Category Archives: Seen at home

Decades Blogathon – The Battle Of Algiers (1966)

Here’s my contribution to Decades Blogathon, hosted by Mark from https://threerowsback.com and Tom from http://digitalshortbread.com/
Thank you guys!!

three rows back

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1966

Welcome to another day of the event of the year: the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for Super Tuesday it’s the turn of Marta from Ramblings of a Cinephile, who turns her sights on the masterpiece that is The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The gritty and rather bloody story of the uprising that led to the independence of Algeria in 1962 is shot by Gillo Pontecorvo in a compelling style.

Commissioned by the Algerian government less than a decade after the facts, it shows both sides in an unforgiving way – from the terrorist attacks of the Algerian militants to the tortures of the French army. Pontecorvo…

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Oldies but goldies: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Director: Billy Wilder; Main Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von StroheimNancy Olson;

sunset-boulevard

I have always liked films about the movie industry; whether it’s the making of a film, the life of a director or actor, the politics and troubles of producing, I find it fascinating. This great classic, written and directed by Billy Wilder, has it all: a once famous actress wanting to come back to the limelights, a struggling b-movie writer and the almighty studios of the golden era of Hollywood; above all it has some really great lines.

The story, set in 1950s, revolves around Joe Gillis (Holden), a small-time screenwriter, and Norma Desmond (Swanson), a silent-film goddess who lives like a recluse in a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard. She still desperately believes in her star power and undying fame, indulged and protected by her butler Max (von Stroheim), who was once her director and husband. Norma is dreaming her return to the pictures, resigning herself to be in a talkie. Norma is writing a film about Salome and her chance encounter with Joe is an additional spur to her delusions; enticing him with the prospect of script work she puts him up in her mansion. Joe becomes ever more involved and entangled in Norma’s life, he is her lover/gigolo and he is fascinated and repulsed by it at the same time. The drama spirals out into insanity and violence closing the circle of the narration.

Holden and Swanson are both superb and play off each others perfectly. They bring to life their characters with great skills, giving nuanced performances that will grip your attention and won’t let go. Wilder’s script is sharp and riveting and it is interesting (also a bit ironic) for a film about writers and, in particular writing film, to say: “We didn’t need dialogue! We had faces!”.  Wilder uses an effective approach: he starts the movie at the end of the tale with a voiceover of Joe telling his story before his death (Sam Mendes will adopt exactly the same structure for American Beauty!). Disquieting and mesmerizing —8.5/10

This is my entry to The Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Check all the other contributions here:

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Quick ‘n’ Dirty: February at home

Very belatedly here are my speedy reviews of the films I’ve watched at home in February. They are a mixed bag both as genre and as quality.

The Right Stuffthe chronicles of America’s race to the stars: from the daredevil test pilots to the first astronauts. Based on Tom Wolfe’s book on the history of the U.S. Space program, it starts with the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and then moves on to the selection and training of the seven astronauts for the Mercury missions. Thrown in the mix there are the rivalries between the pilots/astronauts, the technical difficulties faced by the rocket engineers and the need to beat the Russians. Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward are convincing in their role but Shepard steal the scene every time as the taciturn, gifted pilot Yeager. This film can be slow at times but it gives the viewer the opportunity to know better the numerous characters and their motives and aspirations. Nostalgic–7.5/10

 

the-right-stuff

 

The Bang Bang Club: four photographers always find themselves where the bullets are flying, during the chaotic struggle for power in South Africa in the early 1990s. This film is based on real-life experiences of Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaardsveld) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), when they were working as freelancers for a local newspaper. The point of view is quite captivating since the audience sees what’s going on in South Africa only through the lenses of these men. The conflicts that take center stage are the internal ones between the good of documenting the violence versus doing something about it. Interestingly, it’s when two of them win the Pulitzer Prize that their moral fibre is called into question. Steven Silver’s sure hand on the helm and the cast’s solid performances, Kitsch in particular, make it worth of your time. Compelling —7/10

 

the-bang-bang-club

 

Cinderella: This live-action version of the Disney animated feature has lavish costumes and stunning set design but follows to the letter the edulcorated version. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are… well, wicked in Disney fashion! The fairy godmother is an oddball. The animals are not as endearing as or as scary (I’m looking at you Lucifer) as their animated version. The Prince is just a cardboard character. Cinderella is, of course, charming, kind, loving and with a sunny disposition towards life. She is really convincing because of Lily James, who find her perfect foil in Cate Blanchett’s stepmother (stunningly dressed in 1940s style). So it’s a nice and sweet film if you are in the mood for fairy tales. I’m still waiting for someone to have the guts to do the original story, foot maiming and all. Mellow —5.5/10

 

 

