happy-Go-Lucky) spills the entire can of Heinz beans, the film has tricked us into caring about these bright-eyed waifs. The explanation makes perfect sense and ties up all the dangling strings, but it’s cold comfort because confusion has been replaced by creeping dread.



Carey Mulligan has a unique ability to play a victim without ever seeming weak or wobbly. It’s a trait she exploited in The Education to great effect and director Mark Romanek leans heavily on it here. The friends eventually graduate from their special school, and take residence on a sort of foster-farm, where they spend their days dodging cow pies while going for long walks through the dales. Mulligan maintains a stiff upper lip through it all, for not only is she fully aware of her fate, she must also contend with the burgeoning romance of foul tempered Ruth and innocent Tommy, for whom Mulligan has carried a torch for years.


As the principles approach their date with destiny, Romanek confounds our expectations by injecting  stately temperance in place of desperation. The film is based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, and Never Let Me Go has the same repressed loathing of awkward embarrassment; the same admiration for those who allow resolute duty to trump fiery hysterics. When Kathy and Tommy have their last hope for happiness cruelly dashed at a meeting with their retired former headmistress (Charlotte Rampling), it is Kathy who delivers the final blow in an effort to spare all involved  a moment of social unpleasantness.


Through imagining a world devoid of medical ethics, Never Let Me Go is a film that raises questions about what it means to be truly human. Like the subservient household staff in The Remains of the Day, thoughts of individualism or rebellion never seem to enter the minds of Never Let Me Go’s young protagonists. Perhaps such notions have been bred out of the species – the film never really addresses that issue directly – but Romanek and Ishiguro have created a chillingly placid world resigned to sacrifice and subjugation. As the film intently marches to its prescribed conclusion, its fulfillment hits the soul like a sledgehammer. We are accustomed to a cinema of hope, a cinema of catharsis, and Never Let Me Go intentionally swims against that popular tide. Like Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, we are left with poignant memories as our only proof of earthly existence .

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Reflections in a Golden Eye (1969)*****

This terrific movie truly has stood the test of time, as fresh and startling a masterpiece today as it was 40 yrs ago. And the DVD, with the director John Huston's intended "golden haze" restored, is sublime. The film ran for only a week in its original production before Warner Brothers recalled it and restored it to Technicolor. In the version Huston made, the production bathes every frame in a golden haze, lending to the atmosphere a sense of humid morbidity. REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE is a film about desperation, unendurable repression, careless, selfish dalliance set against dissipating military dignity, dark sexual urges and incipient rage. These elements emerge in a brooding, suspenseful story adapted from a Carson McCullers novel, which begins, “There is a fort in the south where a few years ago a murder was committed…”

 
REFLECTIONS is set in an anachronistic army base somewhere in the south. The writing of this psychological melodrama, a study of human hell, is subtle and compelling; every scene is rich with symbolism accessible to the thoughtful viewer without being cloying, simplistic or pat. The late Elizabeth Taylor plays Leonora, the spoiled and randy wife of tortured Army Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando). Leonora is a fascinating character who alternates between coy and charmingly manipulative to incisive and sadistic. Taylor never steps over the line in her performance, she never “hogs the stage”, so to speak. Major Penderton lives a life of self-controlled, quiet desperation as he struggles to keep his aging body from going to seed, while his mind is assaulted by unwanted sexual awareness. We see him becoming ineffectual with the men he lectures and commands. He begins to preen in front of the mirror. Weldon later assesses his predicament with this observation: “Any fulfillment obtained at the expense of normality is wrong…and should not be allowed to bring happiness. In short, it’s better, because it’s morally honorable, for the square peg to keep scraping about in a round hole, rather than to discover and use the unorthodox one that would fit it.” What Weldon goes through shortly before the murder is psychologically terrifying, and a scene wherein Williams enters the house as Weldon smooths his hair in anticipation upstairs is shattering. This is a movie that starts with a low grrrr, and ends with an agonized roar.


