Friday, April 20, 2018

The Carpetbaggers (1964)

The son of a wealthy industrialist inherits his father's businesses and works relentlessly to expand them. He has a secret childhood trauma which may be behind his incessant drive. With no concern for friendship, love, or ethics, he becomes one of the most powerful men in America. His understanding wife eventually divorces him. When he enters the film business, he turns his stepmother, with whom he has a love-hate relationship, into the star of his movie.

The hero (or anti-hero) is a fictionalized version of Howard Hughes, but they didn't include OCD among his traits as did the later, more faithful rendering if The Aviator. The (anti)-heroine Marlowe is based on screen legend Harlow. The film is interesting for its genetically themed plot, which manifests in the protagonist's fear of having a son who will display his twin brother's traits; also, he eventually becomes psychologically very alike his own father, whom he hated. This film was a huge box-office success because it embodies with perfection the ideology of the average middle-class filmgoer.

Rating: 38

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Izgnanie (2007)

English title: The Banishment

Inspired by the novel The Laughing Matter, by William Saroyan, first published in 1953

A woman tells his husband that the child she is expecting is not his. He convinces her to make an abortion.

One of the worst films ever made, for sure. I guess very bad films have a purpose, just like all others. They serve to point out in what shape is the ages' sensibility. If people like it, it is evidence that it is in a really bad shape. Anyway, I like jokes, but I prefer good ones to bad ones, and I much prefer they are not on me. I will not give it a zero because of some nice-looking shots, both urban and rural.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Nastroyshchik (2004)

English title: The Tuner

Inspired by the memoirs of Arkady Franzevich Koshko (1867-1928), a Russian police detective.

Close friends Lyuba and Anna are middle-aged and well-off. Lyuba places ads in the paper looking for a husband, but she always meets the wrong kind of men, who take her money and disappear. Anna and Lyuba befriend Andrei, a piano tuner and con man. Andrei and his girlfriend see in widow Anna a potential target of their scams.

Meandering farce in black-and-white, occasionally amusing but overlong and eventually tiresome.

Rating: 42

Pranzo di ferragosto (2008)

English title: Mid-August Lunch

Middle-aged Gianni lives with his very old mother and is deep in debt. He is very fond of white wine and also cooks very well. His best friend goes for the nickname of Viking and is always sitting at the sidewalk in front of the liquor store. Gianni has a visitor with alarming news: it is his condo's administrator, who says Gianni will be evicted if he does not pay some of his debt. But he offers Gianni a deal: he will pay up part of Gianni's debt in exchange for Gianni taking care of his mother (and, as it later turns up, his aunt) during a few days. A short while later, his doctor asks him a similar favor. Gianni accepts, and for a few days has to manage a complicated domestic situation. But is it only for a few days or is it a financially profitable opportunity for Gianni?

It is quite incredible that this simple and relatively short film, which is little more than a sitcom episode of sorts, has met with such an enthusiastic reception. Are we this poor of cinematic offerings these days (this was ten years ago, but what has changed?). Apparently, yes. Anyway, there you have it, what can I say in the way of criticism? Nothing really.

Rating: 33

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Shijie (2004)

English title: The World

The lives of several characters who work at a theme park near Beijing.

Lethargic chronicle of a few characters' lives. While hard to sit through, it has some informational interest for depicting the working class in China. A country which has gone through one major revolution and a few minor ones should not have the exploitative kind of economy one sees here -- in one scene, the overworked victim of a work accident  writes his last words in a piece of paper: it is the money he owes his colleagues and a food sales stand. It is too bad the film is otherwise tedious, and even occasionally cringeworthy, for example in the depiction of the friendship between the protagonist and a Russian émigrée. The ending tops it all in terms of absurdity, but I think very few people will be saddened by its arrival.