The Raid: If you need a dose of intense martial arts fights with a side of family drama (brother vs brother!), corrupt cops and a evil kingpin, this film is for you. Our hero, Rama, is a young policeman that joins the SWAT team in Jakarta. Their mission of the day is the “removal” of a dangerous crime lord, unfortunately things go from bad to worse very quickly and the cops are the ones fighting for survival. Rama finds himself in a John McClane situation but with his mad fighting skills and some help he’ll make it. I found interesting the setting in a run-down high rise building, it enhanced the claustrophibic mood and the “trapped-like-rats-in-a-maze” feeling. There are some impressive stunts and very well choreographed fights that keep the adrenaline rush going. The plot may be quite simple but the tight pace keeps you engaged.  Raw —6.5/10

 

the-raid

 

No Reservations: this rom-com is harmless fluff with a very predictable plot and nothing particularly new. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a talented chef, she’s focused, determined and a bit of a control freak. Her life is changed by her sister’s death, leaving her to take care of her young niece. To add more drama, the owner of the restaurant hires a new sous-chef (Eckart) who is chaotic, charismatic and charming. I’ll let you fill in the blanks on what happens next. The film mildly redeeming qualities are thegood on-screen chemistry of the two leads and Abigail Breslin being endearing, however it retreads old ground without adding anything interesting. Nothing to write home about —5/10

 

No-Reservations

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Oldies but goldies: Il Gattopardo (1963)

Director: Luchino Visconti; Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia CardinalePaolo StoppaRomolo Valli;

Gattopardo

In this sumptuous and luscious adaptation of the eponymous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Visconti paints a rich portrait of Sicily during the war of independence in 1860 and the following years, bringing to life Prince Fabrizio (Lancaster) and his family and retainers.  In a period of political and social upheaval Fabrizio Cordero, Prince of Salina, refuses to take sides while his young and dashing nephew, Tancredi (Delon) Prince of Falconieri, joins Garibaldi and his volunteers to free Sicily from the Bourbons and be part of the newly created kingdom of Italy. The two characters embody the dichotomy of old and new: Fabrizio represents the fading aristocracy while Tancredi, who is smart and ambitious, is the emerging ruling class.

Prince Fabrizio is cynical and jaded but also proud of his name and family and attached to tradition. He is torn between upholding the continuity of upper class values, and breaking tradition to secure continuity of his family’s influence. On the other hand, Tancredi sees right away the need for the aristocracy to adapt and transform itself in order to be influential when the new order is established. As a mean to this end he fights on the side of the revolutionary (later joining the regular Savoy army) and starts courting Angelica (Cardinale), beautiful daughter of Don Calogero Sedara (Stoppa), nouveau riche and newly elected mayor of Donnafugata (small town near the Salina estate).

The film follows quite faithfully the book, keeping as main theme the struggle between mortality and decay (death, fading of beauty, fading of memories, change of political system.) and abstraction and eternity (the prince’s love for the stars and calculations, continuity and resilience to change of the Sicilian people). Burt Lancaster’s brilliant and nuanced performance (the best of his career) is what makes it really work, lavish and rich costumes and settings notwithstanding, and Delon and Cardinale are perfect and stunningly beautiful in their roles.

The most memorable sequence is the ball when Angelica is officially presented as Tancredi’s fiancee and the most memorable quote (directly from the book) is:  Things will have to change in order that they remain the same (said by Prince Fabrizio)Spectacular and captivating —9/10

This post is part of the Beyond the Cover – Books to Film Blogathon organised by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy. Go and check all the great posts out in this blogathon:

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El secreto de sus ojos (2009): March Blind Spot

Director: Juan José Campanella; Main Cast: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo RagoGuillermo FrancellaJavier Godino;

El-Secreto-do-Sus-Ojos

I was really looking forward to watch this film and my expectations weren’t disappointed! It’s an engaging, multi-layered story that intertwines events in the mid-seventies and in 1999, all connected to a homicide investigation. Benjamin (Darin) is a retired Argentinian federal justice agent in 1999, he’s writing a novel based on an old case with the hope of understanding it better and finding some closure. In 1974, Benjamín, his assistant Pablo Sandoval (Francella), and newly hired department chief Irene Menéndez Hastings (Villamil) were personally affected by the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, in particular after witnessing the extreme grief of her husband, Ricardo Morales (Rago). They doggedly pursue the investigation, notwithstanding the incompetence and the willful near-sightedness of the justice system, finally zeroing on Isidoro Gomez (Godino) as the real killer. I won’t add more details about the plot to avoid spoilers for those who have not seen this film but rest assured there are some interesting twists.

Campanella expertly juggles the past and present storylines, making the viewer slowly discover different sides of Benjamin while he builds up the case, in the past, or he revisits it, in the present. Through his eyes, we get to know the other key players and see different explanations of events he didn’t witness directly, which are especially intriguing since one of the main themes of the film is about remembering the past and being stuck in it. Although Benjamin is aware that historical accuracy is not paramount for the novel, the process of revisiting the case is a necessary step to be able to move on also with his personal life.

