luni, 31 iulie 2017

Note on Girl Most Likely, with Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon

Note on Arsene Lupin, with Romain Duris, Kristin Scott Thomas, Eva Green

Note on Girl Asleep, written by Matthew Whittet, with Bethany Whitmore

Note on Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, with Amy Adams, Jeremy Re...

Note on My Internship in Canada- Guibord S'en va t en Guerre, written, d...

Donnie Brasco, written by Paul Attanasio, based on the books by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley, 10 out of 10

Donnie Brasco, written by Paul Attanasio, based on the books by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley
10 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

This film?

-          “Forget about it!!”

As Donnie Brasco explains when asked by his fellow FBI agents, this is a catch phrase, leitmotif used by the mobsters.
They used for a car that was not good, for a meal that they enjoyed and was extraordinary or just to say…forget about it.

When I used it for the film itself, I meant to say that it is astounding and one of my favorite, top twenty movies.
The director, Mike Newell is behind two other motion pictures that I liked: Four Weddings and a Funeral and Mona Lisa Smile.

I was surprised to find that this staggering production was only nominated for an Academy Award and no Golden Globe.
It was the year when The Titanic has taken all the possible prizes, leaving nothing for the rest of the better works

In my book, Donnie Brasco is much better, even if the effort, the daring, innovation and power behind the catastrophe movie are to be appreciated.
Donnie Brasco is actually the assumed name of FBI agent Joe Pistone, on whose book the script of the film is based.

Donnie Brasco has the task of infiltrating the mafia in order to get evidence that would put criminals behind bars.
Johnny Depp proves yet again that he is a master of this art and his performance is…As Good As It Gets…for which Jack Nicholson won the Oscar, in 1998 and Depp would have deserved a nomination at the very least, much more than Dustin Hoffman for his presence in a rather unexceptional film- Wag the Dog.

Lefty Ruggiero is the first contact, a mobster that is portrayed with brilliance by Al Pacino- I am not sure if this was not the last great role, for this viewer, of an actor who has been for a good many years on a descending slope.
Donnie becomes attached to Lefty, who introduces the young man in the underworld of the group controlled by Sonny Black.

There are disputes for the top position and Sonny Black is in conflict with another, older leader called Sonny Red.
Trying to fit in as well as possible, in order to protect his real identity and life, agent Pistone becomes…much like the Mafiosi.

This leads to violent disputes with his wife Maggie (Anne Heche), who is accusing her spouse of becoming a bandit.
And she is right, Donnie- Pistone himself admits it, saying that he has become one of them and he is worried by the things he has to do.

Life on the edge is really the experience of this undercover agent, who has a few brushes with exposure and hence death.
At one moment, the Goodfellas are supposed to eat in an Asian restaurant, where they have to take their shoes off, only in the case of the FBI agent, his boots are the hiding place for the recording device he is carrying…

So he has to act theatrical and racist, pretending that America has won the war and not these bastards and he would not take his boots off…
Some events are awkward, sad and hilarious, like the gift of a lion, given by Sonny black to Lefty, because he knows he likes wild life…the latter is indeed watching a lot of National Geographic documentaries on TV.

Throughout the film, one of the most compelling aspects is the drama of Lefty Ruggiero, who appears like a sad old man, quite often.
His life is a failure in some ways, his son is a drug addict that has an overdose and ends up on life supporting machines.

Lefty is forever waiting to be “sent for”, which could mean something good, but very often it is a bullet in the head, which is exactly what would happen to him if and when agent Pistone pulls out from the game.
The Mafia will be ruthless with the man who has recommended that Donnie Brasco would become a “made man”, a member of the exclusive organized crime group.

As agent Pistone says to his wife: “it is like I would kill him myself, practically putting a bullet through his head”.

Donnie Brasco is a glorious film.

duminică, 30 iulie 2017

Note on Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet, wi...

Note on The Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, with Robert de Nir...

Note on A Short History of Film, by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler ...

Note on View From the Top, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Candice Bergen

Lawrence of Arabia, written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence, 10 out of 10

Lawrence of Arabia, written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence
10 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

This is a glorious, epic, magnificent chef d’oeuvre and one of the best ten films ever made, perhaps the best five.
The audiences have included it in their preferences, ranking it on the IMDB site, where it has an extraordinary Metascore of 100.

It has won seven Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, four BAFTAs, but most important, it will remain an all-time classic.
The narrative is extraordinary and the hero comes as near as possible to being a Superman, the ultimate Übermensch.

British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence is brilliantly portrayed by the new comer Peter O’Toole, who was lucky to get the part-and so was the public.
I have read in the classic Adventures in the Screen Trade by the phenomenal William Goldman about this role.

Albert Finney was supposed to have the leading role, acting with the likes of grand Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal, the superb Anthony Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi, the sublime Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, Jose Ferrer as the Turkish Bey and so many other sensational actors.
From the start, T.E. Lawrence reveals some of his outstanding qualities, as he marches in the desert and meets Sherif Ali, in a first confrontation over water and an introduction into the habits of the region.