Marlon Brando’s performance is powerful, maybe his best ever, but the whole cast is superb. Also worthy of note is Zorro David, who plays the hilarious, intelligent and engaging Anacleto, the Filipino house boy/confident to neurotic Alison, affectingly played by Julie Harris. Alison is married to a not-too-bright Colonel Morris Langdon, played perfectly low-key and slightly dense by Brian Keith. He takes horseback rides with Leonora, occasionally indulging in a little pleasurable diversion with the wife of his subordinate. This film simmers with sexual tension - even the horses were loaded with it - and Robert Forster, who plays the enigmatic catalyst, Williams, had no lines of consequence at all during the whole movie, although he is central to all the action and remains a mysterious, brooding character to the end, subtly insinuating and disrespectful even to his desultory salutes. The movie is full of wonderful little details, like a fine stallion eating raspberries, as his mistress frolics in the shrubbery, or when Leonora takes off all her clothes in the living room, to challenge her prissy husband. She then delivers to her horrified husband perhaps the most unexpected line in the whole movie: Son, have you ever been collared…and dragged out into the street and thrashed by a naked woman?


A notable aspect of this work is that each of the very diverse characters is given equal weight and attention by the director. None prevailed as the "star", even though Elizabeth Taylor is given top billing, and each character is treated with keen, non-judgmental interest. Unusual to see Liz so content just to be the ditzy, self-absorbed character she plays...that, and nothing more. 


Special Features on this DVD offers a “making of” with “vintage behind the scenes footage” well worth a look. We can see John Huston at work, and how intensely concentrated the actors are, especially, perhaps, Elizabeth Taylor, in wanting to please him. Movie and Special Features: highly recommended.

           Reviewed by Shu Zin

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1969)*****

This terrific movie truly has stood the test of time, as fresh and startling a masterpiece today as it was 40 yrs ago. And the DVD, with the director John Huston's intended "golden haze" restored, is sublime. The film ran for only a week in its original production before Warner Brothers recalled it and restored it to Technicolor. In the version Huston made, the production bathes every frame in a golden haze, lending to the atmosphere a sense of humid morbidity. REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE is a film about desperation, unendurable repression, careless, selfish dalliance set against dissipating military dignity, dark sexual urges and incipient rage. These elements emerge in a brooding, suspenseful story adapted from a Carson McCullers novel, which begins, “There is a fort in the south where a few years ago a murder was committed…”

 
REFLECTIONS is set in an anachronistic army base somewhere in the south. The writing of this psychological melodrama, a study of human hell, is subtle and compelling; every scene is rich with symbolism accessible to the thoughtful viewer without being cloying, simplistic or pat. The late Elizabeth Taylor plays Leonora, the spoiled and randy wife of tortured Army Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando). Leonora is a fascinating character who alternates between coy and charmingly manipulative to incisive and sadistic. Taylor never steps over the line in her performance, she never “hogs the stage”, so to speak. Major Penderton lives a life of self-controlled, quiet desperation as he struggles to keep his aging body from going to seed, while his mind is assaulted by unwanted sexual awareness. We see him becoming ineffectual with the men he lectures and commands. He begins to preen in front of the mirror. Weldon later assesses his predicament with this observation: “Any fulfillment obtained at the expense of normality is wrong…and should not be allowed to bring happiness. In short, it’s better, because it’s morally honorable, for the square peg to keep scraping about in a round hole, rather than to discover and use the unorthodox one that would fit it.” What Weldon goes through shortly before the murder is psychologically terrifying, and a scene wherein Williams enters the house as Weldon smooths his hair in anticipation upstairs is shattering. This is a movie that starts with a low grrrr, and ends with an agonized roar.