Rating: 33

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sharasôju (2003)

English title: Shara

*mild spoilers*
The plot is structured in two segments, occurring a few years apart. The first segment shows the events which led to the disappearance of a child while he was playing with his twin brother. The second segment occurs a few years later, when the remaining child is an adolescent. The plot chronicles the life of that boy's family during a small period of time. His mother is pregnant. They learn that their missing child is dead. There is an upcoming festival, the Basara, for which everyone is preparing. There is another family to which they are close friends consisting of a woman and an adolescent girl who, it is revealed, is not her biological daughter, but rather her niece. The festival, which consists in street dances, takes place. It all culminates with the boy's mother giving birth to another boy.
*end of spoilers*

It is hard for me to point out a single positive aspect of this film. Everything is filmed in an extremely elongated manner, and the little there is of plot is presented without any details, explanations, or follow-up. The acting is nothing remarkable, though this is hardly the actors' fault, since there is very little dramatic material in the movie. Anyway, it seems to have met with an overall positive reception, so I guess it is I who do not have the necessary spiritual maturity to profit from the movie. For what it is worth, the title refers to a tree whose scientific name is Shorea robusta.

Rating: 17

Jil-too-neun na-euh heem (2002)

English title: Jealousy Is My Middle Name
Literally translated title: Jealousy Is My Strength
Gender of the writer-director: female

*spoilers below*
Wonsang, a graduate student, gets a job at a literary magazine whose editor had an affair with his ex-girlfriend. Wonsang starts a relationship with Seongyeon, the magazine's newly hired photographer, who also sleeps with Yunsik, the rude and womanizing editor. At home, Wonsang is coveted by his landlord's daughter, who has family problems -- her father has dementia and her brother shows early signs of it. At work, Wonsang volunteers to do small favors to his boss Yunsik, and the latter starts relying more and more on Wonsang, and getting closer and closer to him on a personal level. Wonsang devotes so much time to Yunsik that this begins to harm his studies and he is unable to deliver his graduation work on time. Also, he is increasingly besieged by his landlord's daughter, who, after having slept with him, pressures him to marry her. His ex-girlfriend tries to reapproach him, but he rebuffs her attempts. He also eventually breaks up with Seongyeon and with his landlord's daughter. Yunsik decides to quit the magazine and start his own, and invites Wonsang to work with him. He also invites Wonsang to live as a guest in his house, where Yunsik's wife and pre-adolescent daughter live as well. In one of the last sequences of the film, Wonsang tries to engage in conversation with Yunsik's daughter, who does not respond; Wonsang eventually leaves the room saying that he hoped they would become good friends.
*end of spoilers*

People who read me must be getting tired of me saying this, but I must say I did not like this movie, although I must admit that it is well-made in regards to scene staging and acting. The overall purpose, to all appearances, is to build up an ominous atmosphere through the most banal of situations. The big problem is that the actions of the protagonist just do not make a whole lot of sense. He must have taken that "Revenge is a dish best served cold" saying in a manner a bit too extreme; also, the wrongdoings he suffered were a bit too mild, to say the least. Also, what does he intend to do? Does it involve his boss's daughter? Everything is very vague. There is even a hint that Yunsik has actually grown into a father, or maybe older-brother, figure to him. Who knows? And, as someone pointed out, who cares?

Rating: 38

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Toutes ces belles promesses (2003)

