sâmbătă, 30 iunie 2018

The Catcher Was a Spy, based on the book by Nicholas Dawidoff

The Catcher Was a Spy, based on the book by Nicholas Dawidoff

This motion picture is based on real story and this adds to the enjoyment of seeing a film that has not received a positive reception, although it has solid performances all around, from a fabulous cast.

Paul Rudd is excellent in the leading role of Moe Berg, although the public has seen him in comedies for most of the time and the tale of this major league baseball player who speaks seven languages fluently and a few more tolerably is dramatic.
Morris “Moe” Berg is the ultimate Super Hero, a role model with a mysterious life, an athlete capable of throwing the ball out of the park – as he does in a few scenes while preparing for a Secret Operation against the Nazis.

The hero is brave, well-educated is too little to say about him, ready to die for the country – as he says in front of William J. Donovan, the general portrayed by the magnificent Jeff Daniels, when the country calls the baseball player to serve.
William J. Donovan is in charge of some Special Operations, at the time of the action, the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency was in place, called The Office of Strategic Services – OSS.

The United States High Command is worried that the Germans would be able to build the atomic bomb – in the words of Robert Furman, an Army officer played by the terrific Guy Pearce; each atomic weapon would be able to annihilate a major city and therefore would change the fate of the war.
The man able to work the way towards the most powerful weapon is the Nobel Prize Winner Werner Heisenberg and the OSS tries to assess his advance towards that project, the willingness that the scientist has to complete it and eventually kill him, if there is a danger that the fascists might get their hands on the ultimate destruction machine.

A team is assembled, formed by Morris Moe Berg as the man who would kill the German physicist if need be, Samuel Gousmit portrayed by the wondrous Paul Giamatti, Robert Gousmit and some other people who would back up the operation.
Before this project, Moe had impressed William J. Donovan and others with his background, erudition and especially a brilliant initiative he had had while visiting Tokyo with the baseball team, where he had filmed locations in the Japanese capital, from the top of a central building.

William J. Donovan interviews the hero and he is asking about the reason to make that film, seeing as the two countries were not at war, but the protagonist says he had read the newspapers – which indicate the capacity he has to make in depth analysis – but the commander is also interested in personal aspects.
When questioned on the motive for which he is still single at the age of forty, the hero does not respond with a “confession”, making the OSS leader to ask if he is “queer”, prompting the pledge that the single man is ready to sacrifice for the country and finally the high ranking officer states he “does not care who he fucks as long as he is loyal”.

The assembled team meet with an Italian Professor, a friend of Gousmit and Heisenberg – the American scientist used to be close to the German genius, up to the point where he had asked help for his family and that had not been forthcoming.
Professor Eduardo Amaldi – aka the fabulous Giancarlo Giannini – speaks about the best scientist in the world, Albert Einstein, insinuating that Werner Heisenberg would like to be the brightest on the planet and the making of the atomic bomb would give him the ticket.

Moe Berg has the difficult task of killing a man who may not be about to finish the plan for the nuclear weapon, so it would be appropriate to try and see where Werner Heisenberg stands first and for that the hero travels to attend a lecture where the German is invited by Paul Scherrer, portrayed by the titan Tom Wilkinson.
Werner Heisenberg addresses students and guests, with Moe Berg in the audience, one hand on the pistol – in the meantime, he had been training with a gun, in hand to hand combat, to be able to face potential challenges.

The statements made by the German scientist are ambiguous at times, at other moments, he seems to indicate a willingness to use the new findings about the atom for the nuclear development and the protagonist is ready to take the pistol out from under the coat.
There is a discussion with William J. Donovan about the intentions of the genius professor and his intentions, before the hero meets him, with the probabilities that the scientist might want to make the bomb, alternatively, to join the Allies, but the American leader says that he is not ready to consider even the 5% chance that the fascist all destructive weapon is accomplished.

Donovan says that even a very small chance that their target has of confounding those who think he would not collaborate, do something so appalling is still not acceptable, considering the scale of destruction, the incredible human loss resulting from the use of the ultimate weapon.

Moe Berg meets with Werner Heisenberg, using the alias of Mr. Aziz, although the German says that the name does not fit, they play chess, and they make a few moves without using the board, only their phenomenal memories and their incredible abilities to see a few moves ahead.
The Catcher Who Was a Spy has to try to understand where the scientist stands, after he is attacked with a barrage of criticism at a social gathering, where two women accuse Heisenberg of villainous attitude, considering the fact that he still lives and works in Hitler’s Germany…

The film ends with some explanations, although there is still a mystery surrounding the lives, intentions of those involved – why would one refuse one of the most prestigious medals…

vineri, 29 iunie 2018

I Feel Pretty, by Abby Kohn

I Feel Pretty, by Abby Kohn

It is easy to dismiss this motion picture – after all, the public has rated it at just 4.7 out of 10, the critics have not liked it either and the talented Amy Schumer has been under fire.

The outstanding comedian Bill Maher has dismissed at least a part of the criticism, which was wrong headed, focusing on political correctness, which is exaggerating these days indeed.
Amy Schumer has explained in an interview that she knows she is privileged to be white and made some other comments that show her to be a responsible, modest, intelligent, skilled, creative artist.

Nevertheless, there is something wrong with the choices made by this comedian…

If Inside Amy Schumer is brilliant and magical for the most part, Trainwreck and Snatched come close to disasters, at least in this viewer’s book.

There are some worthwhile ideas in this project, where Amy Schumer is Renee Bennett, a young woman who tries to get in shape, tries from the debut of the film to exercise at the gym, but with some cataclysmic effects.
As the protagonist enters the gym, it seems that all the subscribers at this Soul Cycling outfit are champions, their bodies are more than perfect and the rather chubby heroine appears fat when compared with the rest.