Marlon Brando’s performance is powerful, maybe his best ever, but the whole cast is superb. Also worthy of note is Zorro David, who plays the hilarious, intelligent and engaging Anacleto, the Filipino house boy/confident to neurotic Alison, affectingly played by Julie Harris. Alison is married to a not-too-bright Colonel Morris Langdon, played perfectly low-key and slightly dense by Brian Keith. He takes horseback rides with Leonora, occasionally indulging in a little pleasurable diversion with the wife of his subordinate. This film simmers with sexual tension - even the horses were loaded with it - and Robert Forster, who plays the enigmatic catalyst, Williams, had no lines of consequence at all during the whole movie, although he is central to all the action and remains a mysterious, brooding character to the end, subtly insinuating and disrespectful even to his desultory salutes. The movie is full of wonderful little details, like a fine stallion eating raspberries, as his mistress frolics in the shrubbery, or when Leonora takes off all her clothes in the living room, to challenge her prissy husband. She then delivers to her horrified husband perhaps the most unexpected line in the whole movie: Son, have you ever been collared…and dragged out into the street and thrashed by a naked woman?


A notable aspect of this work is that each of the very diverse characters is given equal weight and attention by the director. None prevailed as the "star", even though Elizabeth Taylor is given top billing, and each character is treated with keen, non-judgmental interest. Unusual to see Liz so content just to be the ditzy, self-absorbed character she plays...that, and nothing more. 


Special Features on this DVD offers a “making of” with “vintage behind the scenes footage” well worth a look. We can see John Huston at work, and how intensely concentrated the actors are, especially, perhaps, Elizabeth Taylor, in wanting to please him. Movie and Special Features: highly recommended.

           Reviewed by Shu Zin

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Illégal (2010) ***1/2


Illégal (2010)

Illégal attempts to do for Belgian immigration authorities what Alan Parker’s classic Midnight Express did for Turkish prisons, and the films share a number of thematic and narrative similarities. Both have a basis in fact: Express was a harrowing first hand account of a justice system inclined toward brutality, while Illégal uses a scandalous true event to rationalize its searing, if unlikely, climactic fictions. And both films create dark fascinations that thoroughly engross. Like bearing witness to a tragic accident, the instinctive reaction is to look away. But Illégal taps such a deep vein of human empathy only the heartless will be insulated from its high emotional voltage.

Illégal examines the case of Tania (Anne Coesens), a Russian immigrant residing in the bustling Belgian city of Liège. Tania has overstayed her visa by 8 years, and during that time has become the foreman of a custodial crew at a large office building, while attentively raising her son Ivan (Alexandre Gontcherov), a 13 year-old who no longer remembers their former life in Russia. Director Olivier Masset-Depass, helming his sophomore feature, uses a brisk version of cinema verite to quickly establish Tania and Ivan’s backstory and their banal, work-a-day world of the present. These opening scenes have the look and feel of Dardenne Brothers products of the early 2000s, as Masset-Depass’s handheld cameras capture the cold, biting grime of industrious Liège with clanging immediacy.

While on their way to a surprise party she has arranged for Ivan, Tania and her son are stopped by immigration agents for a routine check. The hysterical Tania is subdued and cuffed by the agents but Ivan manages to escape, and their quiet, simple life is forever altered. Tania is hauled to an immigration detention center - a sort of bleak college dormitory encircled with razor wire - where she labors at hiding her identity while worrying herself into a frenzy over Ivan’s wellbeing.

Once inside the center, Masset-Depass adjusts his technique to accent the stoppage of time and Tania’s powerlessness. The camera becomes more stable and scenes are filmed with conventional coverage. This change in editorial tempo forces the audience to contemplate the full measure of Tania’s predicament. Despite heavy pressure by immigration officers, remaining anonymous is her only hope of avoiding a date with deportation.

The routine of life in detention gives the actors room to shine, as the characters find their own ways to adapt to a strange system that attempts to balance the martial with the humane. An African immigrant named Aïssa (Essa Lawson), a long term, iron-willed detainee with a rebellious streak, becomes a source of badly needed inspiration to Tania, and their unlikely friendship sparks surprising moments of warmth and humor. Lawson and Coesens build an intriguing chemistry, and their scenes add a balancing dimension of hope to the story’s increasingly bleak progression.