-          My name is for my friends…none of my friends is a murderer…this is one of the first memorable lines of this fantastic chef d’oeuvre
 After facing each other over the murder of a man for the water, Lawrence and Sherif Ali would become not just allies, but very good friends, for most of the time fighting together in World War I, against the Turks.

Lawrence becomes “of Arabia” as he shows a brilliant tactical mind and manages to lead the “Arab army” into a series of spectacular victories, starting with Aqaba, for which the tribes traverse the desert.
Before that, the British man had to use diplomatic, persuasion skills to get the flamboyant Auda Abu Tayi to come along to fight those who pay him 150 guineas a month, just for “his pleasure” as Lawrence puts it.

Anthony Quinn- as well as Omar Sharif, the indeed royal Alec Guinness- is tremendous in this challenging role of a complex leader, warrior, at times thief, and chieftain, both wise and foolish man who says:

-          “I am a river for my people”

T.E. Lawrence has to suffer through some personal tragedies, as he sees first one of his young friends die, after he had saved him from the desert, and he is the one to execute his companion, to avoid a conflict between opposing Arab tribes.
As they prepare to blow up a Turkish train, the hero is forced to kill the other young man who has been close all the way, because he is too severely injured to move and the Turks were very cruel with their prisoners.

Lawrence of Arabia is caught and tortured by the Turks, after which the American journalist and others are wondering: “what did the Turkish general did to him?” …for he came changed, more modest and subdued for a while.
The shortcomings of the man who lead the Arab revolt become evident as he confesses to have liked killing a man and then shows a side that likes to boast, trumpet his glory and surround himself with loathsome individuals.

Notwithstanding these flaws, the protagonist is a real role model in many ways, proving himself to be brave, resilient, smart, a wonderful speaker, outstanding leader, heroic fighter, fabulous communicator.
His loyalty is questioned by his own side, after an initial fascination with his incredible victory in Aqaba.

When he arrives in Cairo, escorted by his young Arab companion, wearing the traditional clothes of the Harith, he shocks.
The guards would not even let him in and in any case they insist that the “native boy” cannot enter the officers ‘club.

But in the complicated game of “realpolitik” Lawrence and his Arab friends are used by the generals and politicians.
Many articles have been written on this chef d’oeuvre and it is revealing that there are critics who insist on the “failures”, the fact that the script exaggerates the stature and contribution of Lawrence of Arabia, when compared with Prince Faisal of Auda Abu Tayi, the latter having a more important role in the taking of Aqaba.
What remains is a cinema classic that stands with the best, alongside The Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Kane…

sâmbătă, 29 iulie 2017

The Pawnbroker, written by Morton S. Fine and David Friedkin, based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, 9 out of 10

The Pawnbroker, written by Morton S. Fine and David Friedkin, based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

This is a terrific, if sad masterpiece.
It is included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

The director of this mesmerizing work is Sidney Lumet; the creator that gave audiences wonderful works of art:

-          Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, The Hill, Network, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and other films

Sidney Lumet is also the author of a magnificent book on the film industry in which he explains apparently simple aspects, like fitting the very tall Sean O’Connery and the much shorter Al Pacino in the same frame, and more complicated details, like the way he shot A Dog Day’s Afternoon, where the aforementioned star went on with his lines for longer than there was film in one camera, the car for Murder On The Orient Express and other films…

The Übermensch Rod Steiger has the leading role of Sol Nazerman, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.
Rod Steiger was both a glorious actor and the one who detained a less known first place in an unusual competition.

He was “the most connected actor”, with the smallest distance of 2.53 from everyone else, followed by Charlton Heston and Kevin Bacon…

Sol Nazerman is obviously suffering from the trauma he has been through and he would be a typical case of PTSD.
Very often, he is absent from the conversation and has flash backs in which he sees the torturing of his wife, abused by fascists, the camps and prisoners killed while trying to escape, the moments before the war.

When dealing with those around, people who come with their cheap objects looking for some money, the hero appears somewhat detached.
Some even think he has no heart, since he does not give in to their often pathetic claims that one or another object is worth one hundred dollars, while The Pawnbroker is only offering two dollars for the “precious” item.

After a revelation about the origin of the money circulating in the pawn shop and his small laundry business, Sol has a breakdown.
He now gives astonishing sums of money for the things that are brought to him, for he does not care anymore.

When he did, Sol Nazerman even gave a lecture to his assistant, Jesus Ortiz about the importance of money:

-          They are the only thing that counts

Disabused by what happened in the World War II, the depressed protagonist has no faith in mankind and he only works for money now.
Until he has a talk with Rodriguez, the man who is patronizing his shop and provides money, as they are actually making losses not profits.

Sol just had a visit from a girl who offered him sex for money, but asked that this is a secret, because if Rodriguez finds out, there would be serious trouble.