She gets on the fixed bike, as the other fifty or so club members and they all listen to the guru, the trainer who comes with her motivational speech – you look in the mirror and you can be whoever you want to be…words like that.
On a side note, some of the trainers at the club where we go here are Black Dogs, Pure Devils like the apparitions in the book by Ian McEwan, ready to beat the customers – an incident happened recently.

As the overweight heroine starts pumping, motivated by the energetic, role model professor of cycling, she destroys the support of her bike, falls with speed on the ground with a loud thud and catches her hair in the spinning wheel of the adjacent stationary bicycle.

An employee of the club comes with water, tries to comfort the injured Renee and offers from the firm a complimentary bandana, refused by the suffering protagonist, who stands up finally to face the world.
She applies for the job of receptionist, in spite of her looks which do not fit the model of the thin, gorgeous type of woman that we see – soon to be history? – on the cover and pages of fashion magazines.

The heroine can do this because she has suffered a transformation, like the ones we read about in fairy tales where Cinderella is so beautiful and the frog turns into a Charming Prince.
The knock on the head has caused a serious commotion and the new girl is sure that she looks like Naomi Campbell – who acts in the comedy – and the humor should come from this, plus the educational message.

We pay too much attention to appearances and overweight women and men can be wonderful, beautiful people – we need to look at their spiritual sides, consider their soul and not the fat accumulated on the hips or belly.
Only research demonstrates that we do not operate in this way, we can first consider Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by the genius of psychology, Malcolm Gladwell.

In this essential masterpiece, the author demonstrates that we form opinions and take decisions based on an assessment of about one minute; the high proportion of very tall CEOs in the top Fortune 500 companies demonstrates the Harding Effect.
Furthermore, apart from common sense and apocryphal evidence, studies show that good looking people benefit from lighter sentences when on trial, better jobs, higher salaries and so much more.

However, I Feel Pretty tries to make a worthwhile point, although the audience might be better advised to read The Six Pillars of Self Esteem, by another luminary of psychology, Nathaniel Branden and get from there the rules and the importance of being confident and self-assured.

When Snow White understands she has not changed – just by asking “who are you?” – and she has the same, old problem with weight, her self-esteem drops to previous levels, only to experience a new epiphany.
She talks in public about the need to believe in yourself, to disregard the weight and look inside, find the beauty within….some would dismiss this and say this is the old cliché and it is just boring.

Well, maybe it is.

miercuri, 27 iunie 2018

The Professionals, based on the novel by Frank O’Rourke

The Professionals, based on the novel by Frank O’Rourke

Given the first part of this Academy Award nominated motion picture, it seems unlikely that the action feature would be about love, values, compassion, meaning, friendship and transcendence.

A rich man, J. W. Grant tries to get his wife back, after a Mexican revolutionary leader, Raza, has kidnapped her and for that, he is ready to pay ten thousand dollars for each man in a party that would get the spouse back.
Lee Marvin, an excellent actor, especially in the role of the brave, tough, determined hero, plays the valiant and resilient Rico Fardan, who seems to be the leader of the expedition, Robert Ryan is Ehrengard, a specialist with the horses he loves so much, Woody Strode plays the part of Jake, the man who can find the trail, knows when the enemy is advancing and more.

Rico Fardan pays the nine hundred dollars bail to get his friend, Dolworth, from jail and invite him to join their rescue mission, into enemy territory, facing incredible odds, ion exchange for the ten thousand that each would get if they return Maria to her grieving husband.
Playing Dolworth is one of the legends of cinema, a divine actor, whose strength, vitality, bravery, talent, charisma were phenomenal, he has left a legacy that includes memorable roles in Atlantic City, Elmer Gantry, Field of Dreams, Local Hero, The Gypsy Moths, The Leopard and more.

Very early on the trail, they have to face the enemy, although it is not Raza yet, but a party of vicious men, who catch the explosives expert, Dolworth, hang him upside down, trying to get all the secrets he has, when they have to confront Rico and the others.
In one interesting, unhappy moment, Dolworth talks about shooting the horses – an advice that we read about in other places, cruel as it is, such as The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, where the guide tells the members of the train that they would not be able to shoot the opposing Native Americans, therefore they need to target the animals.

Both Fardan and Dolworth have been fighting on the same side with Raza, indeed, they used to be friends, fighting for the same revolution, only now the dream of fighting the bad people is finished.

Dolworth has some deep insight when he says that the idea of the good fighting the bad does not work, talks to Raza at one point and says that at the end of the fight, the politicians take over and everything is destroyed – reminding one of the quote - “like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children,”
There is also a joke on the idea of a superficial, of botched, failed revolution, that we could have used for our own uprising, which led in 1989 to the fall of one of the most infamous dictators, the disgraceful Ceausescu:

Dialogue with a Latin American (decades ago) or a Romanian in 1989:
What are you doing? I am going to have my lunch…and after that? A siesta…and after that? I do not know…Maybe a revolution

The group of four braves has to confront a small army lead by revolutionary Raza and the only way to succeed is to use guerilla tactics, employ the talent of the dynamite wizard and create confusion, making the enemy think that they have a very numerous opponent attacking.
The tactics are nearly perfect, Dolworth and Rico reach the room where the kidnapped Maria – portrayed by the outstanding, gorgeous Claudia Cardinale – and before the explosions start, they see their former friend, Raza, enter, approach the resplendent woman.

It is a huge surprise to see that the revolutionary leader is not about to force himself upon or abuse the woman, instead, she is evidently infatuated with the man, embraces, caresses and cherishes the kidnapper.
Is this the Stockholm syndrome in an extreme form, where the victim is so inebriated that she is in awe, or maybe she was drugged, suffered a commotion and her mind is in pain and unable to operate?

