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lshap
Posted: Tue May 31, 2005 2:41 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Being Julia (2004)

Reviewed by... censored-03


Being Julia is disappointing. Annette Bening does a hell of an English accent, but ultimately was not very good at making this woman mean much to us. I didn't understand the Oscar nomination.

Revenge ultimately isn't really sweet ? Is that the moral of this story ? I don't think that is all W.Somerset Maugham had in mind in the book Theatre that this story was based on, at least I hope not.

Bening plays an aging actress (Julia) performing in a play produced by her husband (Jeremy Irons). The couple agreed years ago it seems, that Julia is allowed to sleep around, but as soon as she finds out he does, all hell breaks loose. At least I wish it did in this sloooow mooovie. Julia has one of the most boring and improbable love affairs with a younger American social climber (the sleep-walking Shaun Evans) who seduces the supposedly savvy "older woman"! I don't think in real life he would care a less for this actress who doesn't have a "real life" or she for him and his lifeless demeanor! (I can't believe this film is getting any good reviews!)

Julia seemingly uses lines from plays she's been in and her day to day conversations interchangeably. Always the actress. This runs out of steam real fast as dialogue fodder, even her son tells her so. The movie is visually sumptuous enough in it's 1930's London theatre period piece drag...but without any original plot punch that also plays out quickly as does the All About Eve twist.

You see the woman who is sleeping with Julia's husband has also stolen her young man away. The young woman (Lucy Punch) is also an up and coming actress (up-staging Julia) in a play starring Julia. Revenge is the order of the day and carried out, and so what ? I wanted to go to sleep. This film just doesn't work or make you care. Bening is not convincing or interesting enough as a British stage star of the Thirties...and that's what she needs to do to make this movie matter. I don't think it does matter. C-
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lshap
Posted: Tue May 31, 2005 2:44 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Steal This Movie (2000)

Written by... censored-03


Steal This Movie is the biopic of Abbie Hoffman. Yes it's homogenized for the public's consumption, but it is quite an enjoyable film using it's low budget to the max. It is nowhere near as bad as the critics made it out to be. I said to my wife "I wonder why this film didn't get a better response"...and then I remembered when and where I live! With it's title a word play on the title of Hoffman's book Steal This Book, the drama shows what you would expect of this government-hassled, protesting-hippie-freak, Amerikan-Constitution-loving, trouble-making, Pentagon-levitating, street-theater-guerrilla, patriot.

The cast Vincent D'Onofrio (Abbie), Janeane Garofalo (his wife Anita Hoffman) and Jeanne Tripplehorn (his lover Johanna Lawrenson) were all excellent in their roles. This flick is certainly worth a watch on a rainy night and despite all of it's melodramatisation of Abbie's life, one might actually learn a thing or two about Hoffman's deeds and times, particularly those who weren't there during the fairly realistically shown events. (the film often used stock footage intercut with the drama). I did feel not enough screen time was lent to abbie's relationship with sometime sidekick Jerry Rubin. l find most bio-pics tend to make small of a famous persons almost god-like stature, in Abbie's and this film's case it works in the audience's favor.

Hoffman ended up as a fugitive and using the name Barry Freed became a conservationist for the St. Lawrence Waterways in a committee the size of most local sewing circles and this is shown in a great light towards the end of Steal This Movie. It shows that Abbie was always in it for justice for all and he used his hilarious might for right in almost all situations. His life ended rather tragically, a used media-rag from an earlier hopeful and experimental generation, a tired Hoffman in his 50's was the first person to admit and tell college age kids it is their time and their energy that can change the world now.

I've heard that Abbie was found, a suicide, with a copy of The Declaration of Independence on his chest lying too still for this often misunderstood and crafty activist/revolutionary. This film tells us Hoffman was a man who helped blacks in southern America escape a type of apartheid, helped stop an unpopular war, helped woman gain more respect and status, helped inform an ecologically challenged nation understand it's weeknesses, and tried his damnedest to make us smile while he and many others tried to inspire and create a better democracy for all. This bio-flick is worth the watch. C+/B-
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lshap
Posted: Tue May 31, 2005 2:50 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Travellers and Musicians
(2003, U.S. release Jan.2004) Dir: Khyense Norbu

Written by...Marantz


Travellers and Magicians, takes place in Bhutan. First ever film that was shot there apparently. It was the model for Lost Horizon's Shangri La. It opens with a game that is an archery contest up in the hills. The locals take this quite seriously in a friendly competitive way, and their reaction to good shots is giddy and exuberant. This isn't quite Kansas. The language is Dzongkha with subtitles, which is a good thing because my Dzongkha is really rusty. The director, Khyentse Norbu, is Bhutanese and made the movie The Cup, which I haven't seen.

The location of the first part of the movie is a small village in the hills/mountains of Bhutan (probably the only kind of location in Bhutan, save the forests). The story's main character is a young man who has been sent here as government official (a big sort of fish in this little pond) of something or other. He, Dondup (Tsewang Dandup) is not happy in this peaceful little town. he dreams of moving to America where he can avail himself of the unlimited possibilities. He wears an I LOVE NY T-shirt. He listens to pop/rock music on his little boombox. He frets about the lack of exciting girls where he is and he is waiting for a letter from a friend who is trying to get him a visa for the U.S. He gets the letter. He tells his boss that he wants to go to the Buddhist festival that is taking place in another town. This is just a ruse to get out of there and go to that town which also may provide him with that visa. On his way to catch the bus to the town he gets a little sidetracked by some things and just misses it. He starts hitchhiking. The scenery is lovely and exotic.

The road movie begins. He meets up first with an old man who is transporting a sack of apples to sell at the festival, then a young Buddhist monk who is also going to the festival. Dondup isn't that friendly. He wants to get where he wants to get to and doesn't want any impediments. As things go along the monk, in a cheerful and lighthearted way, engages our hero to some extent and finds out what his desired destination is. Dreamland, as the monk names it. Our hero has no interest in religion. This sort of surpassed me. Naively, I sort of imagined that in those exclusively Buddhist countries like Bhutan, that everyone was religious.

The monk starts telling a story which mirrors in a way the journey of our hero. The story lasts throughout trip. The scenes from the story inter-cut with the actual action. The story starts with two brothers. The older is his father's favourite, whom his father favours with enrollment in a magic school. But the older brother is a dreamer who has no interest in the school and is bored by the whole thing. The younger brother is the clever one and eavesdrops on the school classes because he is fascinated by it. He knows magic well, which seem to include making potions. The older brother wants to get out of this environment just as our hero does. While the brothers are having sort of a picnic in the countryside and the elder is imbibing the alcoholic drink that his kid brother prepared he gets tipsy and spots a horse that his father has traded a donkey for, up on a hill. He decides to ride the horse (to freedom?). He does and the horse takes off uncontrollably galloping where he will, while the weather shifts just as suddenly and wildly. He is lost in the forest in a rainstorm, comes upon a house in the woods and his adventure begins. A lot of The Postman Always Knocks Twice stuff here.

Back on the road our little gang adds a father and daughter who are from the village that Dondup has left. Dondup and the daughter seem to hit it off.

The monk's story culminates with a marvelous scene that starts with a reflection in the water of a woman's face that the older brother sees and transports us beautifully to the conclusion which may surprise. It surprised me.

The journey of our hitchhikers is almost at it's end and there is a little exchange between Dondup and the monk. Lovely ending.

This is a quiet movie, even though it has a few bust out scenes. This movie is in no hurry. This is a simple movie with no pretensions. This is a movie with a Buddhist sensibility. I had a very nice time.
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lshap
Posted: Tue Jun 21, 2005 3:45 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
The Ninth Day (2004)
Dir.: Volker Schlöndorff

Written by...Marilyn


Sixty years after the end of World War II, film makers are still wrestling with the legacy of Nazism and the horrors of the concentration camp. Documentaries such as Shoah and The Sorrow and the Pity take up the big picture with such brilliance and moral heat that later documentaries have been boxed into smaller corners of history, examining perceptions of Hitler by his secretary, for example, or the Kindertransport. Feature films, by their nature, focus on the particular to illuminate the universal; the moral agency of the main character normally puts the viewer in the seat of righteousness or pity, as with Schindler’s List and Au Revoir Les Enfants. See enough of these films and you’ll get to feeling very virtuous; I’m told that not even Downfall entirely escapes a certain level of pity for its main character, Adolf Hitler. The Ninth Day does not depart significantly from the feel of other films about Nazism, but it does something quite unique for films made these days—its narrative spine is firmly planted in philosophical debate.

The film’s protagonist is Rev. Henri Kremer, an influential priest from Luxembourg who has been sent to the priest block at Dachau for his activities opposing the Nazis. The beginning of the film sets out in relatively economical fashion to orient Kremer and the audience to his new environment—one filled with regimentation and horrifying cruelty resisted mainly by prayer. Kremer shows himself to have a bit more backbone when he runs to the aid of a Polish priest who is being beaten with a metal poker for being unable to sing a song in German. Ulrich Matthes, whose much-commented-upon hollow cheeks and black eyes make him seem born to play a witness/victim of atrocity, fills Kremer with a certitude of purpose that comes from being a member of a very influential family and a highly placed member of the Roman Catholic Church. It is for these reasons, apparently, that he is allowed the highly unusual privilege of being released from Dachau.

Kremer is intercepted by an SS officer named Gebhardt (August Diehl) as he disembarks the train in his hometown and is told to report to SS headquarters the next day. When Kremer returns home, his sister informs him that their mother is dead. The next day, Gebhardt tells Kremer that his release is only for 9 days, supposedly a bereavement leave. Naturally, there is another reason for Kremer’s release—he is to convince the bishop of Luxembourg to endorse national socialism to legitimize the actions of Germany in the Catholic countries of Europe.