Understanding that Rodriguez makes money through the most obscene and vile means, exploiting the girls horrifies Sol.
He has the image of his wife in front of him, mas she was dragged by the German servicemen into a room and assaulted.

He confronts Rodriguez, but he is faced with violence and threatened then he would die if he does not keep in his place.
Alas, Jesus Ortiz has been disappointed by his boss, when Sol treated the young man with arrogance and meanness- “you are nothing to me”

This has dramatic consequences that I will not reveal…I will only say that Jesus Ortiz has a complex role and Sol has not seen the end of his suffering yet.

Chihwaseon aka Painted Fire, written by Yong-ok Kim, Byung-sam Min, Kwon-taek Im and directed by the latter, 9 out of 10

Chihwaseon aka Painted Fire, written by Yong-ok Kim, Byung-sam Min, Kwon-taek Im and directed by the latter
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

Painted Fire is a magnificent meditation on art, sacrifice, the suffering required by chefs d’oeuvre and the meaning of life
It has been awarded the Best Director prize at the most important completion, The Cannes Film Festival.

The audience is invited to learn from the life a great artist, the painter Jang Seung-up, also known as Owon.
He lives in Korea between 1843 and 1897, but it is from 1882 to the end of his life that the film takes events.

The most important theme seems to be the sacrifice and pain required by everlasting works of part, paintings that will stand the test of time.
Notwithstanding this familiar statement, psychology has proved that the truth may contradict this saying:

-          No pain no gain…and transform it into no pain more gain

The Harvard Professor of Positive Psychology Tal Ben-Shahar goes as far as to suggest that a more positive, optimistic Marcel Proust- the greatest writer for this reader- could have been even more creative if he weren’t so negative and depressive.
From the beginning of his apprenticeship, Jang Seung- up shows great promise and talent that will make him famous.

The film has plenty of lessons for would be artists, especially painters, if they want to take a more traditional path:

-          The stone must have life for a real painter
-          Hold the brush like it was an egg, touch it with all fingers and watch the energy go into it…not quotes, but words to that effect…I hope

If a very gifted, magnificent painter, the man appears to fit the profile portrayed by Paul Johnson in his accomplished work:

-          The Intellectuals, in which he looks at the lives of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, Leo Tolstoy and comes to the conclusion that many –maybe most? – Prominent intellectuals have despicable sides…

Owon is drinking too much and following excesses he becomes violent with those around, women included.
His pride is justified and admirable when he faces up to corrupt officials, Chinese or Japanese invaders.

But at times, he takes an arrogant, defiant stand even towards those who are close to him and who try to support the artist.
The painter is evidently haunted and a rebel, when he is taken to the royal palace, he is feeling trapped.

In his early days, he copies famous art and he is even invited to draw pornography, as “this is a part of life”.
Korea is trapped in a struggle between Japanese, reformers and conservatives, Chinese and different warring parties.

At one stage, an admirer of the paintings of Owon says something like: “Your paintings are the only thing left for this humiliated people”

The genius becomes so famous that his art is widely imitated and copied and when a buyer shows him one drawing and asks if it is real, the answer is: “most of the paintings attributed to me are false…this one is”.

And he is very harsh on those around, but he has even less patience with himself, destroying most of the drawings he makes.
When he became a household name, someone says to him that “he should relax, what more can he achieve?”

The answer brought to mind the Japanese concept of those who live on Okinawa, most of whom live for a long time:

-          Ikigai

-          They never retire and do not even have a word for that…instead, they keep busy and animated by a reason to keep working 

Note on Young Winston, directed by Richard Attenborough, based on the bo...

Note on Black Butterfly, with Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

vineri, 28 iulie 2017

Note on The Fan, with Robert de Niro

Note on The Way We Were, directed by Sydney Pollack, with Robert Redford...

Note on Sometimes in April, written and directed by Raoul Peck, with Idr...

Carnal Knowledge, written by Jules Feiffer and directed by Mike Nichols, 9 out of 10

Carnal Knowledge, written by Jules Feiffer and directed by Mike Nichols
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

Carnal Knowledge is an exceptional film.
It is included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

The director is the wonderful Mike Nichols, the genius who gave the audiences:

-          The Graduate, Charlie Wilson’s War, Closer and other great films

Jack Nicholson, one of the best actors ever, has the role of Jonathan, an interesting, excited, curious, not very loyal young man.
Art Garfunkel, better known for his musical career and his contribution to the soundtrack of The Graduate, plays Sandy.

Jonathan and Sandy talk about girls, their desires and preferences, if they would rather love than be loved…
Jonathan appears the earthier, experienced, the winner type when compared with his more naïve companion.

The former is encouraging the latter to approach Susan, portrayed by the resplendent Candice Bergen.
When Sandy does not get anywhere, Jonathan wants to try his luck, but Sandy persists and gets close to Susan.

Only later on, Jonathan makes a comeback, calls the girl and says that he is the friend of her boyfriend…
They get together and a sort of a ménage a trois follows, with innocent Sandy unaware of being betrayed.