There is no time to interpret the situation, for the dynamite set by the Professional is blowing up in various places, the chaos it creates makes the horses and people roam around the enclosure and Dolworth is about to kill Raza, when the leader of the expedition stops him.
They carry Maria away, she explains that she loves the Mexican fighter, she had loved him before she married the rich Texan, forced by her father, while she wants the revolution to succeed, and she loathes the rich spouse that she feels has taken away the wealth of her land.

Therefore, the action movie, with its explosions, gun fights, proofs of valor, acumen, gift for tactics and strategy, clever guerilla operations, becomes a film about love, values, fighting the evil rich, the beautiful heroine in love with the freedom fighter, self-sacrifice, the Wonder Woman, the Super Heroes and the Evil Arrogant Grant.
For quite some time, the expeditionary force fights Raza, in ambushes, using dynamite again, in gun fights, but will they side with the rich or the lovers, is this a kidnapping solved or justice done for the good, who happen to be also beautiful…

Twentieth Century, based on the play by Charles Bruce Millholland

Twentieth Century, based on the play by Charles Bruce Millholland

This an appreciated film, strangely nominated – this being 1934 – at the Venice Film Festival in the category of Best Foreign Film for…

The Mussolini Cup…

One of the protagonists is Oscar Jaffe, whose life sadly resembles that of the actor portraying him, John Barrymore, “who rose to superstardom and then declined in one of the most famous Hollywood tragedies”.
Oscar Jaffe is a Broadway director that reminds one of the quintessential The Bad and The Beautiful, with the fabulous Kirk Douglas in the title role, where a film director discovers a star and falls in love with her.

Oscar Jaffe has to work on a play with an artist that he does not seem to like, when she speaks he cries that she is yodeling, he is unhappy with everything she does apparently, draws with a chalk the itinerary on the floor…
You get out here- draws the line- stop to talk to him here – you take out your gun- then move there.

When provoked, the young woman, Lily Garland playing Mildred Plotka and both characters portrayed by the excellent, mysterious, soft voiced Carole Lombard, becomes passionate, emboldened, infuriated and the director says:

-          You are wonderful, exactly what we need – or words to that effect

The play is a success, the young artist is acclaimed, the director goes to her dressing room, tells the assistant to leave them alone, kneels saying that he regrets his outbursts, admires her talent and the wondrous performance.
She tells him to stand, the actress is happy to hear the praise, probably grateful, understanding the abusive man tried to provoke the optimal reaction, nevertheless hurting her in the process.
The cunning Oscar Jaffe looks at the camera, it seems like he winks, pushes the door closed with his foot, in an age when nudity was not just less prominent than it is today, when there are arguments that it can actually diminish the eroticism of many scenes, it was forbidden, the public can envisage what happens behind the closed doors.

Alas, the triumph of the new star does not reflect well on the relationship, difficult from the start, given the strong personalities, the large egos that might find it impossible to accommodate the achievements of others, especially when the acclaim is bigger.
There are excellent, many amusing lines like:

“Oscar Jaffe: I never thought I should sink so low as to become an actor…indeed, in the past, this fabulous profession was disregarded and despised…
That's the trouble with you, Oscar. With both of us. We're not people, we're lithographs. We don't know anything about love unless it's written and rehearsed. We're only real in between curtains.

Oscar Jaffe: I'm offering you a last chance to become immortal.
Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka: Then I've decided to stay mortal with responsible management.”

“Oscar Jaffe: When I love a woman, I'm an Oriental. It never goes. It never dies.
Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka: Phooey.
Oscar Jaffe: Love blinded me. That was the trouble between us as producer and artist.
Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka: So that's what it was, was it? How about your name in electric lights bigger than everybody's, and your delusion that you were a Shakespeare and a Napoleon and a Grand Lama of Tibet all rolled into one?”

To John Ringling. "I'm in the market for 25 camels, several elephants, and an ibis... Give me the rock-bottom price."
This last statement comes after they meet on the Twentieth Century train a lunatic who signs extravagant checks and gives them around, for the beneficiaries to find they are worthless.
The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list has Twentieth Century included at:

marți, 26 iunie 2018

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, written by Philip Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carriere, based on the novel by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, written by Philip Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carriere, based on the novel by Milan Kundera

Perhaps the outstanding original material sets too high expectations for the adaptation, maybe there are some other reasons - including the strange manner of acting- for the disappointment felt by this viewer.

Notwithstanding this early conclusion, the motion picture has enjoyed great success, with two Academy Award nominations, for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Cinematography- for the legendary Sven Nykvist.
There have been two Golden Globe nominations, for Best Motion Picture - Drama and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, which may make one think that these awards are indeed a sympathy show, for it may seem difficult to identify the merit in the performances.
Strangely, this includes in this personal perspective the God of cinema, Daniel Day Lewis, who is awkward in the title role.

Tomas is a doctor, defined by his obsession with women, a Casanova or Don Juan living in Czechoslovakia- not yet separated back then - who has a relationship with the artist Sabina, but it is an open affair, he sleeps with nurses and a multitude of other women.
He has to perform an operation in a small town, when a colleague is injured and this is where he meets Tereza, a waitress played by Juliette Binoche - very good generally, but artificial, unconvincing here.

As the doctor returns to Prague, he finds one evening at the door, the girl from the country, with Ana Karenina on her arm- the dog they would have would be called Karenin, for although it is a female, she has the look of a male, according to the hero.
There is a special attraction between the protagonists, but on one hand, the man is used with philandering and on the other, perhaps more importantly for a long term accommodation, there are big differences in education, interests, background that do not offer favorable odds.

