vineri, 31 august 2018

The Little Kidnappers by Neil Paterson - Eight out of 10

The Little Kidnappers by Neil Paterson
Eight out of 10

The Little Kidnappers is a very endearing story, with children as the main characters, albeit this is not a Disney, light type of entertainment.

The motion picture has won two Honorary Academy Awards for the extraordinary boys that give heartwarming, sensitive, intelligent, exquisite performances that are beyond reach for most of the adult actors and this for all films, not this one in particular.
The Little Kidnappers has also been nominated for the BAFTA Awards for Best British film, Best Film from any Source and Best British Actor.

Furthermore, it was on the shortlist for what is for many, including the under signed, the most important cinematic festival of all:

The Cannes Film Festival of 1954.

Finally, to end the accolades received by this great black and white story, it was included on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 movies Ever Made list:

The narrative is poignant, relevant in the present, in an age when nationalists are on the rise, emigrants are rejected by trump and his primitive supporters in America, where they keep talking about the “beautiful, big wall on the border with Mexico” which will even pay for it in the minds of stupid people.
Jim MacKenzie is a Scotsman, a harsh, unforgiving man, strict, inflexible and rather abusive to the children – although one must take into account the different standards of that period.

The old man lives with his family in Nova Scotia, where he takes care of the heroes of this story, his grandsons, Harry and Davy.

Given that their father had died in the Boer War, the grandfather has a strong hatred for Dutchmen, in the way so many people in the world today resent immigrants for various crimes committed – or often only wrongly attributed – to individuals from various lands, where, like anywhere on the globe, there are good and some bad people.
The fact that some have been involved in violence, even killing, does not mean that we have to try and take revenge on all that community – especially when talking about an armed conflict where many, if not most participants have been obliged to take orders.

Jim MacKenzie is very quick to threaten anybody crossing, or trespassing as he calls it, onto his land, even when the law states that another person has rights where the Scotsman feels it is his property.
Even when the Dutch local doctor, Willem Bloem, helps Harry he is told by the daughter of the vengeful MacKenzie, Kirsty, to depart as soon as possible from their house, for once home, the old father would not hesitate to shoot the good physician.

The doctor thinks that the young woman feels he is too old for her, but he is wrong, and a strong feeling bonds the two people, although their love might have the fate of Romeo and Juliet, given that they belong to two different communities, in that the Scotsman hates the Dutch as aforementioned.
Harry and Davy have found an advertisement that states that they could have a dog for thirteen dollars and fifty cents – that would be a few hundred at the value of the currency with present rates.

Nevertheless, grandfather opposes the idea, he is if not an absolute tyrant, and close to a sadistic ruler at least up to the point where he might change his mind and see that he was wrong in his loathing of neighbors who are actually very kind and generous human beings.
However, before that change might happen, a serious event occurs, when Harry and Davy find a baby care for him with tenderness, but they are accused of the serious crime announced by the title:
The Little Kidnappers

It is so horrible that in those days it was punishable with death by hanging, only given the age of the suspects, they could well face other punishments, including being sent to rehabilitation, reeducation school.

The accused testify that they have meant no harm, even if the judge and others have suspected that their intent could have been malicious, considering the animosity, conflict between the Scots grandfather and the Dutch families.
The result of the judgment could be a hard blow for the boys, or, on the other hand might be an opportunity for reconciliation, the discovery of qualities, values, kindness that have been missed in the fog of war…

joi, 30 august 2018

Tess, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, directed by Roman Polanski - Eight out of 10

Tess, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, directed by Roman Polanski
Eight out of 10

A philosophy professor has once remarked on the beauty of this excellent film, winner of three Academy Awards, the Golden Globes for Best Foreign Film and New Star of the Year for Nastassja Kinski.

That philosopher used to try to instill the communist ethics, morals – although that failed system is actually immoral and unethical – into the undersigned and his colleagues, which means she had not had a good vision or perspective on life, but she was right in regards to the Roman Polanski achievement.
The latter is of course a more than controversial figure, given that he has committed statutory rape, he cannot travel to the US on that account, has been briefly detained in Europe and has created masterpieces, but has had personal failures as well.

Tess is dedicated to the late, killed wife of the director, Sharon Tate, and it is an accomplished, very good film, although perhaps not on the same level as the quintessential Chinatown, Cul-de-Sac or The Pianist.
In the opening scenes, John Durbeyfiled, a drunkard with a lazy manner, learns from a cleric with a penchant for studying old documents and genealogy that he is the descent of a once rich, noble family called d’Urberville and when he insists, he finds that he could be the last, there is no mansion, fortune or anything else left.

Nevertheless, the family is in dire straits, given that their horse had just died, the head of the household is not very diligent and they decide to send Tess aka Nastassja Kinski to the d’Urberville mansion in a village not too far, to try and establish a connection between relatives, members of the same old, noble tree.
The heroine meets Alec d’Urberville when she arrives at the manor house, a man who is evidently arrogant, womanizer, pretentious, determined, interested in the visitor, although he tells her to forget about the aristocratic background of her family, keen on establishing dominance over her and giving her some strawberries to eat from his hand, initiating an erotic game, in which he would try to entangle the innocent, ignorant girl…cousin as he sometimes mocks her.

When she returns to her home, the protagonist and her family receive a letter from the “relative” – although they are actually called Stoke and they had bought the old name – proposing that the young woman comes to the mansion, starts working at the poultry farm and if that “internship „proves satisfactory, she would move on to a different position with a suitable, attractive income.

Although Tess is not happy with the prospect, considering the near destitution of the family, she starts working at the chicken farm, attracting the attention of the lustful, predatory nouveau riche, who takes advantage one night, as the girl is returning with other employees from a dance and she is attacked and insulted by another woman, who was envious and irate on account of the better looks, manners and appearance of the protagonist.
Seeing that this is moment of weakness, the guard of the girl that had rejected his advances is down after she had preferred to walk instead of having to grab him when he drove her too fast in his buggy, the master of the house takes the heroine on his horse, decides to ride through the forest, on a long route and then forces himself upon the defenseless girl, who would ultimately run from the service and give birth to his child.