The film counts down each day of Kremer’s leave, adding a sense of doom to the grim, gray look of the film and putting a limit on the amount of moral debate Kremer can engage in with himself, his family, his fellow clergymen, and Gebhardt. Flashbacks to Dachau reveal a secret guilt Kremer has been harboring regarding the death of a fellow cleric whom he felt he might have been able to save if he had been less selfish. Is this sin the chink in the armor Gebhardt will be able to chip away at to secure what he is after? The men engage in a short and savage debate on the true meaning of the life and acts of Judas.

It is in this and other exchanges with Gebhardt that the audience is invited into areas only philosophers and ethicists frequent with any regularity—the philosophical underpinning of social interactions, including moral utilitarianism and relativism. In trying to convince Kremer to capitulate, the bishop’s secretary says that resistance to the Nazis sent 20,000 Dutch non-Aryan Christians to their deaths. Wouldn’t it have been better to save those lives at little cost to the Church? We wonder along with Kremer what the true cost of capitulation would have been? Does an absolute moral good of condemning the Nazis demand blood sacrifice in the name of all humanity? In posing these questions within a true life-and-death situation for Kremer, the audience is forced to think in more than just a kneejerk way. This is the great strength of The Ninth Day.

Ultimately, Kremer utters a line that will linger with me for many years to come. In considering how he should decide, he poses a question to Gebhardt: “What does a killer want most from his victim after the victim is dead?” The answer may have little to do with Nazism, but it is a question individual Nazis may have asked themselves and one we all should to ask ourselves in considering how we conduct our lives.
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lshap
Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2005 8:12 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Les Fleurs du Mal - some roots of Noir in the Home Front Perversity, Paranoia, and Subversion of H.G. Clouzot’s 'Le Corbeau' and Jacques Tourneur’s 'The Leopard Man'.

Written by...Rod


(Spoilers ahead)

In Bertrand Tavernier’s 'Laissez-Passer' (Safe Conduct), a fine view of the travails of French film-makers who, for reasons varying from pragmatic to subversive to collaboratory, worked for the German-run war-time company Continental during the Occupation, Maurice Tourneur, the noted director who had for some time been a star-filmmaker in Hollywood, is depicted as so paralysed by depression over the fate of friends and the war-time miasma, that he lets his top assistant has to direct a film for him. Also mentioned in the film’s course are the difficulties encountered by Henri-Georges Clouzot in producing his 'Le Corbeau', a film denouncing collaborators, anonymous informants, and the whole Occupation malaise in metaphor. Yet so sharp was its portrayal of small-town hypocrisy that the German authorities gleefully exhibited it as anti-French propaganda. After the war, Clouzot was banned for a short period from making films before re-invigorating the thriller form and predicting the nouvelle-vague with films like 'La Salaire du Peur' (The Wages of Fear) and 'Les Diaboliques', in his love of a realistic mise-en-scene and fatalistic air.

Simultaneously, Maurice Tourneur’s son Jacques was forging a career in Hollywood as the first and most artistically accomplished of producer Val Lewton’s directors for his series of cheap yet revolutionary modernist Horror films. These films were, in their melding of suggestion for technique, ink-soaked palates for visuals, and psychology for material, early shots in the stylistic shift that would become known as noir in the post-war period. Noir today tends to be defined too narrowly as a branch of the gangster film, but it spread across many genres, and was born in as many, including Welles’ expressionist-tabloid 'Citizen Kane', Lewton’s Horror films, and William Wellman’s lynch-drama Western 'The Ox-Bow Incident', which shares a vitally similar theme to Clouzot’s 'Le Corbeau' in its merciless study of collective guilt and oppressive psychological darkness. Jacques Tourneur himself would go on to direct landmark works in the genre, such as 'Out Of The Past'. As Martin Scorsese described 'Cat People', this was a new kind of art, where the mind’s recesses became dominant.

To watch Tourneur’s 'The Leopard Man' and Clouzot’s 'Le Corbeau' is to see two almost concordant minds, within the same calendar year (1943), conjure two films of fascinating similarity reflecting on the nature of evil, with some moments that are virtual replicas, though there is no possibility of their having influenced each-other. It is the artistic reaction to shared sensations in a world that busy tearing itself to pieces, macrocosm portrayed through the microcosm of a small-town setting, the unknown menace whose motives are passing inexplicable, the fear and guilt and suspicion and self-incrimination it inspires in otherwise innocent people, are common to both films. In both 'The Leopard Man' and 'Le Corbeau' , a constant dialogue between good and evil, reason and madness, fate and fight is set in play.

'The Leopard Man' is not the most unified of Tourneur’s works three works with Lewton, and both disowned it as a misfired experiment after the graceful horrors of 'Cat People' and 'I Walked With A Zombie'. Yet, as stated in the ‘Encyclopaedia of the Horror Film’ (ed. Phil Hardy), “it now looks like a fascinating by-product of the then-embryonic noir genre”, and probably stands as the first psychologically accurate, if improbably plotted, serial killer flick. It is based on a novel by major noir influence Cornell Woolrich, ‘Black Alibi’, and details the fear that visit’s a US-Mexican border town, perched between moneyed Yankee chrome and aristocratic Hispanic arches, with a chasm of poverty-stricken natives in between. A black panther, kept by travelling Indian showman Charlie How-Come (Abner Biberman), the Leopard Man of the title who sells quack medicines supposedly containing the ‘essence of the leopard’s strength’, is rented by promoter Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe, not the best and not the worst of the typically dullard RKO leading men Lewton’s films sported) for his pet act Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) to escort on stage, specifically to upstage the more popular flamenco dancer Clo-Clo (Margo), a proud and aggressive girl whose Latin exoticism suits tourists’ ideas of local color more than Kiki’s blonde starlet. Jerry and Kiki, who have both clawed their way up from poverty to the brink of success, are both badly fearful of being seen as ‘soft’ and driven to beat any opponents. The publicity stunt backfires when Clo-Clo’s retaliatory rattling of castanets at the beast causes it to scare and run off into the night. Clo-Clo is hardly regretful - “I don’t need publicity, I have talent!” she declares before walking home through the nocturnal town, which, with open doors and windows, offering friendly faces and voices, children skipping through the dark, is a wonderland of life despite its claustrophobic palette. Yet menace is quickly established as a fortune-teller whose hands offer cards from within without face being seen; Clo-Clo chooses the death card, which the fortune teller now and consistently through the film attempts to deny.

Simultaneously, Theresa Delgado (Margaret Landry), a teenaged Mexican girl, is sent by her bullying mamasita to by cornmeal for the family’s dinner. Finding the local market is closed, the girl crosses a dry riverbed and underneath a railways bridge in the lengthy walk to the next open store, in sparse warrens of light, all-surrounding bare dusty hills overseen by crystal-bright stars and sickly-shading moon, exactly catching the eerie sensation of such a rural landscape in one of those miracles of bogus-yet-beautiful evocations common to Lewton’s films. The girl obtains her bag of corn-meal and returns along her moonlight path, and in a great “bus” - that false-scare so named for the bus whose brakes-sound resembles a big cat’s hiss in 'Cat People' - the girl thinks she spies a pair of cat’s eyes staring out from under the railway bridge, then springs a sudden roaring noise, but it’s only a train passing over. Then, reaching the other side, back in the open, the girl walks right into the cat, seen in sudden scary close-up with huge eyes afire and mouth furious. Tourneur cuts to inside the family’s room where Mamasita, irritated by the length of her absence, mocks the girl’s terrified demands to be let in, until she can clearly hear her being torn to pieces by the animal on the other side of the door.

This virtuoso scene gives way to the stiff dialogue (never a great gift of Tourneur’s - for his superior film-making skill, his handling of talk is markedly inferior to, say, Robert Wise’s touch in 'The Body Snatcher'), with Jerry and Kiki’s guilty shuffling around at the girl’s funeral, where the local Police Chief Robles’s (Ben Bard) taut smile for them indicates subtle condemnation, whilst the pair does their utmost to pose hardboiled. Jerry meets Galbraith (James Bell), a friendly academic who curates a small local museum of Native-American antiquities. Jerry and Galbraith join Robles’ posse for trapping the leopard. Clo-Clo tries to steal a rose from a birthday bouquet headed for coming-of-age senorita Consuelo Contreras (Tula Parnen), who breathlessly leaves her parental villa to meet her lover in the local cemetery at her father’s grave, but he has left by the time she arrives. She remains in sorrow at the graveside after the cemetery is locked up for the night. Realising she is trapped, she panics, her screams attracting a passer-by, but whilst he goes to get a ladder, something attacks her in the dark. The body found the next days seems to be another attack by the leopard, but Jerry suspects a human murderer may have, this time, attempted to cover up by making it look like the cat’s attack. Robles mocks this as Jerry’s evasion of guilt, but Jerry begins, with Kiki’s growingly affectionate aid and regained self-respect, to investigate. Presenting the idea with Charlie to Galbraith, Galbraith humorously warps the idea by suggesting to Charlie that he might be a psycho-killer who murders when he gets drunk, which scares Charlie so much he gets Robles to lock him up.