The two get married, but the woman is jealous and plays a game wherein she says that she wants to meet the lovers Tomas sleeps with, she would give them a bath and get them ready for them.
A naughty viewer might laugh here and say that it is getting exciting, there would be threesomes and a ménage a trois is surely in the works.

Nonetheless, this was just a scheme and we could think of Games People Play, a psychology classic by Eric Berne, for the woman seems to be interested in catching the cheat and not in the bathing of rivals.
Outside events take a bigger role, for the Soviet tanks invade the country that had the courage to adopt a different style of the same communist horror system, only with a more humane face, more freedom and other paraphernalia.

Tereza had discovered a penchant and an eye for photography that she had used in some lurid scenes with...Sabina - these moments also appeared as examples of bad acting, forced gestures and ultimately unappealing games that were supposed to be erotic and so sensuous, when they are just bizarre and absurd.
As the Soviets occupy Czechoslovakia, the photographer is on the streets, recording all that she can, giving the material, rolls of film to visiting foreigners, only to find that much of it would be used by the Secret Police to identify dissidents.

Sabina and so many others decide they have had enough and take refuge in other countries, in her particular case in Switzerland, where she has a confrontation with a man who speaks to a gathering about continuing the fight against the oppressing regime, the occupation and the Soviets...

What fight are you talking about? Asks the brave, open minded, liberal artist
You are here!
If you wanted to fight, you would be in the country...or is it that you want others to do the fighting for you?

And she leaves, disgusted with talk about doing things...

Tomas, Tereza and Karenin drive their car - Skoda was both appreciated and mocked in several jokes - across the border and arrive in Switzerland, where the woman can only stay for a while, after which she feels she has to and returns home.

As aforementioned, this motion picture can be unsatisfactory, if one does not mind one of the rules of positive psychology:

Lower your expectations

To end with another argument in favor of this acclaimed film, it was included on The New York Times' Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made List...

Ball of Fire, written by Billy Wilder, directed by Howard Hawks

Ball of Fire, written by Billy Wilder, directed by Howard Hawks

If you look at the credits, you will see beforehand that this is an outstanding work, directed, written by and starring deities of Hollywood and world cinema.

Barbara Stanwyck received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Thomas Monroe and Billy Wilder - the creator of what may be the best comedy ever, Some Like It Hot - were nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.

Gary Cooper - the granite sheriff from the glorious High Noon - has a comedy role here, although the main character, Professor Bertram Potts becomes a romantic figure after the first act, turning into a knight in shining armor almost.
The professor is a member of a group of distinguished experts, scholars who work together under the same roof, trying to finish - in three or four years perhaps - a new encyclopedia that would include all the wisdom of the world.

They are however isolated from the world, in their ivory tower, as it becomes apparent when an educated man speaks in slang and the erudite savants realize they understand very little, if anything, of what he says.
Therefore Professor Potts sets out of their remote, luxurious mansion with a notebook, listening to conversations in the public transport system, on the streets and finally listens to a celebrated singer intrigued and interested in the lines of her songs, with a spark of attraction probably already kindled.

Barbara Stanwyck is self assured, excellent in the role of Sugarpuss O'Shea, who is not interested when the professor talks about his project, the interest he has in identifying new words and including them in the encyclopedia.
She is the lover of a mob boss, Joe Lilac, who is investigated by the police, as a suspect in a murder case, wherein some evidence points out to Sugarpuss, as the person who could testify and thus incriminate the known criminal.

Suddenly, the idea of joining the professor and his Seven Dwarfs- as the Goodfellas joke on account of the eight prominent thinkers - becomes appealing, for the police wants the singer now and the best thing is to hide her some place, until they find a solution to the problem of the Godfather.
Hence she shows up at the door of the Encyclopedia Enterprise, willing to co operate with the brilliant minds, determined to spend the night, in spite of the protests of the hero, who thinks this inappropriate.

Some fever, the enthusiasm of the Seven aka Eight Dwarfs, the offer of one of the professors to have the guest in his room - there are raised eyebrows her - as he joins a colleague in another room, all contribute to convince the protagonist that this is the best solution.
Miss Bragg, the spinster who cares for all the old boys is against the prospect, so convinced that this must not be that she says she would quit if this woman would stay in that house.

Miss Bragg would have a confrontation with the singer and the latter would use a punch to knock the older woman down  and then lock her in a closet.
Meanwhile, professor Potts falls in love with Sugarpuss, does not see the situation- perhaps anything- clearly, buys a ring and declares his deep feelings, how he saw her in the light and has had to make efforts to control himself.

The declaration only comes after he asks her to leave and tries hard to concentrate on his noble work and ignore the distraction - of one tries to be negative or just realistic, he was right to be skeptical, for given the unbridgeable difference in education, interests, sophistication, goals in life and more, it is very u likely- one chance in a million- that such a relationship would work.

In spite of the saying " opposites attract" which is the point of this motion picture.

Sugarpuss agrees to marry, Lilac pretends on the phone to be her father and calls on the hero to bring the bride to her parents, which is in fact a scheme to get the woman to him, avoiding the police blocks and checkpoints.
The plan is for the singer to marry the mobster and therefore avoid testifying with a solid, legal excuse, since the law stipulates that a spouse cannot take the stand against her husband.

There are comical traps, Reversals of Fortune, with the naive professor knocked on the floor by the villain, but with the chance for him to take a revenge, when Snow White might reconsider her stand and instead of marrying Dark Vader, she might opt for the intelligent, handsome, kind, decent, humane Prince Charming.

luni, 25 iunie 2018

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket

The cast of this motion picture is phenomenal, including some of the best actors, comedians alive:

Jim Carrey as the vicious and darkly funny Count Olaf
Timothy Spall as the well intentioned, but at times ignorant and perhaps irresponsible Mr. Poe - the count has a speech in which he condemns Poe and the rest, saying that the children had tried hard to warn the adults who ignored them, or even worse, at one stage, Mr. Poe is fooled by Olaf and decides he would be the best protector the children could have.

