Wednesday, January 24, 2018

David Copperfield (1969)

England, the nineteenth century. David Copperfield loses his father, and his mother remarries to a cruel man who places young David in a boarding school, and, when David's mother dies, makes him work for a living. He then flees to an aunt's house and many persons cross his path as he grows up to become a renowned novelist.

Although with several great performances (Moody and Richardson are excellent as, respectively, Heep and Micawber), I found this adaptation bland and unengaging. Perhaps the flash-back structure, which ellides the connection between the episodes, is guilty for this; perhaps some people will find it interesting and original.

Rating: 50

Monday, January 22, 2018

O Pagador de Promessas (1962)

Third viewing; previously viewed on January 5, 1987 and January 25, 1987.

U.S. title: The Given Word
More faithful title translation: The Keeper of Promises

A humble peasant has made a vow to Saint Barbara that he would ascend the stairs of the town church carrying a cross on his shoulders, if the saint interceded in favor of his donkey who was ill. The accomplishment of the task he has imposed on himself will prove harder than he anticipated, as the church's priest has some objections regarding the way in which the poor man's pledge was made.

This is a story which tackles a personal conflict which is, at bottom, about the maintenance of the power structure of society. Several instances of this power structure are put in evidence: Hegemonic Religion vs. Popular Religion, Husband vs. Wife, Bosses of the Press vs. Common Journalist, Pimp vs. Prostitute, Landowner vs. Rural Worker, City vs. Country, and perhaps others that I can't think of right now. Admittedly, there is a certain schematism about the whole procedure which seems a little forced. My perception is that the reality of Brazil was always slightly different from the Marxist-oriented analysis which is offered here, and has since departed even farther. Most conspicuous among the departures, the Catholic Church's worst enemy today is not Candomblé (the African-rooted religion which is mostly followed by the descendants of slaves), but Evangelical Christians. In short, I didn't find it as gripping now as I did on my previous viewings, but it still gave me a certain amount of pleasure.

Rating: 67 (down from 88)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Rico Ri à Toa (1957)

A poor taxi driver receives the news that his brother died leaving him a fortune. His bossy wife is thrilled by the prospect of becoming part of "high society". But in reality this is all a plot concocted by a gang of bank robbers with the purpose of incriminating the poor man and thus deviating attention from them.

The poor worker who becomes rich without expecting it and comes to prefer the life of poverty to the new one is surely an allegory of Brazil, a country which shuns every opportunity to become a successful one by first world's standards. It would appear that we are happier as a complete mess where financial straits and out of control violence are permanent features of national life. The fact is, it is not everyone who can bear the responsibility which comes with affluence. It is a little amazing that so many films of the period have sudden riches as a plot point -- in the same year of 1957 there was A Baronesa Transviada, for example. Anyway, the bottom line is that this is a poor cinematic spectacle, with very obvious humor and songs which will not imprint indelible marks in one's memory. A somewhat more generous appraisal than mine may be found in this well-written review.

Rating: 31

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Moby Dick (1956)

Second viewing; first viewed on December 25, 1990

The captain of a whaling ship is obsessed with killing the whale which ate his leg.

One of the marvels of re-watching certain movies is the recollection of one's previous admiration for them and the acknowledgement of how it contrasts with one's present, cooler appraisal. In the case of Moby Dick, there is further marvel as one cannot understand how certain books came to become such icons of culture -- true, one has not read them, but still, does one have to? The word which comes to mind when it comes to Moby Dick and its basic concept is 'juvenile'. This is a word which does not implie absolute negativity. There is much fun to be had with juvenile stuff. But it does pose a limitation to a work's scope and appeal. The best parts of this movie have to do with extra-plot elements, e.g. the depiction of whaling and the life of whalers, both at sea and ashore. And yet, I am sure that what I liked most at my first viewing was precisely what I now scoff at, especially Captain Ahab. I find it interesting to examine John Huston's inner motivation to make this movie in the light of his personality as depicted in the movie White Hunter, Black Heart.

Rating: 69 (down from 84)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

Second viewing; first viewing with original English audio. Colorized copy (not recommended). Previously viewed on May 1, 1996.

A writer of detective novels hears from a police officer about the death of an international crook named Dimitrios, and starts investigating his life for a book. Another man is also looking for Dimitrios and approaches the writer with a proposition.