This is a terrible tragedy, for Tess d’Urberville would struggle in life, contemplating suicide at various times, accepting catastrophic circumstances in order to try to help her family, which at one point is evacuated, when the useless father dies and there is no more money to pay for the lodgings and the mother and children are forced to spend the night in the open, near a church.
The protagonist finds work as a milk girl, after her baby had died, and this is where she meets Angel Clare – Peter firth does not seem brilliantly fitted for this part, at times he seems to express only pain, when the emotions that are supposed to emanate would be more subtle, complex and including a love, fascination that appear to be out of the realm of possibilities for the actor, at least in this production.

As the employees and owner of the farm eat their lunch, the talk at the table centers on the soul and this is when Tess has a very interesting, profound and original contribution, mentioning that when she looks at the sky, she feels at times that her soul is escaping from her body, travelling high up – she did not use these words, perhaps this was not even her meaning, but it is what is left here, in this note nevertheless.
Angel Clare is stupefied by this small speech, becomes infatuated with the attractive, delicate, decent, modest, shy, special girl and confesses to her when he takes the party of girls going to the church across a large water filled hole, thereafter they get ever closer, up to the point where she tries to confess that she had been abused by the rich Stoke, had the baby, but she cannot find the courage, being afraid that she would lose him if he finds the truth.

Alas, when he does, after the wedding, just as they prepare to go to bed, the superficial, cruel Angel Clare refuses to give his forgiveness, travels outside the house and when confronted by his wife, he just says that he fell in love with a different woman – here we could note that there is a grain of truth, for the vileness of his attitude.
Harvard Professor Tal-Ben Shahar mentions this aspect in his positive psychology lectures – available on the internet – which makes people present what looks like a different person to the one they love, in the hope that they would entice, seduce them, with the effect that the desired person becomes indeed attracted to the fictitious figure and not with the real person, who had tried so hard to embellish the self that has ended in actually making a match between the would be lover and…someone else.

Tess is heartbroken, desparate, writing and begging her departed husband, now travelling around Brazil, to return, answer her, and she lives in extreme poverty, abused and finally traced again by the villain of the story, who offers to help the family without a home, in exchange for the favors of the desolate Tess.
A sublime story, if extremely sad and devastating.

The King and I, based on the book by Margaret Landon, screenplay by Ernest Lehman - Seven out of 10

The King and I, based on the book by Margaret Landon, screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Seven out of 10

The story of the British governess who travels to work at the court of the king of Siam, approximately the country of Thailand today, has seen a couple of other adaptations for the big screen, apart from the play.

The film with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr has been so acclaimed that it received five Academy Awards, 2 Golden Globes and other prizes.
Interestingly, if the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading role went to Yul Brynner for his interesting, rather outré performance as the King of Siam, the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role went to Deborah Kerr, the two most popular festivities appreciating different combatants in the Siam War.

Deborah Kerr is Anna Leonowens, a brave, educated, determined, proud, emotionally intelligent, astute, resilient, kind, generous, role model widow that lands in Bangkok, after the middle of the nineteenth century, where the prime minister meets her.
This is a half-naked man though, for customs are very different here, often the opposite of what westerners would apply, as the woman would soon learn, very often to her dismay, although she would come to love most of the people she would meet.

When they reach the palace, Anna and her son, Louis, have to wait for a long time to be received by the young, rambunctious monarch, who is portrayed by Yul Brynner, winner of the Oscar for an original, creative, outlandish role of a sovereign who keeps saying “Ha”! Moreover, he wants to be scientific and his household to be educated in the Western manner…up to a point Lord Copper  
For this reason, he had hired the heroine, he complains that the sum paid is exorbitant, although this is in jest at times – this monarch is rather playful, although also quick to become irate, acting like a child – the governess would tell Louis at one moment that the sovereign is somehow as young as the son is.

When the King of Siam talks with the British woman, he is offensive to begin with, due in part to the difference of culture, but mostly he is used with treating everyone as inferior, seeing as his position is one of absolute ruler, whatever he wants he gets without opposition or complaint and that would be a strain in the communication with the eminent woman.

He asks her how old is she and the answer is one hundred and fifty – this is from the beginning of their exchanges a forewarning and a measure of an intense, often conflictual, but gradually friendlier, warm, estimable, finally loving relationship between intelligent, gifted, superior, resilient, vivacious and outstanding human beings.
The King wants progress for his country, has to fight formidable adversaries that are intent on subjecting his land, loyal to Siam, but at the same time capricious, used with cruelty, his new friend has to stop him when he wants to flog a slave that loves someone else, albeit she is a member of his harem.

This monarch has more than one hundred children, but as he points out to foreign ambassadors and envoys who are startled to hear it, this is just because he is new in his position…otherwise we would probably talk about upwards of one thousand…
When he learns about the American Civil War, he is intrigued by it, his appointed heir is wondering why would want to free slaves, and when the sovereign learns more about Abraham Lincoln and the similitudes they share – both leaders are interested in educating and bettering themselves – he wants to help.

With the help of his British consigliere – this is just a joke, he does not want and does not heed advice, not officially anyway – the Siamese monarch writes to the American leader and thinks that some elephants would greatly improve his standing in the war – indeed, when he first learns about the absence of the majestic beasts he is surprised they are not used in the Civil War.
At one stage, Siam is in a very dangerous, difficult position, with the Western powers interested in conquering it, advancing the proposal that his majesty is a barbarian anyway and he needs advice, even if his excessive pride, the position of absolute power and the presumption associated with it that he knows everything and has the best solution always.

Awkwardly, this is the law in Thailand today, where anyone questioning the monarch, even remotely suggesting that they are not the best humans can face stiff prison sentences for lese majeste, in what looks like a retrograde, absurd, medieval instrument of punishment for those who wish to think freely and enjoy democracy…but then a junta rules Siam in the present, making the case for liberty, human rights ever more hopeless.