Billy Connolly is Uncle Monty, who is also tricked by the nefarious count, who comes disguised as an assistant, that the superficial uncle thinks is there to steal some secrets from him.
Actually, count Olaf wants the fortune inherited by the children, when their parents die in a fire and he would go to any extremes to do that, given that he is the ultimate, pure evil, ready to get the children killed by the train, as he leaves them trapped in the car, on the railway lines and eventually, to trap Violet into a marriage so that he can get the inheritance.

The start of the motion picture is smart, amusing, inviting in that it says in the opening scene that you are invited to go to theater number two if you want to see a film about a happy elf...

"The film you are about to see is extremely unpleasant"

Therefore it works both ways...

If the film is not a success, you have been warned.

As it is, this is a good joke.

Among the other artists involved, we have some legends

Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, who is tricked by the same vicious count
Luis Guzman, Cedric the Entertainer, Helena Bonham Carter, Dustin Hoffman and others make shorter or longer appearances.

In conclusion, the film is worthwhile if only for this extraordinary line up and the rather amusing lines, the light touch and the unpretentious perspective of those involved in the making of a successful feature.

duminică, 24 iunie 2018

Woman of the Year by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin

Woman of the Year by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin

Katharine Hepburn is not just the Woman of the Year, but one of the Women of the century, a legend of the big screen, an artist of genius, a glorious performer winner of an outstanding four Oscars and nominated for one for her leading role in this motion picture as Tess Harding.

Woman of the Year has won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and is included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

Spencer Tracy, the phenomenal, stupendous actor – married in real life to the equally wondrous Katharine Hepburn – stars in this film and has the role of the frustrated husband, Sam Craig.
To begin with, Sam and Tess are colleagues at the same newspaper, the man being an expert on sports and not too impressed in appearance with the woman who is famous and celebrated.

The newspaperman is looking very attentive at the legs of his colleague, when he enters an office where she is working and very soon, they become fond of each other – perhaps even in love.
The problem with love is that it is sometimes hard to define – with hindsight, one might be tempted to say that in the first phase of their relationship, the two protagonists were “in love” in the sense used by Charlie Partana aka Jack Nicholson in the dark comedy Prizzi’s Honor, but did not love each other.

Thomas Mann has a character in a short story who complains that people over use love, furthermore, they say they have no words to describe it when true love can be found only in literature, for its meaning is too comprehensive for mere mortals to experience it.
Sam and Tess get married soon – perhaps without the needed preliminary period of knowing each other – only to find that she is as busy and involved in her job and position as one of the prominent feminists in the country that she has no time for husband and marital issues.

We could think of the ultimate, quintessential expert on marriage, John Gottman and his chef d’oeuvre on the subject, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, wherein an essential rule is to know your partner in detail, what he or she likes, hobbies, films and much more.
Another luminary in the domain of psychology that comes to mind is Tal Ben Shahar, with his insistence on the mistake we make of introducing a would be partner to an edited, improved, near perfect but false image of ourselves and the paramount importance of setting aside time to spend with our partner.

Only even at the wedding ceremony, assistants and others come to take Tess from what should be the most important moment in her life, as she prepares to say yes, there are calls and important tasks…it looks like she did not answer the crucial question.
There is an invasion of guests and the social requirements overwhelm the couple to the point where there is no marriage to speak of, although the man takes some amusing revenge by inviting his own guests to compensate for the fact that his spouse – in name only at this point – has crowded the celebration with her companions.

Tess Harding is a complex character and so is the narrative, an accomplished person, such a famous feminist that she is named the Woman of the Year, but she has reached the point where her career and public persona overwhelm and eliminate her personal life alienating her husband.
To make matters worse, she is involved with some humane, laudable work with orphans, she comes home and says to her spouse that she thinks children would be nice and he agrees becomes enthusiastic and starts worrying about his partner, thinking she is pregnant.

Nevertheless, she opens the door and brings in the child she was speaking of, who is not in her belly, growing up from the stage of embryo, but a boy of about  four, that she has adopted and this a moment where mirth is combined with stupor.
It would not work, not if the adoptive mother is so busy with her good deeds that she neglects almost completely her family, spouse and child together, making Sam take a definite, abrupt step, bringing the boy back to the orphanage.

This is causing a breakdown, just as the father of the Woman of the Year is about to get married, at this ceremony Tess is attending alone and she becomes depressed, suffers when she hears the traditional vows, realizing only then that she did not listen when the was the bride.
Therefore she makes the effort to win back her beloved, but estranged husband, trying to be a…woman, cooking for her dear spouse, looking into the cook book she had received, alas, with disastrous effects – the pancakes grow beyond reasonable limits, the coffee boils down and she cannot even open the cooking stove.

Blockers by Brian and Jim Kehoe

Blockers by Brian and Jim Kehoe

For some reason, most critics have loved this comedy rated with an unexplainable – for this cinephile at least – Metascore of 69 and celebrated in reviews, like this one in the Austin Chronicle:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” John Milton

They are surely right to make heaven out of a motion picture that is definitely not that bad, although for some of us it would be hard to see the merit, perhaps because we are so disconnected from modern America, the worries and pleasures of teenagers, new trends and the postmodern face of humor.
The very idea central to the plot is that three girls decide to lose their virginity on prom night, no matter what and in a couple of cases, indifferent to the partners that would do it.