On-the-make Clo-Clo is still drawing the death card from the fortune-teller’s deck, which also predicts she will meet a rich man who will give her money and that “something black” is on its way to her which will prefigure her death. Shortly she meets a elderly American paterfamilias who is despised by his spoiled off-spring but who quickly strikes an accord with Clo-Clo, he in a life-crisis and Clo-Clo with her lot in supporting a very poor family with an avowed ambition to rise in the world. The man does indeed give her money, and on the walk home - in a mirror to the early scene, the night streets are now barren and maze-like - she encounters a friendly young American wearing a big white Tom Mix hat, but who drives a black car, which finally catches her superstitious streak and sends her running scared. Then, seeing someone she knows, she hurries to put on her lipstick - but it is in fact the killer. Charlie is released, and soon finds the remains of the leopard, having been shot dead and decayed for at least a week, and therefore surely not responsible for killing Consuelo and Clo-Clo. Jerry works up a plan to catch the human killer, working on a hunch that Galbraith is the killer, who ventured in the same area as the dead animal was found during the posse, is the one who killed the animal and scavenged its body for the physical traces to leave at the murder scenes. During a haunting local parade by hooded Monks to memorialise a massacre of Native Americans on the town’s site centuries previous, an unseen Jerry, Kiki, and Consuelo’s lover tease Galbraith to the point of hysteria with sounds to mirror his murders, and finally, Kiki offers herself up for bait in the darkened museum, which Galbraith takes - but Jerry and the lover intervene. Galbraith escapes by hiding amidst the parade, but he is caught and confesses, his sadistic delight unpeeling his genial face, whereupon the lover shoots him.

'The Leopard Man'’s chief fault is in the confusion over what killed who and when and the killer’s improbable method - both this film and 'Le Corbeau' are kept from greatness by plot aspects that are pure pulp. But 'The Leopard Man', for its dramatic gaps has a poetic breath and low-key humanity. Lewton’s auteurist influence on all his films was in obsessive research and love of placing in tiny details of no importance but great for conjuring atmosphere and depth, which is why, for their studio-bound states, all his films seem curiously rich and hallucinatory, such as the dreamscape New York of Cat People and 'The Seventh Victim', the Isle of the Dead, the folk-song Edinburgh of 'The Body Snatcher' (one failure in atmosphere was the period England of Bedlam, too ambitious for a film too cheap). Tourneur matched Lewton with a classical painter’s sense of placing those details, and 'The Leopard Man' throws up constant small delights; the landscape that looms around Maria’s doomed journey and her exchange with the store-keep; the grim trickle of blood under the door that signals her violent death; the hushed Hispanic birthday song from the household that wakes Consuelo; the cigarette butts that litter the sand signalling Consuelo’s lover has been there a long time before departing; the marching cowled monks who appear the essence of menace though they are actually icons of sorrowful penance and their trail of candle-holding men in street clothes.

'Le Corbeau' also has poetry, but a different, harder brand. Budgetary limitations in French cinema at the time caused much location-shooting, and 'Le Corbeau' is filmed in a rural French town, with whitewashed crumbling walls and grandiose church, and whose sun-drenched decay infects every frame of the film. Clouzot was a master of nightmares in the broad daylight, as in 'Le Corbeau' , 'La Salaire du Peur', and 'Les Diaboliques', storing his use of dark and shadow to leak in in crucial moments. ‘Le Corbeau’ - The Raven - is the nom-de-plume of the author of a unceasing series of poison-pen-letters directed at the populace of the town of St. Pierre. The first letter is directed at the haughty, unpopular obstetrician Dr. Rémy Germain (Pierre Fresnay, in a brilliant performance that makes his prickly, mysterious character work despite obstacles in the script) who makes it his business to save mothers rather than babies in difficult births. The letter intimates Germain performs illegal abortions, and also that he is having an affair with his friend Laura Vorzet (Micheline Francey), a young, attractive, blonde, but slightly off-kilter woman, who is a social worker and married to elderly psychiatrist Michel Vorzet. Laura and Germain’s platonic relationship does have an attraction arcing beneath despite her marital status and his iron-eyed detachment, is also a subject of disgust for Laura’s spinster sister Marie Corbin (Héléna Manson), who was previously engaged to Dr Vorzet before he married her sister instead, and now she works as head nurse at the local hospital where Germain works, and where things seem to be going off the rails - as one young man, called Patient 13 because of his bed number, suffers with liver cancer, the morphine to aid his pain has gone missing. Vorzet (Pierre Larquey, who equals Fresnay with his deliciously mordant performance) returns from a convention in Paris muttering cynically, “No-one listens to the speakers. It would be too funny. To get anyone to take it seriously we’d need an audience full of patients. The only thing these conventions are good for is for country doctors to cheat with Parisian woman. I’m too old for that so I came home.” The letters begin exposing every cheating spouse, corrupt business dealing, and incompetent official in town, sometimes accurately, sometimes not. The Mayor is labelled an ‘Old Shirker’ - “I dealt with this nonsense in my electoral campaign!”

Germain and Vorzet, friendly as professionals but never exactly at ease because of the accusations involving Laura, consult on what kind of person the writer must be, whilst standing in the post office, watching the letters come in and go out, as Vorzet teasingly points out any of them could be the Raven, even Germain himself if he is a paranoid self-accuser. “Could you be the Raven?” Germain ripostes. “Why not?” Vorzet answers laughingly. As the scandal bites badly into the town’s reputation and mood, Germain finds himself under-employed due to ostracism by the vinegar-faced madames and under investigation by officials. Vorzet is asked to confront Germain with pointed questions, such as how though he is a small-town obstetrician he has a collection of expensive antiques, and his lack of a history. “I wish you a long life,” he tells Germain, “But not to be our oldest Doctor. We are given some unpleasant duties.”

Germain’s only real, if temporary, understanding and comfort, comes from Denise Saillens (Ginette Leclerc), who doesn’t exactly come up to Germain’s high personal standards of femininity. Denise, who walks with a permanent limp due to a car-accident that also claimed her school-master brother’s arm, now lives with her brother in his school-house, where Germain also rents rooms, on the school-house’s top floor. Denise, to prove her desirability despite her injury, sleeps with any man she can. Initially rebuffed in her pathetic seduction of Germain, she soon ensnares the flailing “surgeon au mon Coeur” in a pungently erotic scene when, aroused, he tries to silence her entreaties with a hand over her mouth, and she promptly bites it. Letters soon label Germain lover of both Denise and her younger sister Rolande, a budding adolescent with a coquettish streak who likes to trick money out of people. Germain worships the ‘saintly’ Laura, who nonetheless shows up to a meeting with Germain arranged with an obscene trick letter written by the Raven, severely disillusioning our prig hero, and also getting him in trouble with Denise, who is pretty well smitten.

Things come to a head when Patient 13, informed he is dying by one of the Raven's letters, cuts his throat with his razor. He is buried with full vindictive ceremony by the township and Marie Corbin, suspected by many to be the author, seems to be confirmed as the Raven when a new letter falls from her wreath on the bier. Walking home when dismissed by the hospital, Marie flees through eerily deserted, brightly-lit in the middle of the day with the sounds of an unseen voluminous mob baying her name echoing after her. Theoretically reaching the safety of her rooms, Marie finds they been trashed, and the mob arrives outside, stoning the windows. Running to the door to escape, Marie’s arm is grabbed - but it’s only a policeman come to escort her to safety. Temporary peace reasserts over the town, and the letters stop, though Germain still plans to leave despite Denise’s entreaties. But a new letter, dropped mockingly from the top gallery of the church during the pastor’s speech about deliverance from the evil-doer, recommences the “campaign of purification”. Patient 13’s mother (Sylvie) vows, in quiet grieving black-clad mother’s fashion, to find and kill the Raven. In trying and rid themselves of the main target, Germain, the town officials pay a woman to pose as a pregnant mother seeking an humanitarian abortion. Germain instantly rejects the possibility, and finds (unfortunate pulp moment #1) the woman knows him from his previous incarnation, having had her life saved by him when he was Germain Monotte, a brain surgeon born in Grenoble and esteemed in Paris. She confirms the plot although she won’t reveal the men involved. Germain guesses anyway and storms into the local men’s club to state his history; he lost his wife and child in birth to an idiot doctor’s insistence on birthing the baby, and decided to become a good obstetrician. “You suspect Germain, and Germain suspects you’re stupid!”

Free from his past and sufficiently angry to wage war, Germain enlists Vorzet’s talents as psychiatrist - he believes the writer will be a repressed person, sexually frustrated possibly physically debilitated - and as an amateur graphologist to test all the people who were in the church gallery, which includes Denise, Rolande, their armless brother, and Laura. Even trying their utmost to disguise it, someone cannot write nearly a thousand letters without developing a second writing style that will show up eventually, so they are herded into the classroom and made to take dictation of each salacious letter. During the process, in a queasily hypnotic scene, Denise, under the close taunting watch of Germain and Vorzet, simple sounds like a tapping pencil and a winding watch hyper-amplified, faints. Is she the Raven? Vorzet says he can’t tell, though there are similarities. Or did she merely faint because she is in fact pregnant to Germain?

The last act is a whirl of revelations, and though risking a breathless absurdity, is a superb display of constantly shifting truth, changing shape moment to moment like sliding doors in a Japanese room. Germain, sneaking into Denise’s room, indeed finds she has written a letter in the Raven’s style, addressed to him to inform him of the pregnancy. It looks briefly that Germain is about to lose it and kill her - “I don’t want a mad son!” he says with bright scary eyes, advancing on her. Denise protests it was the first letter she ever wrote, to taunt him for his withdrawing from her, and begs him to look into her eyes to see if she’s lying (unfortunate pulp moment #2) whereupon, staring in her teary eyes, he loses certainty. But Denise’s guilt seems more certain when she says Laura received a violent threat - before Laura actually received the threat. Fortunately, Germain stumbles upon a writing pad full of practised phrases and symbols from the Raven’s pen in Laura’s study, instantly realising Laura has tried to set up Denise. But Laura claims she also only wrote one letter, the first, to get Germain’s sexual attention, and that her husband Vorzet then forced her to continue at his dictation as a savage and mad joke on the town. Vorzet himself tiredly denies this and convinces Germain to commit Laura to an asylum. Only Denise’s opinion - that she thought Laura knew the Raven but could not be it because she was so afraid of him - causes Germain to return to Vorzet’s house, just in time to see Laura being brutally carted off by the men in white coats. Inside, he finds Vorzet, dead, his throat cut by Patient 13’s vengeful mother with her son’s own suicide instrument, Vorzet’s blood mingling with the ink of a letter in the Raven style celebrating Laura’s ‘punishment’. Germain watches the black-clad mother walking quietly away down a long white street.