Cunningly, his majesty is looking for advice from the woman is now a friend, even if they keep that somewhat secret, indirectly, by asking her to guess what he is ready to do to convince the Europeans that he is not a barbaric sovereign and when she explains that, he continues and prompts her to guess what he would do next, finally, convincing the Western diplomats that he is both modern and rather outlandish.
The King loves to read and study, albeit he is intrigued by the statement of the bible, especially the figure of Moses interests him, and the contradiction with what science purports, that it took ages to create the world, whereas God is supposed to have finished it in six, let us say seven days.

However, Anna Leonowens has a wise, philosophical and spiritual answer to this – it does not matter how long it took, it is a miracle nevertheless – and the king writes cards with subjects to approach at the special dinner, where foreign dignitaries are invited and takes the answer and uses it to impress his honored guests.
The New York Times has included this musical drama on its list of Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made:

miercuri, 29 august 2018

Going in Style, screenplay by Theodore Melfi, based on the story by Edward Cannon - Five out of 10

Going in Style, screenplay by Theodore Melfi, based on the story by Edward Cannon
Five out of 10

Alas, Going in Style in the case of this motion picture only means Going Out in the manner evoked by the line from T.S. Eliot:

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

The original version opened in 1979 and it had more class, even if we can compare George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg with the great actors from the latest adaptation:
Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman.

Unfortunately, they have all seen better days, when the scripts were those from Get Carter, the Cider House Rules, Hannah and Her Sisters, Sleuth, Glengarry Glen Ross, Little Miss Sunshine, Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy or The Shawshank Redemption…
If one is mean to this comedy – crime movie, one could put it next to the primitive in the White House and his statements regarding the respect for the law…

Manafort has stolen more than a million from the American people in unpaid taxes. Never mind that, he is a wonderful man, loved by Donald the troglodyte.

The old protagonists of this motion picture have trouble with money and therefore are entitled to rob a bank, could be the abridged message of the feature.
Evidently, there is more to it than this.

The company they had used to work for is involved in a merger and the new entity has no American tax base.

Hence, it can avoid the liabilities, they use the pension funds to pay the bills of the remaining facility and stop paying the pensions of retired, former employees, making the trio of Avengers furious and bent on
Going in Style.

In the first instance, it is Joe Harding aka Michael Caine who thinks about this move, after he is caught in the middle of a robbery, when he is at his bank, talking to a mean representative.
The bank had sent a yellow letter, announcing the recipient that foreclosure would ensue unless he pays the late installment, but the heartless, villainous banker states that this is not that serious…

When the red papers would come, then it is a matter of thirty days.

Joe Harding is friends with Albert Garner aka Alan Arkin and Willie Davis aka Morgan Freeman and they have problems with money, even if they are roommates and have maybe a less unfortunate financial situation than their friend, who has his daughter and granddaughter living with him.
The Three Amigos decide to plan to rob a bank, although Albert is against this move, for he is not a thief, to which the other two argue that they are in the same situation.

Their first move is to get some training at a local store, where Willie and the mastermind Joe would steal various food items, while Albert would wait in the car, in the parking lot, as his comrades take out large pieces of meat, tin cans, even flour, up to the point where the security guard sees them and gives chase to the parking lot, where Albert is missing.
The latter has also entered the shop, where Annie Santori works – she is the mother of one of the students of the man who gives music lessons, but only as long as he can bear the lack of talent of the pupil and in the case of Annie’s offspring it becomes impossible, for he has “no musical bone in his body”

However, Annie Santori is so attracted by the over eighty years old man that she has to get it – while the audience is amused? – and eventually Albert would become her very gifted partner – he makes love in the morning twice…did he say in front of the FBI agent that it was three times?

The scene wherein Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are chased out of the parking lot of the store, where Joe had to steal an electric wheel chair because they had no getaway car is supposed to be amusing, perhaps even more than that, but it only feels awkward, sometimes even annoying and preposterous.
Willie and his partner in crime throw things at the woman security guard, like in the fairy tales, when objects become mountains if thrown by the protagonists of children’s stories, only here it is flour that creates something like a fog in front of the poor agent chasing veterans on the street.

If this were Going in Style, well one would rather choose dullness, unstylishness or gracelessness…whatever the best antonym would be.

marți, 28 august 2018

The Heartbreak Kid, screenplay by Neil Simon, based on story by Bruce Jay Friedman - Eight out of 10

The Heartbreak Kid, screenplay by Neil Simon, based on story by Bruce Jay Friedman
Eight out of 10

Alas, the genius who wrote the amusing screenplay for this comedy has just died, the other day –
May he rest in peace!

The Heartbreak Kid has been adapted for the big screen more recently, a version that is not as good as the one looked at here, opened in 1972, with Ben Stiller in the title role and reviewed here:

The Neil Simon version has been nominated for two academy Awards, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, the latter was nominated for a Golden Globe
Neil Simon was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and Charles Grodin for Best Actor in a Motion Picture.

Charles Grodin is marvelous in the role of Lenny Cantrow, who marries Lila Kolodny aka Jeannie Berlin nominated for the Oscar and the Golden Globe for her performance.
The newlyweds travel to Miami on their honeymoon, where the hero may experience what Marcel Proust has described in his monumental:

In Search of Lost Time also known as Remembrance of Things Past and in the original A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

The genius Proust says that once we get something that we desired, we tend to stop desiring it, or in the case of a woman we long for, when she accepts our advances and is seduced, we stop desiring her.
In psychology, this phenomenon is called

Hedonic Adaptation

In connection with what happens to the protagonist of the motion picture, there is another circumstance, albeit it tends to happen after two years in a relationship, mostly in marriage:

The Honeymoon Effect that can be placed next to The Coolidge Effect

After two years, partners might get interested in experimenting, having sex with others who have the advantage of being…new, unexplored temptations…
Of course, this is something that has effect only on some people, perhaps the more vulnerable, weak, without strong feelings and probably out of love – it has been established that philandering is not the cause of the breaking of a relationship; it is actually the effect of the couple drifting apart and the symptom of a love that has ended.