So far so good?
Remember: you can make hell out of heaven…

The parents, Lisa and Mitchell, find out and decide to act, although they are opposed by the third parent, Hunter, who is separated from his wife and therefore tries to play to a different tune, promoting his image as the cool father, who does not want his daughter to be unhappy, encouraging anything she wants to do, no matter how irresponsible.
Indeed, in one scene he would cry with joy upon finding out that his child is lesbian, overjoyed because…the girl has told him first, before announcing the news to her mother.

Julie decides to lose her virginity with the boy she loves, although her mother, Lisa, is worried that this may be the mistake she had made, years ago, when she has made the wrong choice…

You mean I was a mistake? Asks the daughter pertinently, when the mother talks about wrong choices and what a calamity took place in the past

If the choice made by Julie seems reasonable in the present – given the mores, the different standards – the solidarity expressed by her friends, Kayla and Sam, seems more than misplaced.
Perhaps for a conservative, retrograde fundamentalist as the under signed?

Kayla seems to pick at random, Connor is a young potential partner with a man bun that infuriates her father, Mitchell, when he comes to take her to the prom, and it is awkward – potentially funny for some viewers – to see the girl explaining that they will have sex that night.
The man is known as the cook, because he is good at mixing drugs and when Mitchell hears about this he turns from angry to outright mad, but Connor is not too anxious when he hears there will be sex.

Sam is a lesbian attracted to Angelica, but in a misguided attempt to respect the pact – and for other wrong reasons – she is bent on losing her virginity with another young man, while thinking about this interesting Asian girl.
The parents try to follow on the footsteps of their children and get trapped in various circumstances, once the car is stuck in a ravine –after they had attempted to copy Vin Diesel – an actor whose name is sufficient for this viewer to avoid the feature he is in- after they even refer to:

WWVDD – or something like that, which means What Would Vin Diesel Do…in one of the multitude of Fast and Furious installments.

Making every sacrifice they can, in order to bring the daughters from the brink of the supposed abyss, the devoted – but foolish? – parents are provoked to a challenge, one of those fraternity abuses, wherein Mitchell would insert a tube into his anus – well, someone else does it.
The point of this endeavor is to introduce alcohol into the body and provoke laughter of course, only the police arrive on the scene, in the commotion the bowel movements that have been followed up to that point are reversed and Hunter gets the alcohol and whatever else was in the colon of the martyr on his face, clothes, head…

Hilarious? Not for this hell out of heaven making individual.

Furthermore, there are some other limits that the heroes pass in their quest for the innocent girls, as they stumble in the middle of a sex game, wherein man and woman walk blind folded and Mitchell has to fondle with the testicles of the man and do other funny (?!) tricks.
This note concludes with a three out of ten rating.

sâmbătă, 23 iunie 2018

Julia, screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based upon the story by Lillian Hellman

Julia, screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based upon the story by Lillian Hellman

Julia is a very good motion picture, winner of three Academy Awards – Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Jason Robards, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Vanessa Redgrave and Best Writing for Alvin Sargent – the Golden Globes for Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda, the latter in the category Best Actress in a Leading Role.

There have been other major wins- BAFTA for Best Picture especially – and nominations for Oscars and Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Director, Actor in a Supporting Role for Maximillian Schell.
The story is indeed worthwhile, if sad, thought provoking, with lessons about role models, two brave women, in that a film that was rare at its time, without men dominating the narrative and the screen.

Jane Fonda is one of the legends of Hollywood and world cinema, a militant actress, involved in the fight for human rights and playing a character- the main one – that does its part in the fight against the Nazis.
It is not a role on the scale of the one that her best friend – Julia aka Vanessa Redgrave- has, for the title of the film was not chosen lightly, although it is a supporting role in the film, the narrative has a Wonder Woman in this heroic figure that dedicates and ultimately sacrifices her life in the struggle against the fascists.

Perhaps it is not coincidental, maybe the director and producers selected their leading actresses on purpose, for Vanessa Redgrave – not one of the favorites of this cinephile though – is another artist famous for her political views, her stand, which may seem too much on the left for some.
Indeed, Julia seems to be a socialist –which if it does not become communism might be acceptable, although looking at the motion picture, a viewer may start thinking – it is always the right thing to fight against communism, but that does not necessarily means the communists represent the Good.

This could be a case of Kim of Korea fighting Duterte of the Philippines or Maduro of Venezuela, that is villains fighting other bad hombres and even if it is always good to oppose dictators, murderers and lunatics, it does not make the opponents saints overnight.
In childhood, Julia and Lillian are best friends and they will stay that way throughout their lives, to the point where one of their acquaintances, when drunk, brings out the rumor that everyone shares about the two women being more than friends – intimating they are actually lovers.

While Jane Fonda becomes a writer, struggling to find inspiration, experiencing overwhelming success with her first play and alas, failure with the next, Julia travels to Vienna, where she becomes a fighter against the horrendous, abominable Hitler regime.
Opposing the fascists is evidently very dangerous and the brave, self-sacrificing Wonder Woman faces the consequences a she is abused, hospitalized and her best friend has the chance and sorrow to visit her.

After that, the patient disappears without a trace,  the first explanation when Lillian visits is that she is undergoing an operation, but later, they deny that Julia has ever been a patient in that hospital.
Lillian has a lover and mentor, Hammett, played by the Oscar Winner and fabulous actor, Jason Robards, who brings some equilibrium in the life of the tormented, tense, sometimes neurotic younger partner.

Jane Fonda has a brief exchange with Meryl Streep – two of the Goddess meeting on the screen.
Julia has a special request to make and sends one of her friends and another freedom fighter – Johann aka the wonderful Maximilian Schell – to meet her and give some instructions for the leader of the Resistance, asking if Lilian would like to change her itinerary for a trip to Moscow.