The feel of oppressive evil and paranoia in 'Le Corbeau' is all-consuming, and it conveys the feeling of living in a society where everyone is being watched, where innocuous acts are suspicious, where love seems to be a trap for the most poisonous bitterness, and in which all standards of society and decency seem to be collapsing. Its hero, Germain, lives on a slippery slope of changing values; rigid and unyielding, he loses both his Puritanism and desire to purify as he watches the damage such thinking does to people and to how it has so little to do with how those people work. “ You come through things like this with your eyes opened,” he concludes, “ I hate to say it, but evil is necessary.”

The most obvious similarity between 'The Leopard Man' and 'Le Corbeau' is in their villains. Intelligent, even professorial villains have never been rare - hello, Moriarty - and were endemic in the serial-killer flick craze after Thomas Harris, but the similarities between Galbraith and Vorzet are acute. Both are very likable, far more so than the heroes. Both have broad ranges of knowledge - Galbraith, an antiquarian, also has knowledge of psychology and zoology; Vorzet, a psychiatrist, is a graphologist and a farceur. In fact, both have strongly ironic senses of humor, and ultimately their actions seem extensions of a liking of treating the world as a humorous plaything. Both attempt to inculcate fear, moral uncertainty, and self-doubt in the people around them, and take advantage of their knowledge, of people’s fears, anxieties, of mistaken belief. Neither display Hitlerian demagogue tendencies. But their status as chaos-makers, as proofs if the irrational imperfectability of even the most educated and sane of men, is timely. The most crucial similarity comes in two metaphorical scenes, in which the villains present a metaphorical vision of life in chaos. In 'The Leopard Man', a small rubber ball is held aloft and in permanent and permanently precarious balance by the pressure of the water of a fountain in the cabana. Having a drink after returning from the posse search, Galbraith and Jerry converse:

Jerry: Oh say, there’s something I wanted to ask you it’s er…it’s about the leopard.
Galbraith: Are you worrying about its killing someone else?
Jerry: Not me - I’m not worried about anything.
Galbraith: Then why did you come on the posse this morning? You’ve got some strange notions Jerry. Why do you feel you must seem hard and disinterested? This morning I heard you tell Robles you didn’t want to come and yet you came along. That wasn’t easy for a tenderfoot like you.
Jerry: Listen Galbraith - where I was brought up you had to be tough. It was a tough neighbourhood. I learned it didn’t pay to let anybody know how you feel or really think….Alright. Alright so I feel rotten - nervous. I want to go out - be everyplace at once - be sure that that cat doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Galbraith: Don’t feel concerned Jerry. I’ve learnt one thing about life. We’re a good deal like that ball dancing on the fountain. We know as little about the forces that move us - and move the world around as that empty ball does - about the water that pushes it into the air - lets it fall and catches it again. You shouldn’t feel too bad about Theresa Delgado.

In the Clouzot film, Vorzet, after the writing test, talks with Germain in the schoolroom, long after dark, with a single light bulb giving scant light to the room:

Germain: After all, when you meet a monster-
Vorzet: I meet one in the mirror every morning, in the company of an angel. You’re wonderful. You think people are all good or all evil. You think good is light and evil the shadow.
(He pulls down the light bulb and starts it swinging; light and shadow flicker wildly in the room)
Vorzet: But where’s the light? Where’s the shadow? Where does evil start? Do you know which side your on?
Germain: It’s of small importance. But we must stop the light swinging.
(Germain reaches to halt the light bulb, but recoils with burnt fingers)
Vorzet: (laughs) You hurt yourself! That proves something. There…I like you, so let me confide something. I take drugs. I inject myself. It’s because of me Marie Corbin spirited away those vials of morphine. She has an old passion for her ex-fiancé. But I don’t take myself to be a monster! Think about that, and check your conscience. The results could surprise you.
Germain: I know myself.
Vorzet: You’re proud. Since the winds of hate blew through this town all values have been more-or-less corrupted. You’re stricken too. You’ll fall like the rest. Oh I’m not saying you’ll strangle your mistress, but you’d go through my bag if I wasn’t here! You’d sleep with Rolande if she were in love with you! One simply has the choice.

This is the dramatic crux of the film and the era, and also one doubts there is still a more self-lacerating assessment of a Frenchman’s position during the Occupation. The subversion in this film wasn’t just the sort that could get you sacked or blacklisted but could get you shot, and reveals not just the German censors but the French post-war authorities as, well, stupid. Yet it’s not a cuddly message for any side. It is an accusation that in the end humanity in general is failing, and will not be repaired until, as Vorzet recognises in Germain, good people go on the warpath.

In both films there is an angry wrestle with determinism, but involving different themes. 'Le Corbeau' is a moral one, invokes sexual evil, and much of it has a thick erotic air. Vorzet, on the surface a sexless intellectual, beneath an angry lecher, marrying a much younger woman and figuratively raping her, first mentally by forcing her to write endlessly sick letters, and then physically, by having her dragged off with brute force and slammed in the back of an asylum van. Germain is associated with birth and death, the recurring anxiety of evil and madness born of immorality, with death in childbirth and abortion hanging like a noxious scent about him; his worship of his deceased wife, a “real woman”, and Laura, whom he “imagined far above all that”, contrasted with his the baldly sexual and morally honest Denise, with whom he is afraid he might have “a mad son”. “ People are what they are! An honest man stays one! A womaniser stays one!” Fresnay shouts in marvellously acted scene, himself taut and terse, Leclerc loving one moment and then smirkingly contemptuous. Denise, in her quietly heroic if unpersuasively slatternly fashion, stands for the right of an individual to make and define themselves in whatever terms they choose, and she interrupts his tirade, “ And a slut stays one. You may be right doctor. But I feel sorry for you. You are what is saddest and strangest in life.” “ A fool?” “No, a bourgeois.”

In 'The Leopard Man', the determinism is social and economic. Jerry, Kiki, Clo-Clo, and most of the populace of the town are now or have been poor, and each is hungry for a way out. Jerry and Kiki react recklessly and despairingly to their “first big break” being ruined by Clo-Clo’s popularity, and then by the pall of the leopard’s escape. Theresa, when she has to get the corn-meal on credit, is trusted by the weary store-keep, who reckons, “The poor don’t steal from each-other, they’re all poor together.” Clo-Clo trumpets herself triumphantly - “For what was I born if not for money?”, whilst tempted to give up and marry some nice penniless youth. In both films characters are fighting their place within larger schemes, and facing an even worse terror from people breaking the schemes, which, really, was the general scheme of history between the Depression and the War. A consistent theme of the Lewton films was in the necessity of choosing life even amidst an air of a perpetual sadness, which here manifests in the Monks’ memorial of a long-gone but still crucial slaughter, a blood guilt in which the world is implicit. Lewton’s films are all subtly subversive, with their quietly anti-racist slant, the mockery of militarism in 'Isle Of the Dead', the air of fear of repressed lesbianism that drives 'Cat People', the ghosts of slavery in 'I Walked With A Zombie' that have bound all the islanders, black and white, to the same undeniable identity, and the general, over-arching theme that nothing is so transient as sanity and safety, and that the worst horrors are held inside one’s head, ready to smash any utopia if you’re not on your guard.

This is a theme also common with Clouzot, who was even more fatalistic than Tourneur or even Hitchcock, his great rival whom he beat to gaining the rights to make 'Les Diaboliques' by a matter of hours. He anticipated Polanski in his grim assessment of humanity. In the course of 'Le Corbeau' there’s hardly a target that isn’t ridiculed or found wanting; the church, the state, the institution of marriage, medicine, the rectitude of the educated and privileged, the innocence of children. In both films it is only love and individual honor and responsibility that give hope.

There are also, of course, great differences. The American film is free of the honest, if not undated, sexual exploration of the French film, and also 'Le Corbeau' , though made on a stringent budget, is more expensive and made by generally higher-level collaborators (the only technical standout of 'The Leopard Man' is Robert De Grasse’s superbly hard-sheen photography that crisply captures Tourneur’s poetic dabs). 'The Leopard Man' is also a far less witty and well-written and well-acted film than 'Le Corbeau' . The measuredly literate, almost metric dialogue Lewton encouraged with writers like Ardel Wray and DeWitt Bodeen sounded fine coming out of actors like Jason Robards Snr, Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, but they did not always have actors of that calibre. Jean Brooks found her greatest part not in Kiki, too dewy to be convincingly hardboiled, but as the haunted-eyed, black-haired wraith of mystery Jacqueline in 'The Seventh Victim'; James Bell’s avuncular but subtly sleazy Galbraith is the best performance in the film. On the other hand, the mood of subtle dread, of quiet despair and longing, in 'The Leopard Man', has its own integrity.