English title: All the Fine Promises

*spoilers below*
Marianne is a cellist living in Paris. She is in a relationship with Étienne, a violinist who plays for the same orchestra as she does. Étienne dumps her for the orchestra's flautist, leaving her in a wretched emotional state. She decides to take a trip to the seaside, to look up her deceased father's mistress. She starts having vivid recollections, first of her dying mother, then of her childhood years. She retrospectively realizes her mother had a lover, who died in a car accident. Arriving at the seaside town, she  finds Béatrice, his father's love affair of many years, who takes her in as a guest in her house. Béatrice introduces Marianne to a local doctor and the two start dating. Béatrice takes Marianne to pay a visit to her childhood nanny Ghislaine, who still lives in that seaside town. When Marianne was a child, Ghislaine was in love with the lighthouse keeper, but now she is alone. Initially after Marianne and Étienne broke up, she called him incessantly, leaving him messages, since he wouldn't take up her calls. Later on, she stops calling. Around that time, Étienne breaks up with the flautist and starts calling Marianne, who does not take up his calls. On the train ride back to Paris, Marianne inadvertently answers a call from Étienne, who says he will wait for her at the station. Marianne asks a passenger to wear her hat in order to deceive Étienne and avoid him. Étienne is deceived by the ruse, but feels attracted to the woman disguised as Marianne and invites her for a cup of coffee, while Marianne watches everything from afar. While Marianne is walking home some young men who were passing by, seeing her in such a sad disposition, tease her and steal her bonnet, saying that they will only give it back if she smiles, which she does. They ask her to wear the bonnet, which she also does.
*end of spoilers*

Except for the initial sequence of an orchestra playing while members of it flirt, this is a terrible film, one of the worst I have seen lately. There is not much I can say as commentary; I have provided a detailed synopsis above, which may help one get an idea of it.

Rating: 25

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Or (2004)

English title: Or (My Treasure)

*spoilers below*
Or is a woman in her late teens who lives with her mother Ruthie in a small rented apartment. Or's mother is a prostitute who is being kept away from the streets by her daughter. When the film begins, Ruthie has just checked out from a hospital, one does not know exactly on account of what health problem. Or works at a restaurant as a dish washer, and has a budding relationship with Ido, the owner's son. She is fond of casual sex with strangers, in her apartment or in the dark shadows under any staircase. Or finds a job for Ruthie as a cleaning woman, which is a kind of work she has never done and does not fit her temperament in the least. When Ruthie can she goes out at night to work as a street whore. One day she happens into the landlord and tries to settle her rental debt through sex, but, though he accepted that in the past, is no longer willing to do so. Or's promiscuous sexual behavior is well known in her neighborhood and, after she has sex with Ido, his mother Rachel pays a visit to Ruthie and tells her politely that Ido and Or should not continue their relationship. Or comes home when this talk is happening and they tell her about it. Or at first refuses to comply with Rachel's demand. One night, however, when she is supposed to meet Ido, she receives a visit of one of her earlier flings, and, although reluctant at first, agrees to have sex with him. When Ido approaches her at school, she avoids him and tells him that it's not going to work. Or pays a visit to her landlord and offers herself to him, successfully. She brags about it with her school mates. Or applies for a job at a call girl agency, and is set up on the spot with a client. Ruthie resumes her street prostitution activities, even though Or implores her not to do so. One night, Or comes home to find Ruthie covered with blood on her legs and genital area. She helps Ruthie cleanse herself.
*end of spoilers*

This is yet another film of the "women without men" genre. Everything is quite boring, although one cannot properly say it is badly made. Although not explicity stated, both this film and Gaichû, a film belonging to the same genre, hint at a genetic explanation for the protagonist's behavior. Gaichû deals with the subject of depression, whereas Or' s subject matter appears to be sex drive. Ruthie's motivation isn't only money; she seems to actually enjoy the lifestyle of a prostitute. And it is also apparent that Or has inherited her mother's sex drive, and eventually chooses the profession that fits her best, both psychologically and financially.

Rating: 35

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Elephant (2003)

A day in the life of the students at an American high school. That day will prove to be a fateful one as two of the students plan to do a mass shooting.

Most of this film is just below criticism, giving the appearance of being the product of laziness or cowardice (or maybe both). Here and there one finds some interesting bits, owing perhaps to successful improvisation on the part of actors.