In fact, the pushy, more assertive Jonathan advances much more quickly and becomes intimate with the woman.
Feeling compassion, perhaps pity for Sandy, who admits that it is the first time he kissed or did anything with the girl, she encourages him…

So much so that Jonathan is jealous and even goes as far as to say to the girl who is caught between that:

-          Why can’t you be like with Sandy when you are with me?

This was the first period in the lives of the two friends, a stage in which they did not know much about a relationship with a woman.
From this “Age of Innocence” we move to a later time, when Jonathan is more like a Don Juan, a womanizer and a hedonistic type.

He meets Bobbie, portrayed by Ann-Margret- winner of the Golden globe for this performance and nominated for an Oscar.
Their relationship is developing well, albeit based more on Carnal Knowledge rather than on a deeper understanding.

It may be that Jonathan, more interested in sex and maintaining independence at the same time is too shallow to commit to a long term bond.
When Bobbie keeps bringing up her need for stability and a solid association, Jonathan is showing anger and anxiety.
The tension is increasing and there is aggression and violence, more verbal than physical, but the trend is destructive.

The fact that Bobbie quits her job does not help, even if she is bored with it, staying all day at home, mostly in bed is a recipe for disaster.
Psychology research has showed that almost all couples experience a “Honeymoon Effect” and after about two years, creativity is needed so that someone new does not benefit from novelty and need for variety to break the couple.

Jonathan appears to be bored, looking for variety- which is indeed a necessary ingredient for happiness, but can be introduced through other means- and is ever more demanding of Bobbie, who wants to get married.
Sandy’s partner attracts the attention of Jonathan and they are both more interested in someone new, rather than their girlfriends…

And an interesting aspect of the filming, the accomplished way in which Jack Nicholson could act at his best:

“Screenwriter Jules Feiffer said he had no idea how Nicholson would tackle the multiple levels of the Jonathan/Bobbie fight, in which the character is "defensive, enraged, contemptuous, and bullying." If the actor got half of everything Feiffer had put into the scene on paper, the writer said he would be more than satisfied. Nicholson got everything, and on the first take, according to Feiffer. Astonished, the writer asked director Mike Nichols what he had told the actor. "Nothing," Feiffer reports Nichols replying with a grin. "I told him absolutely nothing. He came up with it all himself.”

Note on The Family Fang, starring & directed by Jason Bateman, Nicole Ki...

joi, 27 iulie 2017

Note on Hemingway & Gellhorn, with Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman

Note on Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, with Tom Cruise, Lea Seydoux

Note on Flash of Genius, with Greg Kinnear

Malcolm X, written by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl, based on the books by Alex Haley and Malcolm X respectively, 9 out of 10

Malcolm X, written by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl, based on the books by Alex Haley and Malcolm X respectively
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

This is a phenomenal film.
The hero is controversial and there many sides of him that were loathsome, but his complexity makes the story ever more interesting.

This could be the best film directed by Spike Lee, even if I have also appreciated 25th hour, with the outstanding Edward Norton and equally fabulous Philip Seymour Hoffman, the excellent Anna Paquin, winner of an Academy Award at an early age.
Denzel Washington is in top form and he was nominated for both an Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

The film begins with Malcolm Little- who would only later become “X”- as a young man, interested to look…white.
He keeps using a substance on his hair that seems to be both dangerous and really painful, setting his head on fire, if not literally, at least raising the temperature to an unbearable degree, judging from the hilarious reactions to it.

There are flashbacks and frequent references to a childhood in which the family suffered from racism and violence.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan came to the house and Malcolm’s mother could hardly get the away by saying that her husband is gone.

When he was home, the powerful, strong man used his gun to scare the assailants, without shooting any of them.
His spouse emphasizes that he could, but this did not save him from being attacked and then placed on the railway line to be killed.

The childhood of the would be political and religious leader was terrifying and explains to large extent some of his later stands on violence and other topics.
As a young man, he liked white women and he gets involved with West Indian Archie, brilliantly portrayed by Delroy Lindo.

Malcolm Little is caught after committing a crime and sentenced to a maximum term, even if first time offenders, including the white accomplices were treated with lenience, because they have been with white women and those judging were racists.
In jail, he is insubordinate and has to spend long periods in solitary confinement, after which he meets with a follower of Elijah Muhammad.

Enchanted with this faith, after an initial, strong rejection, Malcolm Little becomes a strong believer and preaches in the name of the Nation of Islam, always proclaiming the sanctity and wisdom of Elijah Muhammad.
The name X indicates the fact that the white men took into slavery the free men and women of Africa and gave them names that do not reflect a choice on the part of the slaves, who have been tortured and abused for so long.

Malcolm X is outraged by what happened to African Americans and he is rather radical in advocating gun clubs and the right to defend themselves against whites that he considers bad without exception.
When JFK dies and Malcolm X is interviewed he says he is not sorry, he is glad, because this is what the white man had unleashed and as a farm boy he sees this as just “the chickens coming home to roost” and this is payback for violence.