However, in the case of The Heartbreak Kid, it takes only three days to realize that he does not love Lila, but is instead infatuated, thunderstruck by Kelly Corcoran aka Cybill Shepherd.
The latter comes breezily on the beach, where Lenny rests and tells him that he is sitting on her spot and later, when Lila is foolish enough to stay in the sun for too long and hence has burns on her body and needs to stay in bed, Kelly meets Lenny at the bar, where he is on her stool…obviously.

She takes him swimming and he confesses that he is a newlywed on his money moon – which in the more recent version does not happen and is used as a pretext for some comical – maybe – complications.
The hero is jubilant, exhilarated, delighted, and exultant and tells this intriguing, provocative, brave, challenging, strange woman that she fascinates him and he would need to inform his wife that it is over.

Cybill is in Miami with her serious, rather pugnacious, protective, suspicious father, Mr. Corcoran aka Eddie Albert – nominated for the Oscar for this role – and her mother, who is more amenable, friendly and supportive.
When The Heartbreak kid mentions his marital situation, his intention to settle in Minnesota and - hilariously – that he is the most serious young man that the parent had ever seen – considering he had just mentioned he had been married for only three days – Mr. Corcoran has very clear, hostile, determined, belligerent stance and underlines that he never wants to see this loathsome creature ever again!

The scene at the restaurant, where the protagonist takes his wife to inform her that he wants to be free is both mirthful and somewhat awkward, as you can imagine, the man tries to induce the importance of having bad experiences with the good, sounding like Harvard Professor Tal-Ben Sharar with his motto Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn…

The New York Times has included this very good comedy on its list of Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made:

luni, 27 august 2018

Ghost, written by Bruce Joel Rubin - Seven out of 10

Ghost, written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Seven out of 10

If you reject upfront works about or with ghosts, you cannot say that the title of this motion picture has not warned you, but it needs to be underlined that this is not the usual fare, with horrible visitors from the netherworld, with serious, overflowing torrents of blood and slime.

On the contrary, although listed as drama, fantasy and romance, Ghost feels more like a light comedy, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture – although this is more of an indication of how modest Oscar films can be – and winner two Academy Awards, for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, the Golden Globe and BAFTA for the same Whoopi Goldberg.
Patrick Swayze is Sam Wheat aka the Ghost, while Demi Moore plays Molly Jensen, a sculptor who is in love with Sam, although the latter avoids to declare his feelings – up to a point Lord Cooper – except in stating something like likewise, which annoys, even angers the woman.

The couple finds an interesting, if desolate apartment, which they arrange with the help of their friend – we do not know otherwise for the first part of the feature – Carl Bruner, who works in the same company with Sam, who is in charge with some very large, important financial transactions.
Carl and his friend have a very outré, if not abusive, sense of humor, which may have been tolerated in 1990, when the film was made, but it might start some legal actions, if tried today, given that the two men speak in the company elevator about terrible diseases, which are very contagious, one transmits them by touch…

Then Carl touches the people around, who are evidently aghast and panicked at the thought that they may now have the illness that was described as implying rushes in the genital areas, very annoying, disgusting…
It might have announced the fact that Carl Bruner is a strange, rather peculiar figure, inclined to enjoy brutalizing others, if at this stage only figuratively, in a manner of a dark, offensive joke.

One night, Sam informs his friend that he is going to see a concert with his partner – which may prove to be crucial in the scheme of things – and when they walk back home, a thug that wants his wallet confronts them.

The hero fights back, even getting the upper hand in the struggle, but the assailant has a gun, which he uses to shoot Sam Wheat, who after an agony of a few minutes and in spite of the desperate efforts of his lover dies on the pavement, in the street.
At the hospital, we see the hero and a man who comes to talk to him about death, how those who have been shot tend to die in most cases, the difference between the good apparitions that take some and the ghastly figures that are waiting for the bad characters that expire.

He mentions the trouble of getting through doors and then disappears suddenly, inexplicably for a human being, but then he is a ghost, like the protagonist, who is scared when some medical staff approach fast with a stretcher that walks right…through him.
This is already one rather annoying aspect, not so much the idea of the Ghost, its behavior and mannerisms – for once you decide to watch this; you need to go along with the premise, otherwise what is the point. – but the way they are proposed.

When the stretcher, other things and people move through the Ghost, the movie makers have decided to present some bizarre images which look like arteries, the inside of a human body in trouble, perhaps even suffering from a seizure, with the contention that the spectre suffers at the collision…
Nevertheless, this soon becomes a crime story, for while lingering near the woman he loved, the Phantom is flabbergasted to see the man who had killed him enter the apartment, looking for something, just as Molly returns and not noticing the intruder, walks into her bedroom and starts to undress, in plain view of the killer who is smiling with desire on his ugly face.

The Spectre had discovered that the cat has an uneasy feeling around it; she feels the presence of the spirit and takes advantage, scaring the pet that flies in the face of the criminal and scratches him, making the thug leave, with the hero in the hot pursuit, through the subway and the streets.
Once he has the address, he meets with the crucial character – Oda Mae Brown aka Whoopi Goldberg, winner of multiple awards for this role – who turns this drama around, making it a comedy in which she argues a lot with the Ghost, scares the clients who use her services as a clairvoyant, has all sorts of phantoms searching for her, once her connection with Sam is established and presumably advertised in the other world and eventually has to make a huge donation, against her wishes, but advised by the protagonists.

Oda Mae walks to the apartment where Molly lives, transmits the messages that her late lover has for her, making them verisimilitudinous by mention things only he knows, like the photo taken when they were alone, the letters on green underwear, a sweater she had knitted and some more intimate aspects only the couple knew about.
However, when the police are informed of the name of the killer and the manner in which a fortuneteller came to tell the story, they dismiss all the story and present dossiers that show the criminal record of Oda Mae, how she had falsified documents, cheated and committed crimes.