The director works flawlessly all the technical aspects of the film and keeps the viewer engaged from start to finish. There are some beautiful shots of interiors and of Buenos Aires that complement well the brilliant performances of the cast. Darin is the soul of the story while Villamil is the heart.

As a final note I must say that now that I’ve seen this film I appreciate even more the ambiguity of the title: “sus” means not only “their” but also “his” or “her”. Riveting —9/10

This post is part of the Blind Spot Series 2016, a blogathon organised by Ryan at The Matinee

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Steamboy (2004): February Blind Spot

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo; Main Cast (Voices): Anne SuzukiMasane TsukayamaKatsuo NakamuraManami KonishiKiyoshi Kodama;

steamboy

I must confess I found this film a little underwhelming. This is the first feature film by Otomo after his unforgettable masterpiece Akira. There are more that fifteen years between the two movies and they couldn’t be more different story wise, however they both have a boy as central character around which everything revolves. In this film Otomo goes steampunk, setting his tale in England, 1860 circa, or, more accurately, in an alternative version of it.

Young Rey Steam (Suzuki) is a gifted inventor as his father Edward (Tsukayama) and his grandfather Lloyd (Nakamura). They are all skilled engineers and have great dedication to their work. Edward and Lloyd are pursuing their research in America since they couldn’t get appropriate funding in England to achieve their goals (apparently brain drain is a problem even in sci-fi anime). They manage to design a new device called “steam ball” (not the most creative or inspired of names, I must say), which contains highly pressurized vapor of a particular type of water, and revolutionise the current state of technology. Rey receives one of these new devices in England and a mad chase ensues. The warmongering and greedy Americans want to utilise it for evil purposes while Rey and his grandfather and the British Empire have more peaceful uses in mind… well at least Rey and grandpa do, the Brits want to prosper and maintain their supremacy (my my, who would have guessed!).  The theme of technology employed in the service of mankind’s self-destruction is not a new one and applied better by Miyazaki in a few of his films. Howl’s Moving Castle, that also came out in 2004, uses magic as metaphor but it’s the same concept. In this film sadly most the characters are one-dimensional, little more than stereotypes, leaving the viewer too detached to really care what happens to them. In addition, suspension of disbelief needs to be put in high gear (pun intended) to be able to follow the story and enjoy all the complex, imaginative and original machines and inventions.

What I find very engaging is that the pace of this film never slow down. There is a lot of camera action that I’ve never seen in an anime before. Instead of quick edits, some scenes are panned, zoomed, or rotated with incredible accuracy, as if they were actually filmed rather than being drawn. This is the strongest suit of the film since the story feels rehashed and the characters are not particularly endearing. Ingenious —6/10

This is my second post in the Blind Spot Series 2016, a blogathon organised by Ryan at The Matinee

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) by Ramblings of a Cinefile – Ultimate 80s Blogathon

Here’s my entry to the Ultimate 80s Blogathon hosted by Drew @Drew’s Movie Reviews and Kim @Tranquil Dreams .
Go and check all the other contributions.

Drew's Movie Reviews

Welcome to week 2 of the Ultimate 80s Blogathon! If you missed any of the posts from last week, check out the list of entries here.  Next up is Marta from Ramblings of a Cinefile with her review of George Miller’s classic Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.  If for some reason you don’t follow Marta already, go give her site a look.  She reviews all kinds of films and television shows and posts quotes that puts my Movie Quote of the Week to shame.  But enough about my babbling, here is Marta’s review.


Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

One of the first post­apocalyptic films of the 1980s, Mad Max 2 (or The Road Warrior) has, very quickly, risen to the status of cult classic with his taciturn anti­hero (a strong reminder of the Man with No Name from Leone’s Dollars Trilogy) and its bleak, vast landscapes of the Australian outback, perfect setting…

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Paprika

Director: Satoshi Kon; Main Cast (voices): Megumi HayashibaraTôru FuruyaAkio ÔtsukaKatsunosuke HoriKôichi Yamadera;

Paprika

Brilliant psychiatrist Chiba (Hayashibara) helps people with dream therapy using a new device, the D.C. Mini, designed by her genius colleague Tokita (Furuya). This new machine allows not only to enter someone else dreams but also to record them. Chiba is determined, dedicated and a little aloft and, with her boss Shima’s (Hori) blessing, she treats patients using the D.C. Mini outside a sanctioned project of the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. Her fun-loving easy-going dream alter-ego, Paprika, is currently aiding detective Kowaga (Otsuka) working through his issues, visiting a recurrent dream of his about an on-going case. Unfortunately, Chiba,  Tokita and Shiba realise that a D.C. Mini has been stolen from the research centre and the thief is using it to enter people’s minds, when awake, and distract them with their own dreams and those of others. Mayhem ensues and the boundary between dream and reality starts to fade. What follow is a desperate search for the culprit: the trio of scientists uses all their knowledge and, aided by detective Kowaga, put together the pieces of the puzzle.