Rating: 30

Gaichû (2001)

English title: Harmful Insect

*spoilers below*

Sachiko is a teenage girl who lives a lonely life. His father divorced her mother who goes from one fleeting relationship to the next, with suicide attempts in between. In Sachiko's recent past, when she was thirteen, she had a close friendship with a teacher from her school, who now lives in another town and works at a nuclear power plant. Her colleagues at school make innuendos about that relationship. She befriends a petty crook who lives in a shabby house with an older man with mental problems. Her friend gets into trouble with some hoodlums who beat him badly. After a time away from school, she returns and resumes a friendship with another girl. A boy from school starts courting her. Her school girlfriend gets jealous and tells the boy the gossips about the ex-teacher (this last detail I learned from a review and did not perceive on watching the movie). One day Sachiko returns home and her mother's boyfriend is inside, but her mother is away. He tries to rape Sachiko, but her mother arrives just in time. Sachiko's old outlaw friend dies (apparently). She meets his old housemate and together they set a house (hers?) on fire with molotov cocktails. She calls her  former teacher and sets up a date with him in a restaurant. She hitchhikes to the dating point, which apparently is near where he works. He has some car trouble on the way and tries to call the restaurant but the line is busy. By the time he arrives there, she has just left with a man whom she met at the restaurant. He recruits young girls into  prostitution.

*end of spoilers *

I do not enjoy this sort of movie, and the elliptical style does not make thiings easier. It is not badly made though, and has some urban sights of Japan which I find interesting. About the drama, I can only hazard a guess that the protagonist is genetically predisposed to depression (that harmful insect), same as her mother. There is a connection with Shônen (1969) through her young friend's dangerous way of making a living. I made a synopsis with more detail than my usual, to make up for my lack of insight into the movie's meaning and purpose.

Rating: 40

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

A man fancies himself a very special kind of prophet with some very important ideas. He goes about preaching and performing some wondrous feats. His criticism of some powerful people garners him dangerous enemies.

An ironically titled satire in which the unfortunate protagonist puts himself in the position of "light of the world", whose purpose is to awaken the same luminosity in everyone else. His plans go horribly wrong, however, as the majority of his followers seem to be aroused chiefly by an egotistical interest in cures for their physical ailments (and who can blame them?), failing to see the allegorical aspect of the miracles. The depiction of the religious and political elites is equally biting. The tone of the film is very somber and solemn, which adds to the turnaround ending's gaiety (our resurrected hero still preaches -- he never tires!).

Rating: 57

Friday, April 06, 2018

War and Peace (1956)

Based on the novel by Liev Tolstoy, first published, in evolving versions, from 1865 to 1869.

The lives of several persons from the Russian upper classes  in 19th century Russia, as Napoleon invades it and starts a war. A Russian general saves Russia by allowing Moscow to be destroyed. Here goes a very short summary of the plot. Pierre loves Natasha but she does not know it. He is probably too old and too intellectual to stir her romantic feelings. Natasha falls in love with Andrei, who is an older man too, and thus is reluctant in marrying Natasha. They postpone a decision to after Andrei returns from the battlefield, but in the meantime Natasha falls in love with Anatole, a cheap seducer. Anatole's plans are foiled by Pierre, who prevents Natasha from eloping with him. Andrei dies from a war wound. Pierre proposes to Natasha and she accepts.

Quite entertaining and photogenic succession of dramatic incidents. The film appears, on a superficial view, to have a very broad ranging dramatic and philosophical scope, but in reality it is mostly a treatise on Russia. The plot has a metaphorical structure in which military actions illustrate erotic ones. Pierre's defense of Natasha mirrors Andrei's defense of Russia. Furthermore, Tolstoy's choice of a French given name for his protagonist (and also for his first wife) points out how France's soft invasion was already happening before Napoleon's hard one. There was no resistance from Russia to soft seduction, but it would not tolerate hard rape. And it is only fair that Pierre gets Natasha in the end; he and the Russian general are masters in the deferment of pleasure, as they refrain from acting at a first moment in order to reap results later; Pierre could have declared his love for Natasha when she was very young, but estimated that his chances for success would be minimal; he lets Natasha get involved with (and scarred by) other men, and only after she ends up alone makes his move. In an analogous fashion, the Russian general lets Bonaparte take Moscow, and after the city is destroyed he makes his move, with the assistance of the Russian winter. Italians and Americans, who were war enemies a decade or so earlier, made this movie together as friends in peacetime.