This brings to the forefront an increasing tension between Malcolm X and those close to the leader Elijah Muhammad.
The latter calls the younger, ascending X and criticizes him vehemently for his position on the death of the extremely popular John F. Kennedy, banning him from speaking in public for a very long period and antagonizing him.

Innuendo from the sexual activities of the supposedly saintly Muhammad entered the public life and Malcolm X could hear from various women about what the old man did, opposed to what he preached.

In short, a separation follows and Malcolm X follows a different path, followed nevertheless by the hatred of the leaders of The Nation of Islam.
No spoilers are necessary given that the film is based on the real life of the famous and rather fundamentalist leader.

A trip to Mecca and a period of reflection play an important role in diminishing the aggressiveness of his attitude and position versus the white people and the black leaders that he had considered much too tolerant.

Alas, just as Malcom X becomes somewhat more moderate- without giving in on the right of black people to belong to gun clubs and forcefully stand up to potential violence- his extreme enemies become more determined to use outrageous methods to silence their eloquent adversary and they even attack his family and children…

luni, 24 iulie 2017

Note on Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard, based on the books by Jim Lov...

The Ox- Bow Incident, written by Lamar Trotti and Walter Van Tilburg Clark, based on a novel by the latter, 9 out of 10

The Ox- Bow Incident, written by Lamar Trotti and Walter Van Tilburg Clark, based on a novel by the latter
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the films that you remember for a long time, if not for ever, with its poignant message.
It is included on the New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

It was nominated for the Academy award for Best Motion Picture and a few other prestigious prizes, most of which it won.
The director is William A. Wellman, nicknamed Wild Bill for his lifestyle and personality, captain of such films as:

-          Public Enemy and A Star is Born

The star of the western is Henry Fonda, a legend, a superman, demigod of the Screen Trade, the leading actor in:

-          12 Angry Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Once Upon a Time in the West, Advise & Consent, On The Golden Pond…

In The Ox-Bow Incident he is playing the role of Gil Carter, one of those people who have a conscience.

He arrives in this small town with his travelling companion, portrayed by Harry Morgan, a familiar actor, present in the M.A.S.H. TV series.

There is humor in the introducing scenes, as Gil Carter tries to figure out a painting on the wall of the saloon.
But pretty soon, an “Incident” is creating a kerfuffle, with the entire small town outraged at the killing of a local farmer.

The sheriff is not in town and this creates a legal problem, because only he can deputize and make a posse legal…
At least that’s how it seemed to me, listening to the judge, who opposed the action of those who wanted “justice”.

You can’t do this without the sheriff and it is illegal- this is what the judge says more or less to the mob assembled.
One of them is very active and angry with what he calls the “very slow motion of justice…which might even let the killer escape”.

They have some information about the route of the “suspects” as they hear a man that has seen the cattle, marked with the sign of the dead man in a pass nearby, with a few people leading them West of the town- or was it East?
The posse is formed and Gil and his friend join it, not as much out of conviction, but because they would be suspicious to do otherwise.

The Conformity principle explained in the masterpiece Influence by Robert Cialdini would explain some of what happens in the film.
People tend to do what others do and some examples refer to extreme cases, such as mass suicide in Guyana, where one after another, hundreds of cult followers killed themselves, to more mundane adoption of big shopping carts.

I think that the same applies to a great extent to a number of those in the posse who were bent on killing.
It is not just conformity, for a number of them were too violent and bloody to think differently, but it was an important factor.

Without any spoilers, I would just say that those who wanted justice found the cattle and the men suspected of murder.
Two of them are played by great actors: Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn and their personages claim innocence.

The cattle have been bought, there was no violence or crime involved and they have no idea about any shooting.
Because of “circumstantial evidence” or what the “self-appointed jury” sees as such, they condemn the suspects.

Seven men are against this verdict and I will not go any further than that, expect to say that a woman is one of the group that wants executions, no matter what.
Extraordinary tale, with a very powerful message, lessons on life and its meaning, compassion and vengeance…

Note on The Garden of Finzi- Contis, directed by Vittorio De Sica, novel...

Note on Amateur Teens, written and directed by Niklaus Hilber

The Insider, written by Eric Roth, Michael Mann and Marie Brenner, based on an article by the latter, directed by Michael Mann, 9 out of 10

The Insider, written by Eric Roth, Michael Mann and Marie Brenner, based on an article by the latter, directed by Michael Mann
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

The Insider is one of the most interesting films ever.
It is on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Director, Screenplay…
And in the same categories it received Golden globe nominations…

One of the most compelling aspects of the film, if not the most important part, is the fact that it is based on a true story

-          We know what big tobacco did to its clients and how they denied for decades, until they were forced to pay billions in damages
-          So in many ways, we know what the end could be, without spoilers, even if the individual fates of those involved are not known until the credits roll…

Jeffrey Wigand is the absolute hero of the story, portrayed in an interesting manner by Russell Crowe, nominated for this role.
This is a complex character, which has been caught shoplifting and is really angry when confronted and he is right.