The opponents of Hitler and his acolytes would like the American to travel through Berlin, where she would depose a package, instead of her initial itinerary and if she agrees, she would give a sign to Johann at the Paris Railway station.
There follow some scenes familiar from spies movies, James Bond, Jason Bourne and others, without the known chutzpah but intense nevertheless, with a fur hat that has an important sum of money inside, a chocolate box and various helpers from the Resistance along the way.

In Berlin, the two best friends meet for a few minutes, devastated Lillian seeing that Julia has a wooden leg now, but is still brave, strong, determined – perhaps more than ever – in her struggle against evil.

On a side, mean note – it could be another sort of wrong that she had in mind, if she was determined to replace the terror, abhorrence of the Nazi regime with communism, which this viewer has experienced and loathes as much as Hitlerism.
Julia has another, emotional and unexpectedly personal demand, she asks her longtime friend to take care of her daughter- named…Lilly – who stays with the family of a baker, across the border in Alsace- they then separate and the freedom fighter emphasizes the support given by Lillian- the money brought in would save the lives of five hundred, maybe one thousand people!

Tragically, Julia is killed by the monstrous fascist regime and her best friend travels to London to attend her funeral and then tries to find the daughter.

Pardon Mon Affaire, written and directed by Yves Robert

Pardon Mon Affaire, written and directed by Yves Robert

For some reason, this amusing comedy has two titles and unlike the usual scenario, it is not one for domestic consumption and an adaptation for the English-speaking world, but two French names:

Un éléphant ça trompe énormément is the original title, which would mean that an elephant is very confusing, in an approximate translation, which does not refer to the hint the name may make at the trunk – aka trompe – and a possible (?) sexual significance…
This motion picture was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign film and has a tagline that is:

“Four million Frenchmen and 50,000 New Yorkers can't be wrong.”

This may be again difficult to comprehend, unless this is a joke – it seems very likely – that may suggest that four million Frenchmen have love affairs and only 50,000 New Yorkers- extramarital connections used to be – still are? – an acceptable French mode de vivre…joie de vivre?
Jean Rochefort is an outstanding, glorious actor – one of his exquisite performances is reviewed here: http://realini.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-man-on-train-with-jean-rochefort.html -who has the leading role in this film, that of Etienne – that would be Steven for the English-speaking world.

Another great French performer is Claude Brasseur – his great act in The Gates of Paris is looked at here: http://realini.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-gates-of-paris-aka-porte-des-lilas.html - and he plays one of the three friends of Etienne, Daniel.
The others are Simon and Bouly.

The hero is infatuated with Charlotte, played by the beautiful, talented Anny Duperey – to make this a little compilation of notes on other performances and motion pictures, she stared in Bobby Deerfield, together with Al Pacino and Marthe Keller, the note on this is here: http://realini.blogspot.com/2017/06/note-on-bobby-deerfield-directed-by_28.html.
One of the friends has an outré relationship with his mother, who appears in various comical scenes, including one on the tennis field, where the four comrades play and finally, there is more than an allusion to Freud.

In a bizarre, absurd and outrageous look at the Oedipus Complex, this friend is not only obsessed to his parent, who lives with him, follows him around and has an overbearing, exaggerated, preposterous – and amusing?- influence, but in the end, he does an abhorrent act.
He marries his mother!

Meanwhile, Etienne tries hard to impress and seduce Charlotte, who accepts to have a drink with him, at the bar, the man remembers to take out his wedding ring and pretends to be single.
Furthermore, in this effort to appear to be the ultimate knight in shining armor, the hero says that he rides horses on a regular basis and lies about other aspects of his life, in a misguided manner.

Harvard Professor Tal Ben Sharar mentions in his lectures – the most popular ever in the history of the quintessential higher education institution – that people make a terrible mistake when they pretend to be someone else while trying to conquer the other sex.
As he brilliantly points out, it means we introduce another person, with so many qualities, attributes and there are two possibilities:

1.       The partner we would like to have becomes in love, infatuated with this “other person” and not with the real interlocutor who had tried so far to promote this other man  or woman
2.       The interlocutor does not like this other person and the game is up anyway.

In one amusing scene, Etienne, Daniel and Charlotte drive to a flat where the former plans to have romantic moments with the latter, only to find the family, the wife, two teenage daughters and others waiting for a surprise celebration.
Etienne is lost and does not know what to say about his companion, as he enters with Charlotte, the would be lover, when Daniel saves the day, just as the hero was trying hard to think of how to introduce the strange woman, his friend walks in and pretends she is his partner.
Perhaps in a French quirky manner, Charlotte declares after this incident that the protagonist had lied, said he was single, without kids and she has just learned he has a wife and two big girls, he cannot ride and yet she is so attracted to him, wants to see him without clothes

“Mais vous dites nu, quoi” says the hero

Therefore, they make love in the woman’s apartment, next to the Arch of Triumph, where the husband returns home unexpectedly, the wife runs for the clothes, sends the lover to the terrace of the highest floor of the building, where poor Etienne remains stranded, in a bathrobe, in plain view of the television cameras that naturally arrive at the scene

vineri, 22 iunie 2018

Watch on the Rhine, screenplay by Dashiell Hammett, based on the play by Lillian Hellman

Watch on the Rhine, screenplay by Dashiell Hammett, based on the play by Lillian Hellman

Considering the villain in this motion picture is a Romanian count- however, it is not the infamous Dracula – this cinephile must have been biased, seeing a compatriot involved in such nefarious acts.

Watch on the Rhine has been nominated for important Academy Awards, including for Best Motion Picture, and has won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading role – for Paul Lukas as Kurt Muller – and the Golden Globe in the same category.
Furthermore, this feature has been included on the prestigious The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made List:

The legendary Bette Davis has another leading role, that of Sara Muller, the devoted wife of the hero, Kurt Muller, arriving at her home in the United States, after extensive travels in countries of Europe and Mexico.
Fanny Farrelly is the mother and host, while David Farrelly is the loving brother, both welcoming a large family, for Kurt and Sara have three children, from the young but outspoken, fluent in a few languages and proud Bodo to Joshua, a young man who will soon be eighteen and ready to show how brave and determined he is.