Both films stand at an emotional and metaphorical crossroads, describing the aching, doubtful, evil-infected landscape of 1943 seeping deep as DDT into even the most idyllic of settings, and also pointing to the post-War landscape in which the mind-space of heroes brought their own poison to a theoretically peaceful world, in which the danger came not from the mobster with the tommy gun or the hulking Frankenstein but from the bitter wife with a gun, the nice-looking but sexually perverse old man, the community with the mindset of the lynch mob.
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lshap
Posted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 5:36 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Grizzly Man (2005)
Dir: Werner Herzog

Written by...Marilyn


A spate of nature films came out in 2005, testifying to the perennial fascination the natural world holds for human beings. Feeling not really a part of nature, though we are its creatures, we seek out a connection to a life silent of electronic bleating and devoid of the artificial light of screens and lamps and flashing signs. The moon and the stars not only become escapes, but also seducers, and wild animals are more than beautiful, they are our friends and exemplars of our true spirit.

March of the Penguins won a large audience as it took strange and beautiful creatures that pose no threat to human beings and reflected through them the love and struggle we feel in our own lives. We identified with them, rooted for them, suffered their losses with them, and rejoiced in their perseverance. They gave us comfort that, as a group, we could survive even the harshest turns of fate and continue on in our cycle of life.

Duma partially domesticated a cheetah, but showed that this potentially lethal animal and a human being could be true friends. The goodness of Xan toward Duma, (including saving Duma’s life several times) seemed to create a magic that could ward off injury from other creatures, both wild and human, and we had a sense that humans could enter that world at any time if only we had the right attitude. It gave us hope that we, too, could revert to our true nature and live happily in a natural state. It is, perhaps, this magic thinking that sent Tim Treadwell, the central figure in Grizzly Man, into the wilds of Alaska to commune with grizzly bears and, finally to be killed by one.

A boozer and drug abuser from the suburbs of New York, this baby boomer with California good looks, failed acting ambitions, and a dysfunctional relationship with civilization started summering in 1980 in a remote area of Alaska frequented by grizzlies. He established himself among a familiar group of bears, all of whom he named, had a wild red fox adopt him as a companion, and went deep into his loneliness to reach a place almost completely at odds with humanity. In 1998, he began filming his “expeditions.” He used these films to educate, at no charge, school children about grizzlies and the dangers they faced from human encroachment. He also used them as a video diary and practice footage for what appeared to be a “Crocodile Hunter” type movie he was planning. The footage provided the raw material for Herzog, a man drawn to extremes in nature, to fashion a documentary portrait of Treadwell.

Treadwell was not truly an environmentalist. Several people Herzog interviewed emphasized that these grizzlies were not in any danger. The population size was healthy even with limited hunting, and that poached was extremely rare. A Native American said that a boundary had existed between his people and the bears for thousands of years that was well respected and that he considered Treadwell to be something close to a blasphemer who was acclimatizing these grizzlies to human contact, ironically, putting them in danger.

Nonetheless, Treadwell saw himself as a savior, a special individual who had found the door to total communion with nature that so many had tried, but failed to open. He emphasized in his filming many times that what he was doing was extremely dangerous. So it was, but the warning seems more in the style of “don’t try this at home, kids,” than a true appreciation of the danger he was in. It almost seems as though his uniqueness was being flaunted with these warnings. Perhaps he had a messiah complex. Perhaps he simply had a death wish. Perhaps he was more complicated than this film made him out to be.

Herzog is attracted to the grotesque. He focuses on the demons Treadwell occasionally exorcized on film, and on his sometimes nutty closeness to the bears—for example, touching lovingly some scat that had just come out of one of his favorite bears. On the videos, however, Treadwell clearly states that he has studied the bears, and he kept a meticulous diary. While it is clear that he was not a trained scientist, it is possible that he discovered quite a lot in those 13 years that might be beneficial to science and to protecting the habitat bears need to survive long term. Complicating his portrait by suggesting that Treadwell was some kind of self-styled Jane Goodall, however, does not fit into Herzog’s desire to portray nature as the enemy and Treadwell as Icarus. I longed to really know what made Treadwell tick. Sadly, this film was all about what made him stop ticking.
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lshap
Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:40 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Ladies In Lavender (2004)

Written by...Censored


Set in coastal Cornwall, England during the 1930’s, this is a mellow and straightforward film about two aging sisters who live in a house by the edge of the sea. The sisters, played by Dame Judith Dench (Ursula) and Dame Maggie Smith (Janet), are portrayed with the most earnest and charming of performances by these two old pros of theater and film. The story is a simple one; the sisters are out in their garden on a rare sunny day when they spot a young man lying dead or unconscious on the rocky beach just below their home. They summon help and take in the young man, just barely alive. When he comes to, he finds himself in a strange bed being attended to by the two spinster sisters, their amusingly unceremonious housekeeper (Miriam Margolyes) and the town’s doctor (David Warner). It is discovered that the young German speaking man named Andrea (Daniel Bruhl, Good Bye, Lenin) is actually a Polish Jew who has survived a shipwreck while sailing for America, the place he had planned to make his fame and fortune as a concert violinist.

The sisters start to become very attached to the injured young man they are nursing back to health. Ursula in particular seems to take a shining to him, as in the scene where she tags the furniture, door, curtains and windows in his room to teach Andrea the English language. She shows a growing girlish enthusiasm for this new found male friend. In the mean time as Andrea is healing, a new neighbor, a beautiful Russian woman named Olga (Natasha McElhone) moves next door and visits the sister’s home unannounced when she hears beautiful violin music out in their garden being played by Andrea. It turns out that she is the sister of a famous concert violinist/impresario and she later writes a letter to the two sisters telling them that her brother would like to hear Andrea play after hearing of his sister’s fascination with the talented young musician. Ursula and Janet are quite jealous of this woman coming into their newly exciting lives. With their young house guest as the source of an invigorated and refreshed enthusiasm for life as well as the interest of the whole town being a source of pride for them, they decide not to tell Andrea of this good news in Olga’s letter. In a way they’re trying to keep him for themselves. This gives the two veteran actresses a chance to really shine as they use subtle facial expressions and crafty dialogue to express their growing fondness for there adopted new friend.

Meanwhile, Olga is an artist and is in Cornwall to paint the beautiful countryside, one day she is encountered by the old doctor who lets it be known he is a lonely man interested in this young beauty. Shequickly stops his advances. A little while later he becomes angered thinking there is a romance between her and Andrea when he sees Andrea leaving Olga’s home after an afternoon of posing for her for a portrait. During that visit it is obvious that there is a sexual tension between the two, but Olga stops this encounter too, thinking more about the young musician’s career than getting involved in an affair. She convinces him to leave in a hurry and come to London with her where her brother will be in town for a short 24 hour period and where he could meet the maestro. Back to the doctor; jealous of Andrea’s seeming hold on Olga, he tells the authorities that the young man might be a German spy; after all there is the growing threat of Nazism hovering over Europe.

Andrea leaves for London with Olga without having the time to tell his enamored hosts why he has left. The two sisters spend an upsetting few days unaware of what has happened to Andrea. There is a scene where the smitten Ursula breaks down revealing a life of lost opportunities when it came to male companionship. Judy Dench is quite affecting as the sorrowful woman realizing her crush is an unrealistic situation brought on by years of frustration. We see her letting go of a locket of Andrea’s hair that she had held onto while her more sensible and grounded sister had cut the young man’s hair. Eventually it is learned that Andrea is in London and will be on the radio in concert. This is great news to the whole town and many of them gather at the sisters’ house to listen to the concert on the wireless set. The sisters are conspicuously missing from this scene. With the concert's dramatic music swelling in the background, the film goes back and forth from the crowded country house filled with many of the town's earthy characters, whom we have gotten to know throughout the film, to the London concert hall with it’s well heeled audience members, amid them we see the two sisters Ursula and Janet where they rightfully should be, right in the middle of the audience watching with pride and joy as their young charge Andrea masterfully plays his violin in a life altering performance.

The film ends as the sisters head back to their home by the sea, we see them in a montage, walking along the pebbly beach reminiscing about the wonderful times they had with Andrea and how they had to let him go the way two young sisters might have had to let a recovered injured bird fly away. All in all Ladies In Lavender is a charming, amusing and well balanced little film with fine acting from all involved.
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lshap
Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:42 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Cinderella Man (2005)

Written by...Censored


I have just seen a screening today of what I think is the first real legitimate award level Hollywood film of 2005. It is called Cinderella Man and it comes from the team of Ron Howard (Director/Producer), Brian Grazer and Penny Marshall (Producers). It opens on June 3rd.