This makes his position even more extraordinary, for the man has shortcomings and idiosyncrasies and finds the strength to fight.

He has been working for a big tobacco company, one of the big seven, led by what they call “The Seven Dwarfs”.
As he says in an interview, he discovered that cigarettes are just the means to deliver nicotine and get clients addictive.

Substances used in the process increase the boost and are very, very dangerous, responsible for cancer in patients.
And yet, called to testify under oath, the CEOs of the big tobacco firms are denying any knowledge of any danger posed by their products.

Lowell Bergman is the other super hero of the movie, with al Pacino in good form, before he started going over the top with his exaggerated, more recent performances…
He is the producer of “60 Minutes” at a time when tens of millions of Americans watched this most successful TV program.

Lowell Bergman makes tremendous effort to get the story from Jeff Wigand and assure him that he will try his best to protect him.
Faced with abuse and pressure from the CEO of Brown- Michael Gambon is as ever excellent in the role- Wigand agrees to an interview.

Meanwhile, the life of the scientist who has to teach in a high school now, in spite of being over qualified is coming to pieces, faced with death threats, anonymous phone calls and men following him around.
There are reminders of the Network in this chef d’oeuvre, since CBC, the station involved is about to be bought and the prospect of a lawsuit will send the share price tumbling down and the bonuses of the legal counselor, head of the company…

So once they have the interview that incriminated the tobacco companies, which was so difficult to do, the network is told to cut the Wigand part out and censure the information, knowing it is accurate.
Furthermore, the public interest is enormous in the case, for we are talking about a time when research had proved that smoking is deadly, but the respective companies had immense power, financial and otherwise.

Indeed, CBS could have become a part of Brown, if the latter won a legal challenge worth lots of money.
This is also a story of betrayal and not on the part of the scientist forced to sign contracts with confidentiality clauses, but on the part of people working in the media, like Mike Wallace aka Cristopher Plummer.

This is a brilliant narrative about the mass murder of so many smokers- even if not as repugnant as in the Nazi or Communist camps- but also a story about the role of the media, the ethics and greed involved, the status of a journalist and the producers, the power of ruthless people interested only in the money, a tale of people who fought, even if afraid with big corporations and powerful, mighty enemies, courage and loyalty, with scoundrels and heroes, victims and villains, role models and despicable individuals.

It is a fantastic work of art and investigation.

Note on Billy Lynn's Long Halfway Walk, directed by Ang Lee, with Kriste...

duminică, 23 iulie 2017

Note on Leaving Las Vegas, written and directed by Mike Figgis, with Nic...

Road to Perdition, adapted from the graphic novel by David Self, directed by Sam Mendes, 9 out of 10

Road to Perdition, adapted from the graphic novel by David Self, directed by Sam Mendes
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

Road to Perdition is an exceptional film.

-          Why is it that it did not get more recognition?
-          I do not know

Tom Hanks has the leading role of Michael Sullivan and it is a tough challenge, a man with many sides, but he is very good in that position.
Paul Newman has a negative role, that of John Rooney, an Irish American mobster that controls an underworld empire.

Indeed, Paul Newman, excellent at his late stage in his outstanding, brilliant career- started with Somebody up There Likes Me, a role which he could take because Montgomery Clift wouldn’t-was nominated for

-          The Academy Award and the Golden Globe for his acting

Otherwise, I do not see why this motion picture did not go further than it did, even with a good Metascore of 72.
As for possible flaws, maybe Jude Law is somewhat over the top as the paid, lunatic assassin who follows Michael Sullivan.

To begin with, the relationship between Michael Sullivan and John Rooney is excellent, the former working as a hit man for the latter.
We can see trouble in paradise at a funeral, where Finn McGovern, one of the people under the control of the mobster is probably drunk and talks about his late brother and then starts to rebel against the boss.

So far, Michael Sullivan is like the son of the leader of this organized crime group and they even play the piano together…
Up to the night when he has to do some dirty work with the biological son of the don, Connor Rooney.

The latter is an impulsive, out of control, violent, stupid, psychopathic, gruesome, evil son of John Rooney.
He kills a man, without a reason, on impulse- just as he often acts- and the unlucky thing is that Michael Sullivan Jr. is a witness.

And this is where all hell breaks loose, in a manner of speaking, for the ruthless Connor, played by Daniel Craig is on the loose.
Wanting to make sure that there are no witnesses to his murder, he goes to the house of his associate.

He kills the wife and the son that he finds at home, with Michael Sullivan Jr. witnessing part of his new crime.
John Rooney is beating his son over the head for this, calling him all sorts of names and saying something like:

-          I curse the day when you were born- repeatedly and then embracing his son and resolving to help him

Which means that Mike Sullivan is now on the run and tries first to find some protection and support with Frank Nitti.
This character is played by the always excellent Stanley Tucci and he refuses to take the hit man on board.