Staying with the rich, generous and welcoming Farrelly family – perhaps ancestors of the famous brothers – is a couple, Marthe and Teck de Brancovis – perhaps inspired by a name with deep historical significance in Romania – Brancoveanu.
The count is a gambler but he has reached bottom, for he has no more money to play cards with, or indeed, do anything, given that he only has eighty-five dollars left, no job and no perspective.

Furthermore, the relationship between the count and his wife are more than tense, he suspects David Farrelly attracts her and she knows the vicious character traits of her spouse, that would soon become apparent for the audience as well.
When the Muller family arrives, Fanny Farrelly is marked by the fatigue of the guests, especially her son in law, who looks very tired and talks to his host about the many countries they had visited and his occupation.

The hosts want to help and find a position for Kurt Muller, while asking him about his profession, which they know to be that of engineer, even if the man states that he has not worked in that capacity for many years.
He is reluctant to confess that his present position does not provide for the family, but then he is proud to speak about his involvement in the resistance movement – an explanation is written at the beginning of the film, when the public is informed of the fact that some people rose up against Hitler from the very beginning.

The treacherous Teck de Brancovis plays cards with a German diplomat, envoy of the third Reich and when he meets Kurt Muller, he suspects that he has seen the other guest, either in person or in some other manner.
The count used to work in the Romanian embassy in Europe, wants to return to his continent, but has no money or visa and thinks that he can make a dirty deal with the Nazis, once he understands the position of the mysterious Kurt Muller, with his injured hands.

For that, the repulsive count breaks the lock of a suitcase, finds a revolver, more than twenty thousand dollars and somehow understands the position in the Resistance movement of this hero, role model, Ubermensch, Superman who has fought for freedom, suffered at the hands of the Nazis and helped multitudes.
Teck de Brancovis is ready to sell the leader of the Resistance to the fascists, travels to the German Embassy, where he asks for more details and says that he has a precious target for them, only to be refused by the diplomat who says that they cannot shoot anyone in America.

Nevertheless, if he delivers one such precious enemy in Germany, one of the territories they have already swallowed up or another, friendly territory, the informant would be able to name his price.
The count sets out to do just that when he returns to the Farrelly residence with his wife, who is very angry at his plans and announces that she is leaving him, has had enough of his atrocious ways.

This does not stop the nefarious, devilish individual who uses blackmail, asking for ten thousand from the money he has seen in the possession of the freedom fighter, or else he would sell him to the Nazis.

The Farrelly family – feeling somewhat guilty of having offered shelter to such scoundrel, a point also made by Sara Muller – offers to give the monster money and they try to arrange a financial transaction that would somehow guarantee the parties that the other would respect the agreement.
Given the now demonstrated venality of count Teck de Brancovis, they raise the possibility that he takes their money and then tops it out by selling Kurt Muller to the fascists, for a Double Indemnity.

The hero, Resistance leader, brave, intrepid, determined, strong, smart, creative protagonist finds another solution to the problem, which is more violent, uncomfortable for some of the others involved, but the best available solution.
This is an excellent film.

Handle with Care, written and directed by Arild Andresen

Handle with Care, written and directed by Arild Andresen

Handle with Care is an interesting Norwegian film.

It raises some questions about happiness, a subject that the Nordics know about, seeing as they top the charts for wellbeing.
In fact, Norway was at the top on the life satisfaction survey list last year and it was surpassed by their neighbor, Finland for the latest statistics.

The protagonist, Kjetil raises the question, although from the other perspective, talking about his country as place that is often cold, dark, in opposition with the more cheerful Columbia.
Daniel is an adopted child and Kjetil is his stepfather who does not know what to do when his wife, the boy’s mother dies and he is facing the perspective of being a parent to this child.

He does not think he can cope with it – and many might understand this, raising a child or more is the most difficult endeavor we could probably think of and besides, it is not as rewarding as generally thought- in fact, when teenagers leave their homes, levels of happiness…increase.
Therefore, Kjetil travels to the other side of the world, the sunny but poorer Columbia to find the biological mother of the boy and a better solution, like having her take back the child she might have abandoned out of necessity, in a moment of terrible adversity perhaps.

In terms of wellbeing, some might say that countries with such a pleasant climate, warm weather and cheerful populations would top the happiness charts, only they do not, for other reasons that include a lack of trust – which is high in the happy countries in the North of Europe – and huge differences in income and wealth, among other factors.
In Columbia, Kjetil and Daniel meet Tavo, a character of great importance – translator, guide, and driver – although his car would not start at times, even in some dangerous context – thinker, philosopher and tremendous adviser.

The hero tries to find the biological mother in various, poor sectors, including at a charity organization where he comes into severe conflict with the apparently religious, American sponsors of the outfit.

When the Norwegian asks about the biological mother, the women working there refuse to respond, in spite of his continuous efforts and demands, which end up with the infamous:

“Fuck you”

The protagonist outlines the outré situation, stating that people travel from the South, the poorer countries – look at the migration crisis at the border of the United Sates, where the First Lady – so suited to her orange spouse – has just visited in a coat saying “I don’t care”- to the Northern, richer lands.
In this voyage of discovery and finding the origins, Kjetil manages to find Redemption, and understands himself better, following the ancient, quintessential message from Socrates:

“Know Thyself”

A strong bond is created between the family of Tavo and the charming boy, Daniel, and ultimately, the Norwegian discovers strong feelings and emotions for the child within himself…

“All’s Well That Ends Well”