But it’s Coesens who shoulders the dramatic load here and over the course of the film we get deeply inside her frightened soul, yet she retains a mysterious, secretive reserve. Along the way there are panicked phones calls, escape attempts, meetings with hapless lawyers and, eventually, the ultimate act of rebellion. Coesens crafts Tania with such stark believability each scene is rendered as a fully formed entity, with just enough air of desperation to ensure the film never loses its precarious contours.

Like Midnight ExpressIllégal ends with more of a whimper than a bang, but it’s a welcome change of pace. Despite some dangling threads, the film’s coda shifts the focus away from the quicksand of legality and onto the firmer ground of true justice. There are millions of undocumented Tanias in the world, all of them facing deadly risks and exhausting struggles in their quest to build new lives in new, often unwelcoming places. Illégal offers few answers as to how they do it, but gives compelling and poignant insights as to why.


DISC REVIEW

Shot on 16mm with a 1.85 crop, the disc looks quite rich, full and surprisingly sharp, with the slight grain inherent in the format only enhancing the film’s dour patina. Masset-Depass limited the palette to mainly blues and grays and, as a result, the skin tones are fittingly cool and haggard. Dust specks, the bane of 16mm production, have been virtually eliminated and it’s obvious great care was taken with the telecine.

A stereo and a 5.1 track are offered. Illégal is not an aurally complex film, and our toggling between the two revealed little difference. In both cases, the mix is clear and clean, with a forbidding silence often the dominant element.

As customary with Film Movement releases, a short film is included. 2009’s Rita is a cleverly surreal immersion into the cloistered fantasies of a 10 year old blind girl (Marta Palermo). A sudden intrusion of grim reality challenges Rita’s perceptions, and her trusting spirit will be severely tested. Clocking in at 18 minutes, directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonia Piazza have created a haunting parable that engages from start to finish, and is one of the true gems in Film Movement’s collection of shorts. Several previews of upcoming Film Movement releases complete the disc.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Unless one has faced Tania’s precise circumstances, it’s difficult to issue a judgment on the film’s accuracy. Characters and situations are introduced in the final reel that seem a bit cartoony and convenient, but they allow the narrative to plow forward without lose of momentum. Taken on its own merit, this is a skillfully directed and well acted film that will appeal to fans of edgy Euro-docudramas. Those who eagerly await the next emission from the Dardennes will find the raw, somber textures of Illégal a worthy substitute.

Illégal (2010) ***1/2


Illégal (2010)

Illégal attempts to do for Belgian immigration authorities what Alan Parker’s classic Midnight Express did for Turkish prisons, and the films share a number of thematic and narrative similarities. Both have a basis in fact: Express was a harrowing first hand account of a justice system inclined toward brutality, while Illégal uses a scandalous true event to rationalize its searing, if unlikely, climactic fictions. And both films create dark fascinations that thoroughly engross. Like bearing witness to a tragic accident, the instinctive reaction is to look away. But Illégal taps such a deep vein of human empathy only the heartless will be insulated from its high emotional voltage.

Illégal examines the case of Tania (Anne Coesens), a Russian immigrant residing in the bustling Belgian city of Liège. Tania has overstayed her visa by 8 years, and during that time has become the foreman of a custodial crew at a large office building, while attentively raising her son Ivan (Alexandre Gontcherov), a 13 year-old who no longer remembers their former life in Russia. Director Olivier Masset-Depass, helming his sophomore feature, uses a brisk version of cinema verite to quickly establish Tania and Ivan’s backstory and their banal, work-a-day world of the present. These opening scenes have the look and feel of Dardenne Brothers products of the early 2000s, as Masset-Depass’s handheld cameras capture the cold, biting grime of industrious Liège with clanging immediacy.