The film is interesting, funny at times; romantic at others, but ultimately it is not one of the best you can see.

duminică, 26 august 2018

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh - 10 out of 10

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
10 out of 10

You must read this masterpiece, for it is hilarious, exhilarating and superb…included on The Guardian 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read, in the Comedy section:

Dennis Barlow is the hero of this fantastic story that takes place in California, with American and British protagonists, and he is a poet that arrived in Hollywood to work for a version of the life of Shelley, adapted for the big screen, but when he no longer works for the studios, ends up at the Happier hunting Grounds, a pet cemetery.
The hero shares a home with Sir Francis Hinsley, who works for Megalopolitan – the name hints at the megalomania that Evelyn Waugh has spotted while visiting MGM – Studios, up to the point where they no longer require his services and they sack him in such a humiliating way that the man hangs himself.

Sir Ambrose Abercrombie is very unhappy with the job that the protagonist has, considering that the British have to keep the flag high and can only afford to work in menial, demeaning for him professions while in Britain, but not in California, where they all have to present a common front.
While he visits Whispering Glades, a funeral home that is paradoxically the epitome of humor, the absurd and pomposity, Barlow meets cosmetician Aimee Thanatogenos (from Thanatos which in Greek mythology was the personification of Death), a woman who bizarrely enjoys her work and is in awe, like all other women working at this outré, pretentious institution, with the other figure of amusing, intriguing, ludicrous manifestations, senior mortician Mr. Joyboy – what a terrific name!

The narrative is provocative, it was written after the genius Evelyn Waugh went to Hollywood to discuss the adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, was fascinated by the visit to a cemetery, the contrast between American and European manners and values and he has created a chef d’oeuvre that places Aimee and Dennis in contrast.
Reference is made to Henry James, whose novels are surmised with “American innocence and European experience” and in some ways it appears to be the description of the relationship between the hero and the woman he may love – at least attracted to – and between the British and the /Americans in general.
The protagonist tries to seduce the young woman, tells her she is a poet, but not that without the means to survive he works at the smaller, not only much less glamorous, but undignified Happier Hunting Grounds – this would later prove to have been a wise choice, because the woman considers the pet cemetery despicable.

While Aimee is impressed with her young suitor, she is also uneasy, intrigued, upset with some aspects of his character that are un-American, challenging, he is cynical about things which she thinks deserve respect, like religion, for although she is not a member of any denomination – her father has lost all his money to a church while her mother was an alcoholic – she thinks religion must be treated with deference.
The young woman addresses the Guru Brahmin – there are actually two men who respond questions, one for those who want an answer in the press, publicly and the other responds to those who want private suggestions and alas drinks too much and would lose his job as a result.

Miss Thanatogenos does not know how to choose between the young, ironical man and Mr. Joyboy, a master in his job, adored by the women at the Whispering Glades, a mortician who has the hand of an artist – this is humorous actually – and holds the position of a saint or at least royalty in his department and who sends Loved Ones always with a smile for Aimee to work on.
One day, she is informed by the skilled mortician that the owner and manager of the funeral home that she is soon to be promoted and become the first woman mortician in the establishment, therefore they need to celebrate and she is invited to his home, to meet his mom.

That is both another hilarious, but also embarrassing, peculiar, curious passage, where the obnoxious mother awaits listening the political commentaries on the radio, tells her son and the guest to sit quietly, all the time looking mean and talking with hostility, when not outright hatred, complaining, moaning and only addressing her old, featherless parrot with some tenderness.
Miss Thanatogenos is almost mortified by this encounter, a visit that is so miserable as to completely antagonize the poor young woman, seeing as the premises where almost destitute, the manner and appearance of the presentable mortician are awful when he is at home.

On the other front, there is some progress when Aimee and Dennis become engaged, they make promises while in a special place in the Whispering Glades, where couples exchange kisses and vows, near a poem written on a sign which makes the hero happy that he did not use it in his correspondence with the American girl who has just made him happy.

Alas, events develop in an unfavorable way for the protagonist, after the death of the parrot Mr. Joyboy visits the Happier Hunting Grounds to arrange for a special ceremony, wants Aimee to participate at the funeral, seeing as his precious, pampered and always furious mother has no other acquaintances and this is when the girl makes a tragic, terrible discovery.
Her fiancée has lied to her and not just in not revealing that he works at the despicable –from the point of view of the privileged employees of the Whispering Glades, copied by the lower class funeral home- this a question and a laughing matter here, for why would the cemeteries for animals be so much less honorable than the other ones?

When she confronts the man with the knowledge that he presented verse as his own, when in fact written by others, in some cases centuries before, Dennis Barlow is amused and mirthful, for he says he should be aggravated, for in Europe verse quoting is a custom and he did not think that her knowledge of Classics was so limited…words to that effect.
The Loved One is exalting, glorious and hilarious.

What Keeps You Alive, written and directed by Colin Minihan - Seven out of 10

What Keeps You Alive, written and directed by Colin Minihan
Seven out of 10

Up to a point, this is an interesting, different, perhaps modern, somewhat unusual thriller that the critics have so far appreciated, if not exuberantly.

First, the main characters are women, which is a welcome change and a premise that has been called for in a world where heroes have mostly been male- that is wrong, it was not mostly, overwhelmingly or even totally and this is still the case.
However, important as the female figures are for the plot – indeed, even one of the two other personages of this motion picture that appear on the screen is also a woman – they are not the epitome of the role model…one might venture to say that not even the victim would embody all that is positive, desirable and humane, if we don’t condone vengeance as sanctionable.

Hannah Emily Anderson portrays Jackie and Brittany Allen is Jules.
Jackie and Jules travel to the forest, near a beautiful lake where the former used to come with her father, to celebrate their one-year anniversary.

It is already a proposition that, although present in other films, is not often encountered and rather original for two married women to constitute the couple on which almost all the plot rests.
They seem to love each other.

Jackie tells a few stories connected with the impressive house in the woods, the hunting parties and especially one gruesome tale.
She took out a shotgun one day, when she was much younger – a teenager if this is a good piece of information – and she came nearly face to face with a bear.