Cinderella Man is a true story of the Depression era boxing hero of the everyman, James J. Braddock. He was a boxer who seemed to be on his last legs as a professional when he got one last shot in the ring and made good on the opportunity. Russell Crowe, reunited with Howard again (A Beautiful Mind) is Jim Braddock and he is really plays this role for all that it’s worth. He portrays this simple family man, who after some tough losses in boxing matches has to take dead-end jobs and scrape by anyway he can just to feed his family, in this darkest of periods in American history. Renee Zellweger plays Jim’s wife in another fine performance from this talented actress. Jim, to use a boxing cliché, is down, but never out and finds himself with a second chance at life and makes the most of it when he is added to a fight in the last minute and then wins it with a new found hook punch he developed working hard hours on the docks. He then gets his biggest shot to fight the legendary “killer” Max Baer (Craig Bierko), the champion of the world. Paul Giamatti, in a performance already getting Oscar buzz, (as are many things about this film) is Braddock’s feisty manager, this guy is relentless in his optimism for Jim’s chances to be a champion fighter. We see that Braddock was a greater man than he was a boxer because he is smaller than and not as technically talented as the opponents he winds up beating. He is all heart, a metaphor for the American’s of the Depression era, which by the way Howard represents in the most amazing period replication I’ve ever seen of this era. The sets, cinematography, supporting cast and bit players as well as costume design truly evoke what one would think it really looked and felt like in the grim and gritty 1930's. I like this movie, it could have been very cliched, but Howard finds ways to avoid this, even the musical score is impressive, written by Thomas Newman, it is simply moody and atmospheric using sparing piano at it’s musical core. It's much less cornball than most scores I’ve heard in other films by Ron Howard. I think a lot of people can take or leave another boxing film coming on the heals of Million Dollar Baby, but this is a far superior film IMO. This was a really good time at the movies, thanks mostly to an outstanding performance by Russell Crowe, who owns this part, down to his excellent Jersey accent. See it a week from today, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I like this Hollywood.
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lshap
Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:43 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Wedding Crashers (2005)

Written by...Censored


Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are paired well in this mostly satisfying comedy. The idea is fairly original, and I found myself drawn to the theater and this film over the rather pathetic list of film and TV series-as-film remakes for this reason alone. Don’t look now but the real reason was that it was too damn hot in the northeast to go to the botanical gardens instead. Also, I wasn’t in the mood for Pitt and Jolie or Depp’s Wonka or even Shark Boy and Lava Girl (!), all playing at the same theater complex.

Wilson and Vaughn play a couple of over aged adolescent wedding crashers as in the title. Frankly I have never heard this term until I heard about this film. It does make for a pretty good pedestal on which to place this film’s humor. The film starts with a lengthy and funny montage of the two mixing it up at every conceivable type of wedding, drinking, eating and sleeping their way through the “wedding season” so valued by these two members of a club with only them as the members. After all women are at their most vulnerable to romance at another person’s wedding it seems, and who doesn’t like the good music, food and drink?

At the Jewish wedding they announce themselves with Jewish names and accept their yarmulkes with vigor and proceed to take over the party, Vaughn is particularly funny in these early scenes of drunken revelry as he hoists the bride in her chair over his 6’5” body with the flair of a real mensch of a guest. As he shows a couple at another wedding, how to cut the wedding cake, he feasts with an open and laughing mouth full of frosting, it's all very hysterical, in a bacchanalian type of frenzy. At an Irish wedding they announce they are “here to get drunk” etc. etc. It is well done if a bit of a while before we get a real idea as to what we are about to see this film develop into, other than these two guys partying and using the weddings as a place to meet girls, seemingly half their age. Of course this makes perfect sense really with a couple of adults this immature and aimless, although they do know a delicious wrapped scallop or a fine champagne when they taste one…or two or three...

We learn the two Wedding Crashers have a numbered set of rules that they humorously quote back and forth to each other whenever one thinks the other is going out of bounds in their respective pursuits. The boys finally meet there equals when they crash the wedding of the eldest daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury played with all of the quirks we have come to expect from Christopher Walken. I would really like to see this guy do more of a stretch sometime soon; he seems to be becoming a parody of some comedian’s impersonation of him or worse riding on his rep alone. He wasn’t really as funny as the character was supposed to be, which I know he could have been. It turns out the two “crashers” are invited to the Secretary’s private estate mostly because Wilson’s character has impressed Walken with his quickly studied knowledge of the important man’s writings and “shared” interest in sailing. Actually Wilson is really after the Secretary’s sweet younger daughter, played charmingly by Rachel McAdams. Vaughn in the meantime unknowingly takes the other nutty daughter’s (Isla Fisher) questionable virginity, which is golden rule number 1 on the crashers not to do list! He comes looking for Wilson afterwards and tells him “that’s it; we’re outta here, the party’s over!” Owen using his well known friendly persuasion, (seen from him in countless other films) convinces Vaughn to stay. More mayhem ensues.

At a Kennedyesque family football game on the front lawn of the estate, we see Wilson’s love interest’s preppy boyfriend (Bradley Cooper) take on a violent attitude as he relentlessly physically attacks Vaughn and hurts him during a game of “touch” football. This is our introduction to the only real bad guy of the film, the smarmy and endlessly mean-spirited polo shirt wearing creep known as Sack Lodge. This character eventually will try to bring down the two wedding crashers and their false identities as “venture capitalists” that they are pretending to be to gain access to this aristocratic crowd. That crowd includes members of the Secretary’s own very eccentric family, whom we meet and get to know at a particularly well played ensemble acting affair at a family dinner that the two are privy to. There is the feisty and politically incorrect old mother of the Treasury Secretary who taunts her awkward black-sheep artist grandson by calling him a “homo”. We have gotten to know the innocently wonderful daughter that Wilson is indeed falling for, (something different for this aging womanizer) and the irrepressibly sexually clingy other daughter who is now after Vaughn in the worst way. We see her getting him off under the table at the same dinner scene, as he hilariously has to answer questions about himself and his partner to the curious family while this is taking place. We see her again later that night, this time tying Vaughn up as she, naked, sits atop him while he sleeps as a guest in the home. She wants more of the same of what she has suddenly gotten quite a taste for. As if that isn’t enough, once she tires of their tryst and leaves him, we see someone else taking advantage of the sleepy tied up Vaughn, this time it is the creepy son (Keir O’Donnell), who sensing a come-on earlier also tries to have a fling with him and is put off only after Vaughn convinces him that the nude painting that the young man has done of him is “really quite good!” Jayne Seymour plays a horny 50 something wife to Walken, we see her in only a couple of speaking scenes with her other scenes being only distant reaction shots. I’m not sure what all of the critical hype about her is for, other than the fact that she forces Wilson’s character to do something with her new boob-job as he sits alone for a rare moment of respite.

The funny pacing and style starts to wane a bit towards the last third of the film, as the two characters become bogged down with their more and more separate experiences at the family estate. Wilson is seen in a number of fairly charming romantic scenes with McAdams as they find a common bond and do what couples in love do: walks and talks on the beach, bicycle rides reminiscent of the famous scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid etc. Vaughn meanwhile is now pretty much left alone to carry the comic load as the under slept and hassled man is somehow silenced from his usually vociferous stream-of-consciousness party riffs, and instead now turns to a worldlier humorous sense of irony. At one point after a long night he says to Wilson alone at a breakfast table “I’m too traumatized to have a scone, I felt like Jodie Foster in The Accused last night!” His is really a tour-de-force performance in my opinion, and really the best reason to see the movie.

The rest of the film takes us through a separation of the good friends and their eventual get-back-together scene at yet another wedding; I won’t tell you whose. There is also a character played by the omni-present Will Farrell, who as comedy goes, you either like or you don't. Frankly, I was distracted by him in this film when showed the wild eyes of a man I'm not sure he was portraying or actually is possessed by in real life! Not that great or necessary a performance for me as usual. Over all the movie had a quick wit and freshness not seen often in comedies today. There are of course a few too many stereotypes as fodder for humor that I find unnecessary to make a film funny, such as the over use of young women as sexual bimbos and ethnic stereotypes that aren't what Hollywood would have you think are Farrely Bros. induced acceptable non-pc cultural jokes, but instead just stupid or worse, mean spirited at heart. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this film is a comedy for the ages or just a pleasant way to laugh yourself through this hot summer weather. I’m mostly in the latter camp.
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lshap
Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 10:26 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
War of the Worlds (2005)
Dir. Steven Spielberg

Written by...Marj


It’s summertime and what a better way to celebrate than with a Steven Spielberg popcorn fest. War of the Worlds is this summer’s blockbuster and with Spielberg at the helm expectations have been running on super octane. One can remember past summers, when a Spielberg movie was not only a cause for celebration, it was an event! We only have to think back to Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or an Indiana Jones movie and the memories come flooding back. No wonder War of the Worlds opened to such excitement. Mr. Spielberg has earned it.

War of the Worlds adapted from the H.G. Wells novel about the invasion of aliens from Mars is a rather simple story. It was adapted in the 1930’s by Orson Wells as a radio play and has been filmed four times. So to keep the story timely Spielberg had to adapt it yet again and did so with much reverence to H.G. Wells, himself. Perhaps too much so. For while the film is gripping, stunning to look at and certainly frightening enough, it will never hold the place in my heart that other Spielberg classics do.

Mr. Spielberg is so skilled at the genre it is not surprising that the making of War of the Worlds is visually mind blowing and yet surprisingly ... vapid. I couldn't help comparing the film to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and longing for the wonder and awe that existed in every frame and plot detail. In ‘War‘, plot holes abound. Yes, there are the Spielberg trademarks: alienation, abandoned youth, single parents and even visual moments reminiscent of ‘Close Encounters'. At one point Tom Cruise opens a door and is bathed in a pool of light that is eerily similar to the classic shot from that film. Also employed are many shots of the back of a lone child which exemplifies the isolation that is so often a Spielberg theme.

It would seem that a film like War of the Worlds would be child's play for a director like Spielberg. So why did it leave me wanting? My guess is the problem lay not in the filming but in the script. One that for once was not an original of Spielberg's or even adapted in such a way, that one could call it a Spielberg film. Steven Spielberg has stated often, that he does believe in extraterrestrials. However I doubt he meant those found in War of the Worlds. Spielberg’s aliens always have a home, a back story and most of all are intelligent enough to display logic. Wells' aliens appear almost stupid, employing little if any strategy for their appearance upon earth after a preparation of over one million years. This must have been hard for Spielberg to come to grips with and impossible to humanize, the one thing Spielberg does best. Given what he had to work with, (it's been said that the aliens were literal copies from the H. G. Wells book) it's no wonder this film at times seemed like an abstract paint by numbers experience. And a confusing one at that.