The viewer is treated to incredibly rich and absolutely nuts dream sequences (as all dream are!).  They are integral part of the investigation offering both clues and red herrings. They also are more and more intertwined with reality as the film progresses. The result is stunning: it feel like a roller-coaster and a merry-go-around ride at the same time, without detracting from the smooth flow of the plot. I particularly liked Kowaga’s dreams, full of film references and homages, quite a treat for a movie buff!  The animation is nothing less than top notch and it appears to be the perfect medium for such a story. I doubt that a live-action version would have been this lavish and outlandish. I know some might say that Inception did that but we are not even close. It is interesting, however, the parallel on useful technology turned into a weapon and the need for exploring and understanding one’s subconscious.

Sadly this is the last gem of Satoshi Kon’s short filmography. I do recommend watching his other films: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Tokio Godfathers.

Mesmerizing —9/10

This is my contribution to the Movie Scientist Blogathon: the Good, the Mad, the Lonely hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings, go and check all the other entries out!

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What we do in the shadows

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi; Main Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika WaititiJonny BrughCori Gonzalez-Macuer;

what-we-do-in-the-shadows

Hilarious and very original mockumentary about vampires living as flatmates in modern day Wellington (New Zealand). The audience is introduced to each character with a mix of direct interviews and everyday life scenes and getting to know Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Brugh) and Vladislav (Clement) is funny and highly entertaining. They have problems that are typical when sharing a house: paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, overcome conflicts and getting invited into nightclubs; they also have others issues due to being centuries-old vampires: avoiding sunlight, getting fresh human blood, hitting a main artery and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection. In the interviews you get pearls like these:

what-we-do-in-the-shadows-virgins2 what-we-do-in-the-shadows-virgins1

There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham) as forth flatmate, he’s the oldest and most ghoulish vampire of the lot and has a tendency to turn his victims instead of killing them. This is the reason why Nick (Gonzales-Macuer) becomes a vampire and, being new-made, gets to be a guide to his brethren, helping them to overcome modern society’s obstacles. Along with his best friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), who is still human but very understanding, Nick manages to teach Decon, Vlad and Viago to use a computer and internet with pretty interesting results such as dark bidding on Ebay or a Skype conversation with a former minion. They finally have no problem enjoying the nightlife and entering bars and clubs, with their great surprise and delight. In return, they mentor Nick in all-things vampiry: eating in a proper way, fly and turning into a bat, hypnotizing people, dealing with werewolves and so on.

The story flows nicely, it’s engaging and amusing and it’s served well by the documentary style of shooting and editing. The cast is brilliant, especially Waititi and Clement who are also the dark minds behind this film. This movie is a breath of fresh air in this stale genre, it’s unusual and up to the mark with another unconventional take, although very different, on vampire tales: Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Diverting —8/10

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Quick ‘n’ Dirty: January at home

Here’s my second post devoted to speedy reviews of films I watched on my comfy couch at home during the past month. It’s a very eclectic selection that well reflects the wide range of movies I end up seeing.

A.C.A.B (All Cops Are Bastards): tough and unflinching look at the life of four cops in Rome: three veterans and a rookie. They are part of a riot unit, usually deployed for security at the stadium during football matches, and their job ain’t pretty! Stefano Sollima doesn’t spare any detail in showing how these people live, think and react to various situations. The compelling performance of all the cast, especially Pierfrancesco Favino, carries the viewer along and sells the story effectively. Intense —7/10

acab-all-cops-are-bastards

 

Pawn sacrifice: the story of Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), wunderkind of the chess world, and his epic battle of wits with Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in 1972 for the title of world champion. Notwithstanding Maguire’s solid performance, this is a run of the mill drama, formulaic and with no bite or surprises. Fisher’s egotism and paranoia make it even harder for the viewer to root for him, which turns the whole story in a rather pointless exercise.  Off-putting —5/10

 

Clueless: Emma meets Mean Girls with a very poor outcome! Popular and beautiful Cher (Alicia Silverstone) decides to help Tai (Brittany Murphy), a new and very naive student, to fit in and navigate the ups and downs of high school life. Her plan is a little too successful and has some unexpected and unwanted results. Of all the high school themed films I’ve seen, this is a real miss: no sass, no heart, no epic or quotable scenes. The characters are neither relatable nor endearing enough, even a very young Paul Rudd. Lame —4/10

clueless

 