What follows is a one man fight against a big, powerful organization that has money, man power and bankers working for it.

But Mike Sullivan figures out that he needs to take the mobsters money from the banks and he does that with efficiency.
Until they have a reaction and a man on his heels, Maguire, an individual who like to take photos of…dead people.

That says about all and the man is definitely sick, but the way Jude Law decided to portray him is still a bit farfetched.
There are some confrontations, from a restaurant along the road to Perdition, to a much more violent gun fight in a hotel.

This is an excellent motion picture, directed by Sam Mendes, the creator who gave us American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and other such masterpieces…

Note on Straw Dogs, with Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods

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Note on Absolutely Fabulous : The Movie, starring and written by Jennife...

Note on Ronin, with Robert de Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone

sâmbătă, 22 iulie 2017

Note on The Dictator, starring and written by Sacha Baron Cohen, with Jo...

Note on Closer, directed by Mike Nichols, with Clive Owen, Julia Roberts...

Note on Se7en, with Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey

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Note on The Ides of March, starring, written and directed by George Clooney

500 Days of Summer, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, 9 out of 10

500 Days of Summer, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

500 Days of Summer is a very entertaining film.
Notwithstanding the sad moments, it is a refreshing, enjoyable comedy.

It was nominated for two major Golden Globes, Best Motion Picture and Best Performance by an Actor…
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is indeed marvelous as the loving, creative, loyal, subdued, patient and resilient Tom.

I have noted on another film with this remarkable actor, wherein he had to portray a totally different personality:

in Don Jon, the protagonist is a superficial, rather uneducated man, with an obsession for pornography, even when he is blessed with as beautiful a companion as Scarlet Johansson, who is granted an overbearing, quite obnoxious girlfriend at times.
With this film, I have learned that the excellent and beautiful actress in the leading role, Zooey Deschanel is named after a J.D. Salinger story:

-          Franny & Zooey

Zooey Deschanel has a challenging task in her role as Summer- for the 500 days of Summer mean the time spent with the heroine of the film.
Summer is both the lovely girl that we enjoy seeing with the hero, sharing his feelings and the one who ends it…

I do not think a spoiler alert was needed before talking of the end, for it is clearly stated in the title which specifies:

-          500 Days of Summer…only, even if at first I thought this is about a particularly long summer, perhaps in a place where there is no other season…

The dialogue in this moving picture is wonderful.
Funny at times, witty for the most part and even when it is somewhat awkward, it still feels natural in some manner.

Like when Summer Finn starts shouting penis in the park where she sits with Tom, who tries hard to stop her…
Or when they have this exchange:

-          “Summer: We've been like Sid and Nancy for months now.
-          Tom: Summer, Sid stabbed Nancy, seven times with a kitchen knife, I mean we have some disagreements but I hardly think I'm Sid Vicious.
-          Summer: No, I'm Sid.
-          Tom: Oh, so I'm Nancy...”

The professional side of Tom’s life may have had some influence, perhaps a big one on Summer’s decision to leave.
Even if trained as an architect and in love with beautiful buildings that he admires at Angela’s Plaza, tom works in a company that sells…cards.

He is using self-deprecating humor about it and is evidently a real positive hero, with his generosity, love for Summer, gentle manner, persistence and acceptance of the other’s flaws and shortcomings, grit, but still this is one side of him that is less than heroic:

-          “I guess I just figured, why make something disposable like a building when you can make something that lasts forever, like a greeting card.”

The film is sophisticated, smart, with references and images from The Graduate (by the way, I am reminded of a humorous take on the final scene of this classic, offered in Barcelona, where one character, maybe Frank, is very upset with “oh Elaine, Elaine” and how everybody allows this jerk- as he sees the personage- to run off with the bride), The Seventh Seal, Henry Miller, Bruce Springsteen and many more.

-          “Tom: [the girl at the job interview agrees to meet Tom for coffee afterward] We'll figure it out. My name's Tom.
-          Girl at Interview: [Last lines of the film] Nice to meet you. [Shakes his hand]
-          Girl at Interview: I'm Autumn.”

Perhaps every cloud does have a silver lining after all…

joi, 20 iulie 2017

Note on Shakespeare in Love, written by Tom Stoppard, with Gwyneth Paltr...

The African Queen, written by James Agee and C.S. Forester (based on the latter’s novel), directed by John Huston, 9 out of 10

The African Queen, written by James Agee and C.S. Forester (based on the latter’s novel), directed by John Huston
9 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

The African Queen is a fabulous adventure, drama and romantic movie, with a charming touch of comedy.
It is included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

This is a narrative about phenomenal heroes.
Both of the protagonists are ultimate role models.

Humphrey Bogart has won the Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his fantastic work playing Charlie Allnut.
To start with, the captain of the boat named The African Queen does not strike the audience as a Superman.

In fact, Charlie Allnut looks like the total opposite of Rose Sayer, portrayed by the wondrous Katharine Hepburn.
Her brother, Reverend Samuel Sayer had his mission burned down by the Germans, who are now at war.