This is not to say that War of the Worlds is a bad film. Anything but. It is just not close to what we have come to expect from this master story teller. And therein lies the rub. ‘War’ was not his story, even if the core family might have us think otherwise. So, if I was sometimes confused and somewhat let down, I still applaud Spielberg for making such a marvelous and stunning version of the H.G. Wells' classic and again transporting me to his world. And it’s no wonder that after leaving the theater, I looked up at a strangely overcast yet colorful nighttime sky and thought … How ominous.
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lshap
Posted: Sun Sep 11, 2005 9:00 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Written by...Lshap


Whoo-hoo! Religion brought to trial! Get out your crosses and your copy of "Origin Of The Species" and lower the steel cage! The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a film loosely based on a true story of a priest accused of negligent homicide. He claims the girl he was caring for died because of demonic possession, the prosecution claims she died because the priest advised her to stop taking her anti-psychotic medication.

Unfortunately, frustratingly, the film's loaded premise hangs in mid-air but refuses to land fully in either the courtroom or the netherworld. It's not Inherit The Wind, nor even a good Law & Order episode, and it's not The Exorcist either. For a court case about religious faith, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is intellectually flat, and for a supernatural thriller it's just not that scary.

The attempt is noble. Create a supernatural aura around the proceedings, but not so much that medical science can't stick a pin in it. The acting talent is certainly there. Laura Linney and Campbell Scott do a very good job keeping the ideological balls in the air as the opposing lawyers. Linney's the agnostic lawyer defending the priest she doesn't believe, Scott's the church-going prosecutor who can't ignore the down to earth facts. Tom Wilkinson plays the priest with solemn resolve, a man absolutely convinced he took the only course of action that could have saved Emily. Jennifer Carpenter is incredibly creepy as Emily, whose deterioration we witness in increasingly disturbing flashbacks.

The cast is good, but they're held back by a tentative screenplay afraid of offending either the devout or the skeptical. And when the story finally does move forward, it does so by falling back on supernatural cheap thrills. It's as if once there was nothing left to say, the filmmakers couldn't resist saying "Boo!", for no apparent reason other than to get the audience's attention. The film's tonal shift toward the netherworld does get a mild buzz on, but it forces it into becoming the very thing it pretends not to be: a biased religious lecture. Once again, we're thrust into a cinematic cliche where the non-believer is shown the errors of their ways. It's a story that pays lip service to science while winking at the angels and spirits hovering above, which I guess is an appropriate tone for a story that ultimately avoids evolution.
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lshap
Posted: Tue Sep 13, 2005 7:20 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
The Thin Red Line (1998)

Written by...Lshap


I re-watched The Thin Red Line for the first time since seeing it in the theatre seven years ago. It seemed a fitting rental since we're about to witness that rarest of sightings -- a new film from director/writer Terrence Malick called The New World, coming out in just a few weeks.

1998's The Thin Red Line was Malick's last film, a 3-hour, blood-soaked meditation on war, and for anyone who wasn't on the forum when it first came out you should know that this film ranks in our All-Time Top 5 list of vicious debates. People either loved the film or hated it, very few were ambivalent. You can probably figure out that if I was willing to watch it again I must be in the camp that loved it, which is correct. I did then and, more important, I still do now.

I'm happy to say that The Thin Red Line remains one of the most stunningly shot, well-written war films of all time. It stands with a select few films of the genre as having its own vision and point of view on the nature of war. It doesn't just present pain, gore and the futility of war -- which it does superbly, by the way -- it manages to put the whole mess into a kind of zen perspective. The setting is World War II, the U.S. Army is trying to sieze control of Guadalcanal from the Japanese, the global stakes are high, yet Malick draws us inward, away from the strategic importance of the island, away from the army ethos, away from the entire war. All of that becomes background noise as we recede into the heads of a bunch of frightened men, young and not so young, who are trying to deal with the surreal idea that another group of equally frightened men are trying to kill them.

There's also the beautiful Pacific island itself -- a living character of its own -- sedately watching the men trample back and forth on its soil without giving a fig leaf about any of it. The rich greens and moist vines of Guadalcanal are rooted deeper than any battle lines, or flags, or claims of property. We're reminded that for all the blood we spill over ownership of territory, Mankind is really just renting.

The film is a little overlong, and the metaphors are laid a little thick, but don't get the impression The Thin Red Line is slow moving. There's actually lots of action and confrontation, including battle scenes as intense as any you'll ever see. But in between the adrenaline are moments where the mind drifts, as it does in real life, and the battlefield disolves into a kind of marching confessional. We become privvy to each character's inner dialogue, much of it sounding like poetry, all of it suffused with similar tones of doubt and wistful loneliness. Everyone's just another soldier far from home, being told to fight and die for a few more square yards of land -- it's as complicated and stupidly simple as that.

This is a picture where men and their lofty pursuits are diminished in size, and so it is with the cast as well. Despite the pedigree of the actors, there are no real starring roles in this story. Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, John Cusack, Jim Caviezel, Adrian Brody, John Travolta, George Clooney, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Elias Koteas. Plenty of marquee names, all of them eager to become mere soldiers under Terrence Malick's esteemed command in the hope of being part of something bigger. Good choice. They do, and it is.
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lshap
Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2005 7:05 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
Broken Flowers (2005)

Written by...Censored


In an interview in Film Forum, Jim Jarmusch says that Bill Murray’s character in Broken Flowers, Don Johnston, is the first character in one of his films he doesn’t like…it shows. Don is a guy who made a small fortune in “computers” whatever that generic term means at this late date in “computers”. One of the few surviving Dot com. millionaires possibly? Regardless, Don doesn’t have a computer. In any case, Don lives in a mixed racial neighborhood as the opening scene shows us so seemingly importantly. As a mailman delivers the mail to a house full of black children running around the yard and their mother carrying an infant at every turn, we learn that this is Don’s next-door neighbor and his friend Winston’s wife, children and home. Winston, played enthusiastically by Jeffrey Wright, is Murray’s Ethiopian buddy, who as it turns out is the only character in the film with any mainstream characteristics really. Odd that Jarmusch would intentionally (or not) point out that it is the immigrant who is looking to seemingly quickly inhabit America with an endless supply of new citizens, while his white middle-class counterpart is later engaged in the movie’s real theme of a man searching for the mother of his unknown child. I think this is a reverse-reverse racist joke on our behalf from Jarmusch, don’t doubt it, this film is full of these possible moments of politically-correct reversals.

I found the film somewhat enjoyable, but also maddening as I sit here and think about it. For me, Jarmusch has often been at his best when he subtly films landscapes of highway-signs, railroad-tracks and images of buildings, houses and other simple everyday things without dialogue, as they alone speak volumes about our society and lifestyles and at times even deeper ideas of the American Dream and nightmare. This is done as the camera follows Murray throughout the country on a trek to find a woman who has had a pink enveloped letter delivered to him saying he is the father of her 19 year old son, who is on an odyssey of his own.

Our introduction to Murray’s Don is as he sits at home very quietly while his current girlfriend played by Julie Delpy (who is used only in a cameo that will be followed by more cameos from the other women from Don’s past) is leaving him, she in her couture pink dress and he in his jogging suit, asking her to stay in a most unpersuasive and passive way. I was wondering by now if Jarmusch must have really bummed out when Murray became the darling of the festival circuit a year ago playing essentially the same uninvolved burned-out character (that he is really starting to wear-out) only frankly in a much better film. Now that I think of it, Murray has been perfecting this non-participatory or at least non-engaged character since Rushmore.

Winston gets word of the pink letter that Don received and is immediately and excitedly already making detective-like plans on his computer to help Don find the mystery woman who has left no return address or name in the letter. Don’s stoic behavior makes it hard to believe that he could be convinced to go to the store for milk, much less cover the entire country in a semi-conscious yet somehow important and rather sweet but incongruous search for the mother of his unknown child. He does this carrying pink flowers to each of his prospects doorsteps in a most unromantic way...upside-down. He’s not even sure that he had the son. It drives him on never-the-less as he follows Winston’s itinerary for him, Mapquest print-outs and all.

First stop is the home of the very youthful and lighthearted Laura played by Sharon Stone. We, and Murray first meet Laura’s teenage daughter, all alone in the house, her name is Lolita and she lives up to that name, yet she and her mother don’t seem to know who the famous Lolita character is when Don alludes to it later. Is this one of Jarmusch’s in-jokes about how vapid and illiterate most Americans are, after all Laura was married to a NASCAR type driver who was lost in a “wall of flame”, what else can we expect of these folks? Don is leaving the house after Lolita’s little performance when Laura finally arrives, he gives her the flowers, she is still smitten with the guy it seems and invitingly says: “Come on in we’re having chicken for dinner”. In one of the few funny scenes and old Bill Murray type moments in the film we see the trio sitting down for dinner in a distant camera shot, we hear Don say to Lolita: “That was quite an outfit you weren’t wearing today.” The film has been mistakenly called a comedy by many critics who I think never even saw the film. “Hysterically funny” and “uproariously hilarious” were some of the types of quotes I read on film posters as I left the theater in a fairly blank and oh so not laughing mood, kind of like Don’s. Nothing in this film is remotely "hysterical" or "uproarious", mostly due to this over-the-top mundane behavior that is passing as some sort of genius new kind of understated minimalist acting from Murray. It does however fit in perfectly with what many have called Jarmisch's more pretentious moments. Don spends the night with the easy Laura and pushes on, she’s probably not the mother of his child, if you sleep with the guy after all these years, why not tell him…you know?