Chasing mavericks: my soft spot for surfing flicks led me to watch this one.  A scruffy-looking Gerard Butler plays Frosty Hesson, Santa Cruz surfing legend, who reluctantly become mentor and father-figure to young Jay Moriarity. The boy is a surf prodigy and wants, more than anything, to ride mavericks: the biggest waves on Earth. What immediately came to mind was this quote from Point Break: “Big-wave riding’s for macho assholes with a death wish.”, however this film is an inspirational tale of giving everything one’s got to realise one’s dreams (based on a true story). The surfing scenes are thrilling and brilliantly shot. Enthralling —6.5/10

chasing-mavericks

 

Jane Eyre: to get my regular fix of period drama I’ve re-watched the 2011 adaptation of this classic novel, helmed and beautifully shot by Cary Fukunaga (before he went on and showed the world his mettle with True Detectives). Poor, plain Jane (skillfully played by Mia Wasikowska) finds home and love in the old manor of Mr. Rochester (Fassbender), only to have everything taken away by a cruel destiny and deceit. Fassbender fits well the shoes of the doomed, romantic hero and, of course, we know that there’s a happy ending to warm the cockles of our heart. Soothing —7/10

Jane-Eyre

 

Narc: a dark and gritty tale of undercover cops in Detroit; Joe Carnahan does not pull punches and takes the viewer into a harsh world, aptly shot in hues of blue and gray. Jason Patric and Ray Liotta truly inhabit their characters and play off of each other very well. The adrenaline-fueled opening scene is a gem of camera work and perfect introduction to the story, that alone makes worth watching this film. Uncompromising —7.5/10

narc

 

Death proof: I have finally sat down and watched the lesser film of Tarantino’s oeuvre from start to finish, having seen bits and pieces throughout the years. What can I say? It’s a self-indulgent homage to B-movie/horror flicks of the seventies, chock-full of pop culture references, muscle cars and foot fetish. As expected, there are some tough-as-nail ladies who will take matters in their own hands and then there’s Kurt Russell…who is having a blast as a sociopathic stuntman who stalks girls and takes them on their last ride. You need to be in the right mood for this one. Crackpot —6/10

deathproof

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Network (1976): January Blind Spot

Director: Sidney Lumet; Main Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter FinchRobert DuvallNed Beatty;

Network

Television is indeed a cut-throat world. Network and corporate executives exploit the mental break-down of a veteran news anchorman for the sake of ratings and monetary return. Summarised in this way, the film sounds like a jaded, cynic view of TV news in the seventies but it is so much more! It manages to introduce some surreal elements into a serious and realistic narrative that becomes one of the harshest criticism of television, entertainment and business world. Furthermore it uncannily predicts what happens to television in the next forty years: reality shows, exploitation of the worst gory events to improve ratings and such. Faye Dunaway show a wonderful combination of fanatical glee, workaholism and sheer determination as Diana Christensen, the producer who takes the reins of the news section of the network. She replaces Max Shumacher (Holden), an old-timer with integrity and also personal friend of Howard Beale (Finch), the anchorman in question. Beale’s ravings are illuminating and still actual (and downright hilarious) and Finch is fantastic to watch, no wonder he has got an Oscar for this role. To add more quality to an already stellar cast there’s Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett, face of the corporation, that recently bought the network, and ultimate shot-caller. His character might come across as one-dimensional, only driven by quarterly returns and stockholders’ expectations but Duvall manages to imbue him with some vulnerability that makes him more credible. The heart of the film is Holden’s Max: a man who is going towards his twilight years and finds himself fired, rather unceremoniously. He is viewed by Hackett as the past in TV news and he is considered both expendable and a threat to the network. All of this because Max refuses to use his friend Howard as freak-show to be paraded in front of millions of people. Max is the only silver lining of the film: someone who clings to his humanity (both the good and the bad) and doesn’t surrender and turn into a humanoid like Diana. Lumet’s directing is flawless and inspired and Paddy Chayefsky’ s script is pure gold. My favorite scenes are: Arthur Jensen’s (Beatty) speech about the primal forces of Nature and the contract negotiation between the far-left-wing revolutionaries, the communist activist and the network representatives; both are hilarious and amazing. Riveting —9/10

 

This is my first entry to The Matinee‘s Blind Spot blogathon. So far so good!