There was no alternative but to shoot the animal that would have become very dangerous, could have potentially killed the young girl, although with hindsight, one would definitely wonder if this version of events is true.
Knowing what happens next, this fierce passage could well represent one of the moments when this figure has just done something loathsome, enjoyed it and contributed to her evolution – in fact involution might be the right word – into a malicious, destructive character.

Jackie says that she had to shoot the bear, then she saw with horror that the poor creature was  not dead, she was souring terribly, making heartbreaking noises and breathing with great difficulty, obviously in need to have someone end this ordeal, but when the girl tried her gun jammed and she had to watch for twenty minutes this awful scene which would stay forever in her mind- at least this is what she said, only again, given what she would state and do later, it is more than doubtful.
She then adds something about her father who said that “one must kill only what keeps one alive” or words to that effect, which seem to be found in the title, with the message that you must not kill animals, never mind humans, without a cause, meaning most likely only in self-defense for humans and to eat for animals – they have eaten all the parts of that bear, if we are to believe a liar and killer.

The two spouse kiss, caress, embrace undress each other and take their fondling and erotic games to the couch or bed, when a car drives near the house in the woods, they stop and answer the door.
A woman is out there and she is surprised to see Jackie after such a long time, explains that there have been some break ins, she saw the lights at the place which is deserted generally and thought about checking to see what happens.

She calls Jackie with a different name, Megan, and seems to know the woman very well, mentions the past, she looks puzzled that the other person does not seem to know anything about her and then learns she is the wife of her former friend.
The next day, when Jules wakes, she gets a message on the phone – modern day notes take that form – which explains that her wife went to town to get some provisions and she would be back later, causing Jules to take the boat, raw heavily to the other shore to visit Sarah and her husband Daniel.

After the surprise of hearing that her spouse is known under another name, her former friend brings about another explosive piece of information, regarding one who used to be Jackie’s best friend and who has died –we would learn – while the two girls entered a swimming competition across the large lake.
Suddenly, Jackie pushes her wife from a rock, evidently trying to kill her, although this does not happen and it results in a series of chases, fights, confrontations and schemes that are meant to dispose of the spouse and then her body, in what becomes a gripping crime story.

If it appears less than verisimilitudinous in the first instance, when we look at the height, the way the body dropped and then the revelation that Jules is not only alive, unlikely as that is, but she is able to move around, then plot an escape, raw across the lake and confront the agile, well prepared and violent Jackie, later the plot atones for this by presenting very credible if seldom used developments.
If almost always the good wins and the negative character is often killed, beaten to pulp, taken down with the message that it pays to be ethical, positive, moral, in this feature the psychopath might have the upper hand for a good while.

If not exceptional, likely to stay in history with the Bear Rape Movie say, What Keeps You Alive might keep you interested .

sâmbătă, 25 august 2018

Hereditary, written and directed by Ari Aster - Six out of 10

Hereditary, written and directed by Ari Aster
Six out of 10

To quote Little Britain:
Computer says no!

More than three hundred critics have loved this motion picture, if you look at the average rating they gave it:

87 out of 100!

Nevertheless, the under signed did not like it.
Granted, there are those who love horror features and the others who either loath them or just avoid seeing the genre.

Toni Collette – a very good actress in general – is Annie, wife of Gabriel Byrne – another major player.
They have two children, Peter and Charlie.

Counterintuitively, Charlie is a girl.
For reasons that may be connected with the recipe of a horror movie, the actress portraying Charlie seems to have some make up that renders her creepy, unlikeable to the point where, when she is gone from the film, one may be if not relieved, then not that sorry.

Like in most horror films – at least as far as this viewer can tell – there are dreams in which people seem to die…terribly.
There are also spirits…maybe.

Annie suffers a loss and she joins a group, where she can talk about her grievance, the pain and suffering.
This is where she meets another important personage in the plot, a woman who had lost her son.

This person is called Joan and when she meets Annie, after the official group session, they begin to talk about their issues.
Another time, they cross paths at the local supermarket.

Joan begins to talk about communicating with the other world.
She has met someone and even if she is a believer in science, knows that so much about these sessions is bogus she was convinced.

Joan explains what happened, how they went to talk with the spirits – or is it the ghosts? – and it worked.
Therefore, she takes Annie for such a meeting with the dead, or undead, whatever they call them.

They invoke the spirit.
Since the glass on the table moves, it means they are communicating.

Or don’t they?
However, Joan asks questions that are responded with yes or no, the glass moving to the left means no, or the other way round.

One day, Peter wants to go to a party and his mother requests him to take his sister along, if he wants permission.
At this shindig, he takes some drugs – marijuana probably – while Charlie is eating chocolate cake, behaves in an outré manner and is generally unpleasant to watch, up to the next few scenes.

As the girl feels very bad, suffocating and chocking, Peter drives home in the dark, encounters a dead animal on the road, tries to avoid it and comes close to a pole near the road.
Charlie has her head out, trying to get air and she loses it…literally!

It reminds one – at least this viewer – of The Counselor, a rather good, if ignored film with Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt.
The head lies on the ground in the most gruesome moment of the film, indeed one of the most abhorrent scenes one has the chance to see.

In other words, the motion picture does offer strong sensations, emotions that are not available in your average features.
Is this enough to make it worthwhile.

To quote Little Britain:
Computer says no!

vineri, 24 august 2018

Un Homme Qui Crie aka A Screaming Man, written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun Seven out of 10

Un Homme Qui Crie aka A Screaming Man, written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Seven out of 10

This is a remarkable, if not overwhelming film.

Your chance to see a Chadian film is here!
Furthermore, it is not just a banal, modest fare from a land that would probably not give another chance to enjoy one of its productions too soon, but it is a motion picture that has one of the most prestigious awards in the cinema industry, at the Cannes Film Festival:

The Jury Prize

The narrative of A Screaming Man is compelling heartbreaking.
It is emphasized that people in the West, or North, depending on how you want to put it, are not very concerned with what happens in less developed lands.