Next we see Don driving through one of those treeless new neighborhoods of pre-fab McMansions. He drives up to one of these and rings the doorbell, pink flowers in hand again. We now meet Dora, a former hippie girlfriend whose husband interrupts the sedate and formal reunion with a kind of gushing enthusiasm reserved only for a husband who nervously wants to make his wife feel comfortable even though he is obviously quite concerned to find this strange man in the house, who he eventually remembers as a her former flame. The couple invites Don to dinner; Don fidgets with his frozen fish square and eats a couple of carrots. Don, all the while has been looking for clues from ideas given to him by his friend and accomplice Winston that might help him spot or even cajole the truth out of one of his former loves, such as a typewriter or pink objects, the color of the envelope, remember? He gets no answer from the real-estate selling/zombified Dora, especially when Don hits a sore spot with the couple after he asks if they have any children. it's off to the airport for Don.

The next cameo appearance is from Chloe Sevigny as the curt assistant to new-agey professional animal conversationalist Carmen (Jessica Lange). She greets Don’s surprise visit with a distant, careful reservation inviting him into her office. Don asks her if a cat there is having a conversation with them right now and she answers “He needs to go out”, and the cat leaves. She is willing to listen to Don, albeit with a neurotic distrust about his visit. She does stay to talk to him longer than the assistant wants her to, after all, a pet and its owner are in the waiting room eager to find out about the pet through Carmen’s conversations with it! As Don is leaving to his car he asks if she wants to get together later for a drink and Carmen replies:”I don’t drink” so he asks:”Well how about a bite to eat then?” Carmen responds:”I don’t eat”. I’m not sure if this is the stuff that the critics were calling hilarious, but the folks in my theater weren’t laughing, just weird. I just can't pinpoint what Jarmusch is after with this flick! It's not surreal, it's not intellectual, it's not existentialism...whatever. It's just OK.

At this point I’m starting to think about other moments in Jarmusch’s career that often seemed nothing more than pretentious, now don’t get me wrong, I think the guy has a place in film, and I really like many of his films, (Ghost Dog, Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train) but more importantly I like his style, yet his films quite often have an annoying quality, something I think he would be the first to admit to. Well, this one tops the others in the annoying category folks. In a way more mainstream than his other films Broken Flowers has that feel about it that will just be agitating and vacant enough to put off those who don’t like art-house fare, and just commercial enough with it’s pop culture actors and would-be plot to put off the true indie crowd.

There is a point in the, should I say, action where Murray is in bed in a long distance phone conversation with his buddy Winston, he says to Winston who has called him “Don Juan” on a few occasions: "Couldn’t you have got me a Porsche for this trip?", Winston replies: “You are the Don Juan” wherein Don answers back:” I’m just a stalker in a Taurus!” Another much needed funny line. Next Don goes to a trailer trash environment replete with the rusty cars, motorcycles parts, loose car seats laying around the yard along with anything else you could think of as par for the trailer-park course. He asks a couple of guys, who fit into the mullet/biker crowd if they know a Penny; they tell him to try the screen door on the porch. Penny played by Tilda Swinton has exactly three angry lines before she leaves Murray and his flowers at the door. As he is being attacked by the two men who now have come to the screaming Penny’s aid, Don sees a typewriter in the yard…a clue…who cares? That’s not really what this film is about is it, does this apathetic man really care to be doing all of this leg-work? The resounding answer is no, yet Jarmusch has for unknown reasons weaved this unbelievable premise into the fabric of the movie and is stuck with it now. It never feels right, and this is the problem, in a mainstream film there would be a character that at least seems to really be involved in the caring aspect, and if this is to be a more artistic accounting of a lost soul, why would he be so nose-to-the-grindstone when he so obviously doesn’t want pull that off anymore? This is the films major flaw, and it is an complete flaw that makes the movie not work ultimately. The film as puzzle parts is entertaining, but not as a film with a beginning middle and end, as this one tries to be.

The best scene in the movie is when we see Murray in a flower shop, (after he has been beat up by the biker-type acquaintances of Penny) he is cleaned up by a sweet shop-girl and then asks her for directions to a certain cemetery. One of the five possible women that Winston had tracked down from the period in Don’s life that would have been right to have a child is now dead, a victim of an automobile accident. He goes to her grave, drops off the flowers, again carrying them as if they were heavy, and simply and tragically says:”Hello beautiful”. He then tearfully sits down against a tree beside the gravestone and looks visibly shaken. I really love Bill Murray, this is his finest moment in this film, and possibly all of his films.

Some of the more interesting moments in the film are when we and Don see different types of 19 year old boys/men during Don's travels. The camera lingers on them as does Don, wondering if this one or that one could be his son, or certainly at distance they have been from him, they could be. Don encounters a young man he recognizes from a bus ride the day before, convinced that he is following him and looking like he is in need of food, he buys the vegetarian youngster a cheese sandwich with mushrooms. The kid says he's into philosophy and asks Murray if he has any wise things to tell him, Don just answers back: "The past is gone and the future unsure, so there’s just now". The kid asks if he's a Buddhist.

I could go on about this film, but I will just end by saying we need directors like Jim Jarmusch, and for actors like Murray to experiment, I’m just not sure we needed Broken Flowers, Murray's done it better and Jarmusch has done all of this before with more gusto and with much more focus, even though his is almost always skewed.
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Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2005 7:18 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
An Unfinished Life (2005)

Written by...Lshap


Robert Redford's movies are almost always reassuring, like having your taxes done by your smart uncle who owns an accounting firm. Redford's name on a marquee is a reliable promise of a quality drama, complete with grown-up subject matter, solid production values and minimal special effects.

An Unfinished Life follows suit. It also follows a similar thread of quiet desperation that worked so well in last year's underrated The Clearing, only now the unresolved issues and world-weary sadness are heaped upon Redford's aging shoulders, instead of a co-star. Redford is back in familiar cowboy boots as an embittered rancher still mourning his lost son. Aside from the remnants of his ranch, his only remaining purpose in life is caring for his permanently disabled ranch-hand, played by Morgan Freeman. But everything changes when his daughter-in-law -- the one who was behind the wheel when his son was killed -- shows up unannounced, with a granddaughter he's never met.

An Unfinished Life is a small story of anger, grief and forgiveness, set against the large, beautiful mountains of Wyoming. The characters are hardly unique, their story arcs hardly surprising, yet for all its near misses the film never stumbles into limp cliches. We want to see what happens to these characters, even if we've seen their story before. Most of that is due to the screenplay's core honesty, and the quality of the acting.

The wrinkles and whithered look on Redford's face seem to coax some genuine wounded depth out of his performance. Advancing age seems to do for him what he was unable to do for himself: Add layers of doubt and vulnerability. He looks more like Jed Clampett than the Sundance Kid in this film, which makes it alot easier to believe this is a man suffering from inner turmoil. This is the best acting showcase Redford has ever had, and he's a pleasure to watch.

Freeman's his usual crusty, wise self, and even J-Lo manages an earnest performance that plays nicely off her heavyweight co-stars.

This is a very solid, small-town drama with an aura of sadness and regret wafting through each scene. The central figure in the film is a dead son who's only seen for a few seconds in a photograph, yet the way his presence affects these people's lives makes An Unfinished Life emotionally intense, and satisfying.
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lshap
Posted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:20 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4243 Location: Montreal
The Edukators (2004)

Written by...Censored


The Edukators, starring Daniel Bruhl (Good Bye, Lenin; Ladies In Lavender), is a film about two politically driven and politically exasperated friends, Jan and Peter, who call themselves "The Edukators". Their passion and pastime is going to the mansions of the rich at night and upsetting the psychic applecart by neatly piling furniture and possessions together, never particularly destroying anything, (the ultimate in political correctness?), then they leave sinister notes saying things like “The days of plenty are numbered!” (the films German title by the way). Peter has a girlfriend named Jule who moves in with the young men, it turns out she through some accident of fate has a debt with a rich man named Hardenburg, that seemingly will take years for her to repay with every ($) mark she makes. As the film moves along crisply, Jan (the talented Bruhl) the more intellectually inclined of this group of activists, starts to take a romantic interest in Jule. While Peter is away on a trip, Jan convinces Jule to make a night time visit to her rich creditor’s home for some “edukating”, this is where the film takes off. After they leave the mansion, they realize they left a cell phone there, so they go back to collect it but instead meet up surprisingly with Mr. Hardenburg. This of course creates a different type of necessarily stepped-up action from the politically charged, yet normally non-violent youths. They end up kidnapping Hardenburg, who as it turns out, was a member of the radically inclined SDS in Germany during the 60’s. The film, which can be considered a thriller and melodrama is also quite amusing in it's own way, as the kidnappers and victim converse over politics, idealism and smoke the occasional joint together. This interesting juxtaposition of both sides political positions causes the film to expose a basically non-existent dichotomy that is un-expected by the younger ones.

The Edukators is ultimately a film about the frustration of some of today’s more radical youths and their seeming powerlessness to get a grip on their own take on politics, or at least the honest politics they would like to see the world take on. Perhaps it is an ancient story, but The Edukators tells it in a fresh and personal way. At one point Jan frustratingly looking back to a more idealistic era says "Once all you needed was long hair and pot, but the good things from then still remain" I found the film to be quite entertaining.

After three films, I can now consider myself to be a fan of Daniel Bruhl, one of Europe's more interesting and internationally prominent young actors. Jule is played by the talented Julia Jentsch, who is now also starring in another German film Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage which is causing quite an international stir. It's a bio-pic about the young girl who helped form the anti-Nazi passive-resistance group The White Rose. Another film about this subject starring Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Tim Robbins and Albert Finney is scheduled for release in 2006.
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