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Blind spot series 2016

blindspotseries2016

As cinematic resolution for this year, I’ve decided to join the Blind Spot Series, a pretty nifty blogathon organised by Ryan@TheMatinee. The rules are quite simple: pick 12 films (one for each month) that you haven’t seen before and post a write-up about them. Easy, right?! Well, choosing the movies from my ever-growing to-watch list has been tough but I managed. So, without further ado, here’s my selection:

January: Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

February: Steamboy (Katsuhiro Otomo, 2004)

March: El Secreto de sus Ojos (Juan Jose Campanella, 2009)

April: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)

May: Bande a Part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

June: Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)

July: Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010)

August: La Regle du Jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)

September: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)

October: Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1970)

November: The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

December: Los Abrazos Rotos (Pedro Almodovar, 2009)

 

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Stretch

Director: Joe Carnahan; Main Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ed Helms, James Badge DaleJessica AlbaChris Pine;

Stretch

Joe Carnahan has a knack for wacky, convoluted stories. I liked the wild ride that was Smokin’ Aces and Stretch doesn’t disappoint! It reminded me a bit of Into the Night, since this movie follows the misadventures of the titular character (Wilson), a down-on-luck limo driver, for roughly 24 hours and most of the crazy stuff happens during a long night. Stretch is plagued by a big debt with his bookie (who wants all his money back by midnight) and by a pushy competitor limousine service; in addition he’s still heartbroken since his girlfriend left him for a pro football player… and his day has just started. Clearly matters don’t improve and the viewer goes down the rabbit hole along with Stretch. After the short appearances of David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta as themselves, both over-the-top and funny, the real treat and revelation is Chris Pine: absolutely hilarious as eccentric demanding billionaire that involves Stretch in a shady and dangerous deal with a promise of a hefty tip. I won’t add more to avoid spoilers. The film flows quite well with twists and turns that keep you interested and eager to know what crazy thing will happen next. The ending is a little predictable but it is still enjoyable and doesn’t detract from the overall fun of the film. Wilson is well cast as underdog that fights his way out of troubles, he gives a solid performance that carries the film from start to finish. If you like something weird in your entertainment this film is what you’re looking for. Zany —7/10

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Oldies but goldies: Plein Soleil (1960)

Director: René Clément; Main Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt;

plein-soleil

Handsome but penniless Tom Ripley (Delon) has been tasked by wealthy Mr. Greenleaf to bring back home to San Francisco his wayward son Philippe (Ronet), who is gallivanting around Italy.  Philippe is living large with his girlfriend Marge (Laforet) in Naples and the audience finds Tom tagging along and being Philippe’s buddy and occasional virtual punching bag. Philippe is good looking, viveur and self-confident, his money gives him the freedom that Tom doesn’t have. It’s obvious since the beginning that Tom is both attracted to and envious of Philippe, we can see him clearly thinking: ” I can be like him, I just need money!”. On the other hand, Philippe is intrigued by Tom’s many talents but repulsed by his lowly social standing and the creepy vibes he gives off. Tom’s meekness and subservient attitude seems to excite Philippe’s mean streak to the point that even Marge takes Tom’s defense. The tension gradually builds up while the strain on the relationship between these three characters grows, all in great contrast with the beautiful scenery of Southern Italy. This adds a somewhat sinister twist to reassuring surroundings and the scenes on the sailing boat become almost claustrophobic. As Tom’s hope of obtaining the reward Philippe’s father has promised fades, his fantasies of riches and easy life coalesce into a much darker plan to gain what he wants. The second half of the film revolves around Tom’s schemes and maneuvers to keep his dream alive, not letting anything gets in his way. Clement adapts skillfully this story of envy, deceit and delusion of grandeur based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. His expert use of the blazing white and blue of Italian summer and the lovely settings in Naples and Rome brings an additional layer to the unfolding drama. The cast delivers solid performances, Alain Delon is a perfect embodiment of Tom with the right mix of charm and slyness. The only point that raised involuntary laughters was Marie Laforet’s crying scene, similar to every display of sorrow by any Disney princess. This is a very minor flaw that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film. In comparison to the more recent adaptation, this is a far superior movie with a better and more convincing casting.  Dazzling —7.5/10

This is my entry to the The Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Silver Screening and Speakeasy. Ruth and Kristina will keep the party going all week, go and check their blogs!

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Decades Blogathon – La Haine (1995)

Here’s my contribution to a great blogathon organised by Mark and Tom. Thanks a lot guys!

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1995

We’re halfway through the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the inimitable Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Marta over at Ramblings of a Cinephile. If you haven’t checked out Marta’s site yet – why not?! – you’ll find it filled with her thoughts on oldies, new releases, home viewing and more besides.

La Haine Poster

Mathieu Kassovitz gives us an insight into roughly 20 hours of the lives of Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Kounde), three young friends from one of the banlieues (housing projects) in the suburbs around Paris, chronicling  the aftermath of a riot.