While on their way to a surprise party she has arranged for Ivan, Tania and her son are stopped by immigration agents for a routine check. The hysterical Tania is subdued and cuffed by the agents but Ivan manages to escape, and their quiet, simple life is forever altered. Tania is hauled to an immigration detention center - a sort of bleak college dormitory encircled with razor wire - where she labors at hiding her identity while worrying herself into a frenzy over Ivan’s wellbeing.

Once inside the center, Masset-Depass adjusts his technique to accent the stoppage of time and Tania’s powerlessness. The camera becomes more stable and scenes are filmed with conventional coverage. This change in editorial tempo forces the audience to contemplate the full measure of Tania’s predicament. Despite heavy pressure by immigration officers, remaining anonymous is her only hope of avoiding a date with deportation.

The routine of life in detention gives the actors room to shine, as the characters find their own ways to adapt to a strange system that attempts to balance the martial with the humane. An African immigrant named Aïssa (Essa Lawson), a long term, iron-willed detainee with a rebellious streak, becomes a source of badly needed inspiration to Tania, and their unlikely friendship sparks surprising moments of warmth and humor. Lawson and Coesens build an intriguing chemistry, and their scenes add a balancing dimension of hope to the story’s increasingly bleak progression.

But it’s Coesens who shoulders the dramatic load here and over the course of the film we get deeply inside her frightened soul, yet she retains a mysterious, secretive reserve. Along the way there are panicked phones calls, escape attempts, meetings with hapless lawyers and, eventually, the ultimate act of rebellion. Coesens crafts Tania with such stark believability each scene is rendered as a fully formed entity, with just enough air of desperation to ensure the film never loses its precarious contours.

Like Midnight ExpressIllégal ends with more of a whimper than a bang, but it’s a welcome change of pace. Despite some dangling threads, the film’s coda shifts the focus away from the quicksand of legality and onto the firmer ground of true justice. There are millions of undocumented Tanias in the world, all of them facing deadly risks and exhausting struggles in their quest to build new lives in new, often unwelcoming places. Illégal offers few answers as to how they do it, but gives compelling and poignant insights as to why.


DISC REVIEW

Shot on 16mm with a 1.85 crop, the disc looks quite rich, full and surprisingly sharp, with the slight grain inherent in the format only enhancing the film’s dour patina. Masset-Depass limited the palette to mainly blues and grays and, as a result, the skin tones are fittingly cool and haggard. Dust specks, the bane of 16mm production, have been virtually eliminated and it’s obvious great care was taken with the telecine.

A stereo and a 5.1 track are offered. Illégal is not an aurally complex film, and our toggling between the two revealed little difference. In both cases, the mix is clear and clean, with a forbidding silence often the dominant element.

As customary with Film Movement releases, a short film is included. 2009’s Rita is a cleverly surreal immersion into the cloistered fantasies of a 10 year old blind girl (Marta Palermo). A sudden intrusion of grim reality challenges Rita’s perceptions, and her trusting spirit will be severely tested. Clocking in at 18 minutes, directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonia Piazza have created a haunting parable that engages from start to finish, and is one of the true gems in Film Movement’s collection of shorts. Several previews of upcoming Film Movement releases complete the disc.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Unless one has faced Tania’s precise circumstances, it’s difficult to issue a judgment on the film’s accuracy. Characters and situations are introduced in the final reel that seem a bit cartoony and convenient, but they allow the narrative to plow forward without lose of momentum. Taken on its own merit, this is a skillfully directed and well acted film that will appeal to fans of edgy Euro-docudramas. Those who eagerly await the next emission from the Dardennes will find the raw, somber textures of Illégal a worthy substitute.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011


Washington Post Obit Here

I saw Elizabeth Taylor walking down a quiet street one day in Richmond, back when she was married to John Warner. That was about the time this picture was taken. She was all alone, wearing a fancy blue gown, seemingly just out for a little stroll.

She was staring off into the distance, as if she was thinking about something from the past, and she had a little smile on her face. She looked perfectly happy.

Her eyes were purple and glowed like lazers.

I was so stunned, I had to go home and sit down for a while.



Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011


Washington Post Obit Here

I saw Elizabeth Taylor walking down a quiet street one day in Richmond, back when she was married to John Warner. That was about the time this picture was taken. She was all alone, wearing a fancy blue gown, seemingly just out for a little stroll.

She was staring off into the distance, as if she was thinking about something from the past, and she had a little smile on her face. She looked perfectly happy.

Her eyes were purple and glowed like lazers.

I was so stunned, I had to go home and sit down for a while.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Stranger (1946)***1/2 Blu-ray


Among the actors, the only weak link is Welles. His turn as Rankin starts with impressive subtlety, evoking the whispered edges of veiled secrets. But, much like the film itself, his performance eventually teeters over the edge and onto a chilled platter of diced ham.

Read the Full Review at IONCINEMA.com



The Stranger (1946)***1/2 Blu-ray


Among the actors, the only weak link is Welles. His turn as Rankin starts with impressive subtlety, evoking the whispered edges of veiled secrets. But, much like the film itself, his performance eventually teeters over the edge and onto a chilled platter of diced ham.

Read the Full Review at IONCINEMA.com



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bunchie's Scrapbook: Bad TV Edition Part 2


Hank was kind of a Dobie Gillis rip-off that aired in the mid-60s. The only reason I remember the show was I watched it with my Grandma one night and she turned to me and asked "Is this supposed to be funny?" I was a little kid and it was the first time anyone had asked my opinion on anything. Maybe that's what made me want to be a critic....






This show was an interesting, and rare, TV flop from James Garner. He played a sheriff in a dusty Arizona town in the early 20th century. I remember he rode a clunky, homemade motorcycle instead of a horse. Margot Kidder played a sweaty and slightly slutty bartender. The show was very laid back and comedic, sort of a hippie version of Gunsmoke.






Captain Nice was a superhero comedy, and an attempt to ride the capetails of the very popular Batman TV series. I don't remember much about it, except it helped launch the very long and successful career of William Daniels. How many actors can claim to having roles in The Graduate and Blades of Glory?






Speaking of captains, Captain Scarlet was one of those Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi puppet deals. It was revived in the 2000s as a Pixar style animated series, but I preferred the old marionette version. The series featured an all-female fighter pilot squadron and they were really hot...err, I mean for puppets they were hot...not like real girl hot...oh let's change the subject...





Room 222 was all about a high school in sunny Los Angeles, where the kids had a lot more fun than we did in rural Virginia. Of course they had bigger problems too. Every week some kid OD'ed, or got arrested for car theft or discovered his dad was an escaped convict or something. That sort of stuff didn't happen too much in VA. Only the occasional incident with livestock...

Bunchie's Scrapbook: Bad TV Edition Part 2


Hank was kind of a Dobie Gillis rip-off that aired in the mid-60s. The only reason I remember the show was I watched it with my Grandma one night and she turned to me and asked "Is this supposed to be funny?" I was a little kid and it was the first time anyone had asked my opinion on anything. Maybe that's what made me want to be a critic....






This show was an interesting, and rare, TV flop from James Garner. He played a sheriff in a dusty Arizona town in the early 20th century. I remember he rode a clunky, homemade motorcycle instead of a horse. Margot Kidder played a sweaty and slightly slutty bartender. The show was very laid back and comedic, sort of a hippie version of Gunsmoke.






Captain Nice was a superhero comedy, and an attempt to ride the capetails of the very popular Batman TV series. I don't remember much about it, except it helped launch the very long and successful career of William Daniels. How many actors can claim to having roles in The Graduate and Blades of Glory?






Speaking of captains, Captain Scarlet was one of those Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi puppet deals. It was revived in the 2000s as a Pixar style animated series, but I preferred the old marionette version. The series featured an all-female fighter pilot squadron and they were really hot...err, I mean for puppets they were hot...not like real girl hot...oh let's change the subject...