Rating: 59

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

Based on the books Darby O'Gill and the Good People (1st published as a series of stories in 1901 and 1902), and Ashes of Old Wishes and other Darby O'Gill Tales (1st published in 1926), by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh (born Herminie McGibney).

The plot revolves aroung an estate's caretaker who is being forcefully retired, his young daughter, and a man who has been hired as the new caretaker. There are also leprechauns who grant wishes.

This is a worthy film, which addresses important issues in a very entertaining fashion. The dominant theme is that of marrying a person from out of one's town. The underlying unspoken concern is that of inbreeding, which should be avoided. The local bachelors are depicted as either morally deficient or as weak. The ideal suitor comes from a big city, but the film makes clear the commonality of culture between him and the girl. This is the principle of the Nation State, which allows people of various places to mix, but with a very definite territorial delimitation. He is an outsider, but not a foreigner. There is also the question of the "little people", which hint strongly at an allegorical representation of Capitalism, what with pots of gold, and wish granting which is never realized. But this is a benign view of Capitalism, of which deception is a component, but destructiveness is not.

Rating: 63

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (1959)

Based on the novel 'L'affaire Saint-Fiacre' by Georges Simenon, first published in 1932.

An old woman dies of a provoked heart attack in a small town. Maigret, who happens to have been born and raised in that town, returns there to investigate the affair. He interviews the various persons associated with the deceased woman, amongst which are the local priest, the estate manager, the victim's secretary and lover, the victim's son, etc.

The story is absorbing, and the small town atmosphere is well captured. All details are very professionally carried out, except the ones concerning the plot resolution. Here, the rule that says that half-baked explanations are quite enough, given that viewers tend to overlook its flaws, applies. But an explanation that leaves unexplained things is no explanation at all. Anyway, it works, I guess.

Rating: 56

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Short Cuts (1993)

Third viewing; previously viewed on April 20, 1994 and on June 1, 1995.

Several groups of characters in Los Angeles which inhabit different circles but whose trajectories intersect. A newscaster and his wife whose son is hit by a car. A doctor and his wife who have a conjugal crisis of sorts. A group of friends who go fishing. A womanizing cop and his wife. A phone sex worker who is married to a pool cleaner. A make up artist and his wife. A nightclub singer and her cellist daughter. A limo driver and his bartender wife.

It somehow failed to inspire the same amount of awe as it did in my previous viewings. I still like it, but for some reason I suspect in my previous viewings I was under some kind of spell which had little to do with the actual film qualities. The story about the injured kid may have drowned the other, less emotional segments somewhat, then. That didn't happen in this viewing, and what I got was a more balanced perception of the movie in its entirety. Its literariness stood out a little more flagrantly. I think this is more a situation-based film than a character-based one. There isn't an extreme concern about getting the psychology right. These are not necessarily real people. And the situations are more or less what most people expect from a city like Los Angeles. In those terms, it is a very good movie.

Rating: 75 (down from 97)

Monday, February 26, 2018

War Requiem (1989)

Second viewing; first viewed on October 31, 1989.

Based on the oratorio composed by Benjamin Britten, with words from traditional Latin texts and poems by Wilfred Owen; it was first performed on May 30, 1962.

The title says it all. The setting is World War I.

I was not so sure about this film on my first viewing, but I can say I am pretty sure now that I do not like it. I am most puzzled by the lack of affinity between the musical style and the visual style. The former's solemnity invites meditation and pause; the latter's collage frenzy invites only fatigue and nervousness.

Rating: 31 (unchanged)