The viewer witnesses the struggles and alienation of these twenty-somethings living in an impoverished, multi-ethnic environment that seems a world apart from the magical…

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Oldies but goldies: State of the Union (1948)

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Director: Frank Capra; Main Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Van JohnsonAngela LansburyAdolphe Menjou;

Formidable Kay Thorndyke (Lansbury) has a mind to use her clout as important press publisher to convince the Republicans to nominate her lover, Grant Matthews (Tracy),  a principled industrialist, as the presidential candidate to the 1948 elections. After the first, small hurl of convincing Grant himself that he would be a great President, for which Kay enlists Jim Conover (Menjou), eminence grise of the party, and Spike McManus (Johnson), political journalist and campaign expert, the next big step is to obtain his wife’s support. Mary (Hepburn) should join her husband on the campaign trail for the primaries to help sell the image of wholesome family man. Up to this point, Hepburn’s character has not been seen yet, but it comes out as an outspoken and strong woman, which is fully confirmed by her sudden arrival and settling in in a whirlwind of talk and action. The perfect description of this introductory scene is the exchange between Spike and Kay while she stealthily goes out:

Kay: Has she moved in there?

Spike: She established a beachhead!

What follows is Grant’s journey, both physical and spiritual, in which he slowly compromises himself to win over the party delegates while he loses the admiration and respect of his wife and the common people. The best angels of his nature will in the end prevail (of course!) and he will regains his self-respect and the love of his wife. This is the only film in which the talents of Capra, Hepburn and Tracy are joined and it’s also the first one that tells a story about political campaigning and the complex mechanism and back room maneuvers of American power. It’s both a captivating and mordant tale that sapiently blends the tones of comedy, of satire and human drama, in Capra’s unique style. The script is simply brilliant and it’s one of the stronger points of the film: witty and touching at the same time. Clearly the cast has a lot to sink their teeth in and they all give solid performances. Tracy has three outstanding monologues, but Hepburn has amazingly sassy rejoinders that make her a scene stealer. My favorite of all is: ” No woman could ever run for President. She’d have to admit she’s over 35″. Inspiring —8.5/10

This post is my contribution to The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon (2015 edition, my last year entry can be found here), organised by the lovely Margaret of  margaretperry.org. Go to her site to read all the other amazing entries to this blogaton:

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Nightcrawler

nighcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy; Main Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill PaxtonRiz Ahmed;

Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) makes a living with capers, criss-crossing the line of legality, in a rather forlorn-looking Los Angeles. He is very single-minded about getting a stable, more lucrative job and, by chance, he stumbles upon the world of freelance cameramen, who hunt down shocking and gruesome accidents or crimes and then sell their footage to the local news channels. He starts small with a cheap camera and a police scanner, after getting a few tips by a pro, Joe (Paxton), and manages to get the attention of a news producer, Nina (Russo), of one of the local stations. Things are looking up for Louis, he makes more money and he hires a intern/assistant, Rick (Ahmed), to help him navigate the streets at night while chasing after police calls that sound promising. On paper, the story seems a straightforward American dream: underdog/down-on-luck guy finds a way to improve his lot using his skills and smarts. It turns out it’s far more complicated and layered and that’s what makes this debut film by Gilroy intriguing and thought-provoking. Right off the bat it’s clear that there’s something amiss with Louis, C3PO has better social skills and empathic reactions compared to him and, slowly but surely, the audience realises that he is indeed a sociopath. In his world people are just means to an end, to be used and discarded without any afterthought; sometimes they are even a nuisance since Louis has to convince them or charm them or threaten them to get what he wants. The nocturnal forays into the city hunting for crimes would already provide by themselves a grim view of modern life but combined with Louis’ unique personality make for a truly disturbing picture. I won’t say anymore to avoid spoilers but it’s a dark tale. The film really works because of the superb performance of Jake Gyllenhaal: well-rounded, nuanced and with a sapient use of body language, impressive! The supporting cast is solid, in particular Ahmed as the trusting and little naive assistant, perfect foil to the sociopathy of Louis. Kudos to Gilroy, as first-timer on the director’s chair, he has done an impressive job. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Gripping —7.5/10

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The Last King of Scotland

last-king-of-scotland

Director: Kevin Macdonald; Main Cast: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker,Kerry WashingtonGillian Anderson;

The rise to power and violent regime of Idi Amin (Whitaker), real-life Ugandan dictator during the seventies, is seen through the eyes of a fictional character Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy), young and a little naive Scotsman. Based on the book by Giles Foden, the story mixes well facts with fiction keeping the viewer engaged. Forest Whitaker goes above and beyond to give us a multi-layered portrayal of this larger-than-life historical figure. Well-trained by the British army, Amin happened to be one of the first two officer in the post-colonial Ugandan army; he raised quite fast in the ranks to Commander of all forces,thanks to his charisma and attitude to leadership, and brilliantly solved his years-long struggle with President Obote with a military coup. This is when young Nicholas meets him, cheered by the people as savior of Uganda. Amin has a great admiration for Scotland and he’s positively impressed by Nicholas, who is direct and self-confident. Nicholas is intrigued and charmed by this charismatic giant and let himself be convinced to become Amin’s personal physician. However, behind the lovely, colourful facade of life in the presidential residence, the blight starts to show: Amin is increasingly paranoid, ruthless and in more than one occasion shows erratic behaviour lashing out at advisors, family and friends alike. Amin relies more and more on Nicholas as he slowly turns himself into an absolute despot, ruling with iron fist and killing all his opponents. The viewer, together with Nicholas, is both disturbed and terrified by this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hide behaviour and begins to understand that things will only get worse. To complicate matters, Nicholas has the not very bright idea of having an affair with Kay (Washington), Amin’s second wife,  since she is lonely and shunned by the dictator due to the epilepsy of his son by her. Unfortunately for the parties involved and for the viewer, this will result in particularly gruesome violence as comeuppance dealt by the “wronged” Amin. I haven’t felt this much of empathic pain since A Man Called Horse.  Our so-called hero makes it out alive, unfortunately that’s not the case for many Ugandans, during his eight-year regime Amin managed to kill 300000 of them, in rather horrific ways. During the last confrontation between the two leads there’s a very illuminating exchange:

Amin: I am Idi Amin! President-for-life and ruler of Uganda. I am the father of Africa.

Nicholas: You’re a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that’s what makes you so fucking scary.

7.5/10

This post is my contribution to the second edition of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by an amazing trio: Ruth of  Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Go and read all the other entries linked on their blogs.

You can find my entry to last year edition here.

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Chef

Chef

Director: Jon Favreau; Main Cast: Jon FavreauJohn LeguizamoBobby CannavaleEmjay AnthonyScarlett JohanssonSofía Vergara;

This is a feel-good movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, mostly known for directing Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens. It is a comeback story about Carl (Favreau), the titular chef, who loses his job after a bad review from a critic and a melt-down gone viral on internet. Notwithstanding the fact that all the cliches are in it (unappreciated genius, workaholic, divorced with difficult relationship with his son…) the story works well because it has a nice pace, some good humor and the acting is up-to-par. Carl realises, with some help from his ex-wife Inez (Vergara), that he should go back to where he started: making cuban sandwiches on a food truck. The second act of the film is an on the road buddy comedy: Carl is helped by his friend and fellow cook Martin (Leguizamo) and his 10-year-old son Percy (Anthony) on a journey of rediscovery, appreciating the simple pleasures of life and the joy of cooking. On this trip from Florida back to Los Angeles, Carl’s food truck reaches celebrity status thanks to his social media savvy son (a true marketing genius!) and life will smile to him again (obviously). As I said, the film is nothing new but Favreau manages to balance very well the buddy banter, the father/son moments, the self-introspection and the cooking. In addition he has great on-screen chemistry with all the other actors, in particular with Leguizamo and young Anthony, and a knack for making the father/son scenes sweet but not cloyingly so. I should also issue a warning: there’s a fair amount of food porn during the film so I strongly suggest eating before watching otherwise you end up feeling famished when the closing credits start to roll (as I did!). Enjoyable —7/10

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Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)

The-Molly-Maguires

Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha EggarFrank Finlay;

Martin Ritt takes us back to 1876 and the harsh life of Irish immigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He focuses on the social drama of the early struggles between workers and company owners and, in particular, on the rather violent methods adopted by both sides. Written and co-produced by Walter Bernstein, this film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis. We follow the actions of Jack Kehoe (Connery) and James McParland (Harris): the former a hardened worker and leader of the titular secret society, the latter an undercover detective of the Pinkerton agency, employed by the local police to infiltrate and unmask the Mollies. In a stunning opening scene of almost fifteen minutes, without any dialogue, we are made acquainted with the grueling work of the miners and the trenchant approach of the Mollies to battling exploitation. I must add that the score by Henry Mancini is not only very effective in the opening scene but a nice complement to the whole film. We meet then James McKenna (McParland’s undercover identity), new in town and looking for a job in the mine, of course his first stop is at the pub for a pint and a brawl (there will be more of both down the line), the Irish way to present oneself as a potential friend? Well, it works… sort of… slowly but surely James gets closer to Jack and in the inner circle of the Mollies. At times, the viewer might doubt where his loyalty really lies (kudos to Harris for playing very well the ambiguity) since James and Jack are both  working class immigrants from Ireland with essentially the same aspiration: advancement in this new society. In the end, however, the law will prevail but it is a sour victory, James is left with the weight of his betrayal, although he tries his best to shake it off and justify it as a mean to an end. It was promoted more as a Connery’s film since he was fresh from his stint as 007 but, to me, this is a Harris’ film, he has the lion share of the story and the acting chops to carry it. The supporting cast is solid and Ritt has some inspired directing choices. To add more Irish flavour to the tale there aren’t only pints and bar brawls but a heated rugby match and a few traditional songs in the score (played with period instruments), so it makes for a perfect St. Patrick’s day film if you are not looking for light entertainment. Satisfying —7.5/10

This is my contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o’thon hosted by Diana & Connie at Silver Scenes, you can read all the other entries here:

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