When there is a terrorist attack in Paris, Berlin or Barcelona, even if there are few victims, it reaches the headlines; CNN and other major networks cover this.
On the other hand, it multitudes, hundreds or even thousands die in Afghanistan, CAR – the Central African Republic – these calamities do not make the news.

This is changing though.
We learn about casualties in Iraq – however, that is the order of the day in some violent territories, it is no longer “news” if murders take place daily, in big numbers, like in Honduras.

Adam Ousmane is a former swimming champion that now works in a rather posh hotel in N’Djamena, capital of Chad.

Unfortunately, the under signed feels that the actor plays the leading role does not have the charisma, the magnetism or something else needed to create a character we sympathize with.
The hotel is taken over by the Chinese, who are investing heavily in Africa, without questioning the human rights situation, not caring if there are abuses.

That makes sense, from the perspective of a communist system, which is actually based on:

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others”

We know that here, because we have “thoroughly enjoyed” what the soviets have brought over.
The Chinese owners of the N’Djamena hotel ask how many people are needed at the pool that is in the care of Adam Ousmane and his son, Abdel.

They then decide to send him at the gate and let the son care for the pool, firing others.
A cuisinier is so affected that he ends up in the hospital, where he talks about the love he gave with his work.

That is impressive.
The civil war ravaging the country is constantly mentioned at the radio that the hero listens to.

The son, Abdel Ousmane has to go to fight.
His girlfriend comes to the father and she is pregnant, carrying his grandson or granddaughter.
When the news from the frontline arrives, they are so bad that the protagonist decides to take his motorcycle in what looks like the desert to find his son.

He is stopped harassed and for a while, it looks like he may be killed by the regular army, although it could have been the other side as well.
Let us stop here and just conclude that, although the film has its evident merits, the performance of the leading man is not very convincing, at least seen from here.

joi, 23 august 2018

Fracture by Daniel Pyne 6 out of 10

Fracture by Daniel Pyne
6 out of 10

It seems like a case of Much Ado About Nothing.
The critics have appreciated this motion picture, giving it an average of 68 out of 100, while the public placed it at 7.2 out of 10, even if some may just find it exaggerated, overblown and artificial…the under signed did.

Without a spoiler alert – which may be nonsensical, given the likelihood that you read this and then feel annoyed that you just about to look for this obscure crime story and then the key to the plot stopped…which actually might be better – one must state that the twist at the end seems so preposterous.
One thing is good for this movie – the fact that it gets going rather quickly, much happens in the first ten minutes, indeed, this is also the problem because what follows seems to be just a long wait for the good character to finally, eventually get a shot at the negative personage.

Anthony Hopkins was magisterial in a number of motion pictures – Silence of the Lambs is cinema history, The Remains of the Day, Surviving Picasso – but in Fracture, he could remind someone of a joke made by Bill Maher, who says that he cannot be scared in a movie by a man who has trouble climbing the stairs, or something similar.
The once great actor has the role of the villain, Ted Crawford, a man that is not just jealous and angered by the fact that his wife is having an affair with another man, but he is so vile, abhorrent and destructive that he comes home in one of the first scenes of this feature, makes it clear that he knows about her infidelity and then shoots her in cold blood.

The killer is a rich man, drives home in what looks like a McLaren car, which would cost upwards of one million dollars and lives in a splendid, luxurious mansion, with a large garden, where people work when they hear the shots and call the police in what first looks like a kidnapping.
The lieutenant that arrives at the scene, Rob Nunally, comes inside the manor house is the lover of the victim, he talks to Ted Crawford, who is holding a gun in his hand, asks about the shootings and the man tells him that he has lost his control and has shot his wife, who is lying nearby.
The detective sees then that the unconscious victim is the woman he was having an affair with, desperately tries to hold her while the calm, cynical husband tells him to lift the skirt, for he understands the artery that would give the pulse is there and the officer jumps on him.

There is a fight, the angered lover is near a breakdown after seeing Jennifer Crawford senseless, presumed dead, while her attacker is without emotion, cold, ruthless, monstrously enjoying this terrible, detestable scene, which ends when the other policemen on the scene enter and hold Rob Nunally.
Enter the scene the character played by Ryan Gosling, Willy Beachum, who is on the way out of the prosecutor’s office, where he had enjoyed a success rate of 97%, to enjoy a career and much more money in the private sector, as part of a prestigious law firm that would work as a trampoline.

People are convinced that the Crawford case is an open and shut one, given that there have been witnesses and most importantly, the man has confessed to the murder and even signed a written document, but in court it gets somehow more bizarre, for the accused pleads not guilty.
Although Wilily Beachum is supposed to be the hero, the personage we cheer for and eventually identify with, there are flaws in the interpretation, and it feels that Gosling is overplaying his hand, pushing too much and in the end creating a figure that is not likeable.

Granted, the plot is meant to present a complex protagonist, somewhat arrogant, sure of himself, superior and too much of a winner – as his adversary points out when signaling his weak point – only to get him humiliated, render him so humane that it feels rather unbelievable and artificial.
The haughty boy, ruthless prosecutor ready to become a highly paid lawyer, clear headed but apparently emotionless hunter becomes the emotional, sensitive, oh so delicate human being that he spends long hours and even nights at the bedside of Jennifer Crawford, who has no idea that he is there, given her unconscious state.

It soon becomes clear that Ted Crawford is a manipulator, the audience is supposed to be in awe at the clever way he had planned the whole thing, only from here it looks like the man could not know that the man who would enter his mansion would be Lt. Nunally and his reaction would be to jump on him…it might have been somebody else and the aggrieved, devastated lover could have killed him or do so many other things without offering the key to the plot.
In a few days, the trial of the accused has to end, for the prosecution has found no murder weapon – this would turn out to be the climax, but for the under signed it is the aforementioned Much Ado About Nothing – and the witnesses have heard shots from outside, but they are not able to say who fired and what happened in the manor house.

What about the confession?
Well, it was something the suspect signed under duress, for the coup de theatre in the first stage of the accusation against defense saga is that the lieutenant in charge of the apprehension and further investigation of the accused was the lover of the victim and hence the whole processes flawed and rendered tainted.