World War I has repercussions even in Africa, where the action of the film takes place and where many of the parties involved in conflict have colonies.
And the poor Reverend is also beaten and dies soon afterwards, his sister is there to bury him, but then she has to escape the enemy.

So she is off for the trip of her life, with her opposite, Charlie Allnut…here we have a case of “opposites attract”.
Nevertheless, this and most other sayings are silly and very wrong- take “all is fair in love and war” as a good case in point.

The story of the making of the film is nearly as exciting as the tale told on screen, by a fabulous director John Huston and his stars.
It appears that everyone got sick on this adventurous endeavor, with the exception of the director and the leading actor…

-          “Bogart later said, "All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead."

From the autobiographies, biographies and the recollections of members of the crew, we get humorous and some intriguing details…
Katharine Hepburn drank water, to protest the heavy drinking of the aforementioned duo and got very sick.

Locals hired to help the shooting did not come to the set because they feared their employers were…cannibals.
As for enjoying this perilous filming location, in The Heart of Darkness, the actors were as different as their personages:

-          “While I was griping, Katie was in her glory. She couldn't pass a fern or berry without wanting to know its pedigree…”

On screen, the story is captivating and transformation, which could actually be described as redemption takes place
And it involves both protagonists, Rose Sayer and Charlie Allnut change almost beyond recognition, after taking this trip together.
And to conclude, this is a superb film, with an extraordinary beautiful setting and a marvelous dialogue that only adds to the pleasure of watching two heavyweights, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn at the top of their form:

-          “Charlie: We can't do that!
-          Rose: How do you know? You never tried it.
-          Charlie: Well, yeah, but I never tried shooting myself in the head neither…
-          Charlie Allnut: What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature.
-          Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Note on Great Expectations, based on the masterpiece by Charles Dickens

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Note on Virgin Mountain, written and directed by Dagur Kari, with Gunnar...

Note on The Gathering Storm, with Albert Finney, Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilk...

miercuri, 19 iulie 2017

Note on Frailty, starring and directed by Bill Paxton

Note on Religulous, with the phenomenal Bill Maher

Note on Shallow Hal, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black

Note on The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, with Jodie Foster, Mart...

The Defiant Ones, written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, 10 out of 10

The Defiant Ones, written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith
10 out of 10

Notes and thoughts on other books are available at:

The Defiant Ones is a fantastic film.
It is a story about race relations and racism, friendship, loyalty and sacrifice, valor and resilience, compassion and hatred.

It was included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

This exceptional work has won:

-          The Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay- Written Directly for the screen and it was nominated in all the major categories- Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for both Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, Best Director…
-          It won the golden globe for Best Motion Picture- Drama

Sidney Poitier is marvelous in the role of Noah Cullen and so is Tony Curtis as John “Joker” Jackson, two convicts.
The vehicle transporting them has an accident and they take advantage and they escape, only they are chained together.

When someone from the party that are chasing them with dogs asks about the fact that a white man is chained to a black man:

-          “Law officer: How come they chained a white man to a black?
-          Sheriff Max Muller: The warden's got a sense of humor.
-          [Why they don't have to worry about finding the 2 convicts]
-          Sheriff Max Muller: They'll kill each other in five miles.”

Indeed, the two escapees do not get along together very well, at least for parts of the movie, even when in danger.
Joker saves Noah’s life when they are forced to swim in a rapid river and the latter says thanks, only to get the reply:

-          Hey, I did not save you, I just prevented you from dragging me away to drown with you

They arrive at a small town, where they try to break into a shed to get tools for the chain and some food.
Alas, when they fall inside, coming from the roof, they wake everyone up and they are soon caught by the crowd.

They are preparing to lynch the two and racism is more than evident, with hatred visible all around, with one single exception, a man who ultimately saves them, first from a horrible death and later by freeing them.
Even if the “couple” seemed to be progressing in their relationship and understanding, Joker is saying before the “Madding Crowd”:

-          “Ya'll can't lynch me! I'm a white man!”

But after this low moment of betrayal, just in front of death and after all subterfuges have failed, the two become friends.
They are after all involved in one of the Ultimate Team Building Exercises which some companies in the world might try.

Perhaps the people of the late Enron, did it, chaining themselves together physically not just spiritually, with their penchant for extreme risk, sports and gambling with so many victims money and pension savings…
A first climax is reached when one of them is faced with the option of letting the other die, in strange circumstances.

For reasons of spoiler alerts I will not say what happens, only that in the first place one of the men proves:

-          Loyalty, friendship, willing to self-sacrifice, determination, valor, grit, unselfishness and devotion

Instead of thinking about his own escape and chances, he decides to try his best to help the other one.
And the moving picture becomes one of the best dramas, a lesson of respect, anti- racism, and compassion.

And it is also proved that even people who are at the bottom of society, outcasts who have been send to jail can find redemption.