Room 222 was all about a high school in sunny Los Angeles, where the kids had a lot more fun than we did in rural Virginia. Of course they had bigger problems too. Every week some kid OD'ed, or got arrested for car theft or discovered his dad was an escaped convict or something. That sort of stuff didn't happen too much in VA. Only the occasional incident with livestock...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Escape Clause (1996)****


Reviewed by Guest Blogger Shu-Zin

Who’d have thought that opening ESCAPE CLAUSE with a rousing speech about risk assumption to a bunch of insurance pros at a convention would have me on the edge of my seat, with my mouth hanging open? Well. It did, and mine was, and I knew right away I was going to love this movie. See, that opening scene did not talk down to the audience, nor was it dumbed down or overwrought. It was simply smart and intriguing, and that’s the mark of good writing in a film. I shouldn’t be surprised if the Ramsey Curve really exists in modern, real-life risk assessment.


This smart, gripping quality did not quit til the end of this stylish, well-paced thriller about insurance, infidelity and murder. After some early morning matrimonial bliss, the story, about an insurance exec (Andrew McCarthy, in a nicely understated and compelling performance) whose wife seems to have contracted for his murder, begins in earnest. This is a thriller, and I felt chills visit my spine more than once as the story proceeded to a sneaky surprise ending.

 Director Brian Trenchard-Smith makes everything flow; one senses he is demanding and hands on, and in cahoots with the production designer and the cinematographer. The production is perfect, lovely to look at; good, rich colors, great light and shadow shots, good pacing. While there are familiar elements (Double Indemnity, for example, addresses some of the themes here), this is a fresh, original take, and you’ll experience a jolt or two of paranoia with your suspense, which brings me to the score; it will make your hair roots tingle.


Good casting all around, with excellently annoying in-laws and the great Paul Sorvino as sad, observant, big bear cop with a trick or two up his sleeve. Heads up: things are quite steamy in the marital bliss department, and “labial folds” are mentioned, sotto voce, by the police. There are two scenes with men lying in a sea of broken crockery, but not much else noteworthy in the violence department. Recommended good fun.

Reviewed by Guest Blogger Shu-Zin

Escape Clause (1996)****


Reviewed by Guest Blogger Shu-Zin

Who’d have thought that opening ESCAPE CLAUSE with a rousing speech about risk assumption to a bunch of insurance pros at a convention would have me on the edge of my seat, with my mouth hanging open? Well. It did, and mine was, and I knew right away I was going to love this movie. See, that opening scene did not talk down to the audience, nor was it dumbed down or overwrought. It was simply smart and intriguing, and that’s the mark of good writing in a film. I shouldn’t be surprised if the Ramsey Curve really exists in modern, real-life risk assessment.


This smart, gripping quality did not quit til the end of this stylish, well-paced thriller about insurance, infidelity and murder. After some early morning matrimonial bliss, the story, about an insurance exec (Andrew McCarthy, in a nicely understated and compelling performance) whose wife seems to have contracted for his murder, begins in earnest. This is a thriller, and I felt chills visit my spine more than once as the story proceeded to a sneaky surprise ending.

 Director Brian Trenchard-Smith makes everything flow; one senses he is demanding and hands on, and in cahoots with the production designer and the cinematographer. The production is perfect, lovely to look at; good, rich colors, great light and shadow shots, good pacing. While there are familiar elements (Double Indemnity, for example, addresses some of the themes here), this is a fresh, original take, and you’ll experience a jolt or two of paranoia with your suspense, which brings me to the score; it will make your hair roots tingle.


Good casting all around, with excellently annoying in-laws and the great Paul Sorvino as sad, observant, big bear cop with a trick or two up his sleeve. Heads up: things are quite steamy in the marital bliss department, and “labial folds” are mentioned, sotto voce, by the police. There are two scenes with men lying in a sea of broken crockery, but not much else noteworthy in the violence department. Recommended good fun.

Reviewed by Guest Blogger Shu-Zin

80 Years at the Races

Most Marx Brothers aficionados agree that 1937’s A Day at the Races was the last truly great film featuring the zany siblings. Produced by ...