There is more in store, but enough to make this film memorable.

Ocean’s Eight, written and directed by Gary Ross Five out of 10

Ocean’s Eight, written and directed by Gary Ross
Five out of 10

“Forget about it”

However, if you are still interested in this lame comedy, let us consider some positive aspects.

The cast is phenomenal, although the performances are not from a dream come true-

Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock – not a great fan, Anne Hathaway – not one of the best loved stars, Helena Bonham Carter – a bizarre, outré performance, one might say as usual, but not as effective as in say Fight Club – Eliott Gould- once a fantastic artist, today reduced to often irrelevant roles, although his presence in the original Oceans added to the success of the franchise.
Dakota Fanning, Rihanna, Richard Armitage add some spice, but the result is alas less than overwhelming.

Another major plus is the fact that women have the leading roles and the whole story is about female personalities, as opposed to the usual fare, that has men controlling the scene, being in charge.

It may be a case of déjà vu; after all, there was the initial, 1960, Sinatra vehicle that was unsuccessful and then a series of elaborate, amusing, entertaining Ocean Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen.

Even if the presence of remarkable actresses is a fabulous incentive, without a plot that would bring in some new attractions – not a formidable necklace from Cartier – there is the sense that we have been here before.
Nevertheless, critics have rated this action movie with an average 61 out of 100, which means that if they did not love it, they considered it acceptable and therefore the under signed is probably wrong in quoting Donnie Brasco:

“Forget about it”

miercuri, 22 august 2018

This Boy’s Life, written by Robert Getchell, based on the book by Tobias Wolff - Eight out of 10

This Boy’s Life, written by Robert Getchell, based on the book by Tobias Wolff
Eight out of 10

Although a very impressive drama, seemingly based on a true story, this motion picture seems to have been ignored by critics and audiences alike, in spite of the presence of some of the best actors of their age –

Robert de Niro as Dwight, Leonardo DiCaprio outstanding even at a tender age as Toby and Ellen Barkin, remarkable as Caroline, Toby’s mother and the wife of the abusive Dwight.

If Dwight seems to be a nice man when he first meets Caroline, as he tries to court, impress and seduce the woman, after they get to know each other better, the real, very violent side of the chauvinist, retrograde, selfish, brutal, simple, thuggish, uneducated, jealous and envious character.
He is the stepson of Tobias and acts with vicious aggresivity, physical and psychological against the son who would try as hard as he can to escape the abuse, beatings and torment that the villainous parent inflicts on him.

One day, Tobias has a fight with a boy from the neighborhood, Arthur Gayle, who is different and therefore the other children insult and prompt Toby to do the same, which means that the two adversaries come to blows, they get into the mud and the stepson comes home with a bruise.
Dwight mocks, humiliates his stepson, then teaches him how to be mean, hostile and keeps telling stories from his life, how he attacked one or another colleague, how he “knows a thing or two about a thing or two” demonstrating constantly his limited vocabulary, evil thinking and malicious character.

After the conflict, Tobias becomes good friends with Arthur Gayle, indeed best companions, although the retrograde, homophobe, perverted Dwight said that Arthur plays for the “pink team”, while this troubled individual would not have sex with Caroline while facing her…he makes it clear with belligerence that he does not like to look at her when they are intimate (!) and he is sadistic furthermore.
Both Toby and Arthur want to leave Concrete, although in the first place it is the latter that insists that they need to leave this small, backward looking town, or else they would have lives of misery…the former says that the latter would keep dressing in his mother’s clothes.

The hero works early in the morning, distributing the newspapers, but his thuggish stepfather takes his money away – when the boy says he would like to have a dog, Dwight gets one, but it is an English bulldog that the son does not want and which the malefic mechanic has paid with Toby’s money.
One night, the boy drives his stepfather’s car, taking the dog along, and he slips with the car, ending with the rear wheels in a ditch from where he cannot take it out – luckily a truck takes him on board, but the following day, when the brute finds out, he beats the young man with ferocity.

He is no gentleman in his dealing with his wife, on the contrary, even if this being the fifties, the emancipation of women was still far from complete – well, it is not yet accomplished in 2018 – and Caroline is patient, endures the repellent sex, increasingly obnoxious and horrible spouse, but her endurance is tested repeatedly.
When she announces that she favors JFK, she wants to work for his campaign, her husband, who is the epitome of negativity, pessimism and vileness says that she cannot do that, because people who favor the republicans would not come to his garage if that happens – in the present, those who love Trump no matter what he does, would agree and then the under signed would not talk to someone who supports such a lunatic.

This Boy’s Life is dramatic, depressing and rather tragic at times, given that there seems to be no way out of Concrete in general and out of the clutches of the monstrous stepfather, who cannot stand his family and is annoyed, aggravated by anything they do…actually, rectify that – even when they do nothing.
One night, Caroline and her daughter – by the way, the fate of this girl is unclear to this viewer, all the way to the end, if you learn what happens to her, maybe you let this puzzled onlooker know – are just talking while the great music lover – imagine that! – is trying to listen to a record and makes a tremendous scene over not being to enjoy his sophisticated hobbies...

Tobias is very near the edge, facing a possible breakdown and he presents to his comrades the perspectives they all have – even if they keep talking about what they will do, the Cadillac they would enjoy, given their background, their lousy grades and the opportunities available – better said nonexistent – in the town of Concrete, they will all have a very bleak future.

They challenge him and he admits that the point is that this is what would happen to him too, only he decides to try to make a better future, learns and gets good results at tests for prep school, he even gets the help of Arthur to falsify some documents required in order to get admission.
Rejected by all schools, the hero is almost resigned, up to the point where he does get a last chance, somebody will come to Concrete for an interview which is in serious danger, when Toby’s comrades come to the restaurant where the fate of the protagonist is decided and they use the foul language, the obscene attitude that looks set to undermine the prospects of the young man.

If the first part of This Boy’s Life is sad, tormented, marked by a series of traumas, maybe there is hope for his future…