An interesting film with very enduring themes. Christopher Mulrooney has departed from this world but his well written film notes are still there for everyone to read, and he has written a good one about this movie. He mentions, as related films, The Third Man and Mr. Arkadin. There is also The Usual Suspects, more recently, which he perhaps did not know about, or did not care for. He has noticed that betrayal is an important theme. I, on the other hand, have a slightly different take on this film. In my view, it is about place and mobility. The superficial aspects of the plot involve traveling, but this is not the central point, or perhaps is just a reflexion of the central point, which for me is one's place in the world. As it turns out, most people are quite content with their place, and lead stable lives. A few individuals, however, seem to have been born out of place, and will do anything to achieve the place where they feel they would belong. In the case of this movie, only two characters seem to fit that description: Dimitrios, of course, and Anna Bulic, the beautiful wife of a petty official. The inevitable conclusion one arrives at is that, while there will always be those ambitious individuals, the world would turn into a destructive chaos if the majority of men were like them. In fact, human nature seems to favor conformism, as a rule, and that is not so bad. Jorge Luis Borges, the writer, had a special fondness for this movie, and it is possible to draw a parallel with some of his writings, for instance, Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, and Three Versions of Judas, not to mention his early collection of stories Universal History of Infamy. 

Rating: 66 (up from 59)

Friday, December 15, 2017

24 Horas de Sonho (1941)

A woman constantly tries to kill herself due to her alleged bad luck in life. In one of those occasions, she befriends a cab driver who thinks he will bring her good luck. She wins a radio contest and decides to live "24 dream hours" and then have another go at suicide. She checks in at a posh hotel full of rich refugees from Europe. She takes the identity of one Baroness of the High Towers. A hotel employee passing up as a millionaire tries to seduce her, and she falls in love with him. There is a jewel robber at the hotel, with whom she gets entangled. A relative of the real Baroness comes to visit her and says he will bequeath her a fortune. The radio station tries to locate her and hire her as a permanent attraction.

A sort of screwball comedy from Brazil, with touches of black humor. The style is very simple-minded, but not altogether devoid of charm. The actors are mostly good, which is something I am not used to when it comes to Brazilian films. Mostly watchable as a historical curiosity.

Rating: 33

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Patate (1964)

U.S. title: Friend of the Family

*possible mild spoilers below*

A freelance toy designer and engineer lives with his wife and unruly daughter. He has an old schoolmate whom he resents for his success, and for calling him Potato (it was not clear to me the rationale behind this nickname), and from whom he asks for a loan in order to start his toy factory. He finds out his daughter is having an affair with said schoolmate, who is married.

A mediocre farce which I watched mostly because I learned that it was a huge success when it came out. The center of the film, if there is one, may be the notion of someone whose elation at the possibility of revenge seems to overshadow his moral indignation. But the film's implication does not appear to be moralistic, but rather a relativization of the moral standards at the root of the conflict, and a denunciation of hypocrisy. It is not a badly made film, and there is enough farcical action to keep a viewer entertained, provided his expectations are low.

Rating: 38

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tap (1989)

Ex-convict and child prodigy in tap dancing tries to make an artistic comeback, but must resist the lure of his former partners in crime.

Exceptionally conventional drama which has the dubious glory of introducing the concept of taptronics -- electronically enhanced tap dancing to rock music. Anyway, the main dramatic point is insurance fraud, which I think was specifically chosen for being considered by many to be a lesser offense from a moral perspective. This is a film made by a white (Jewish?) man about blacks in situations which would be, from what I gather from news and fiction, not foreign to blacks in America. It doesn't play the race card explicitly, though -- perhaps because it was made by a white, perhaps Jewish, man. And it has an ending which is supposed to be upbeat, but leaves one wondering.

Rating: 34

Monday, July 03, 2017

La La Land (2016)

A guy and a girl leave their respective hometowns for Los Angeles, where they hope to make it as, respectively, a jazz pianist and a film actress. They meet and fall in love, and then their respective projects force them to part ways.

Mediocre post-modern musical, with a banal plot and passable songs. Its few novel ideas are mostly negative and didn't work for me; for instance, actors that can't sing are a feature instead of a bug. The initial dance sequence on the bridge, on the other hand, is interesting, at least as mise-en-scène. In a story which is partly about jazz, it is odd that not one song has the slightest jazzy trace to it. The film is imbued with the ethos of Capitalism, which is an integral part of the U.S., and, through cultural colonialism, most of the rest of the world as well. It doesn't really question this ethos: it is its ideology. And yet, it lacks the energy that could make it contagious.

Rating: 37

Friday, June 23, 2017

Les soeurs Brontë (1979)

English title: The Bronte Sisters.

Biographical drama on the lives of the titular characters -- Emily who wrote Wuthering Heights, Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre, and Anne who wrote Agnes Grey -- and their brother Branwell. Living in a small English village, they dream of literary stardom.

Quite superficial as a biography, but one must credit this partly to the length having been drastically cut. It's not only that, though. The director's sensibility is crude at times, which goes well with other kinds of movies, but not with this one. The only noteworthy performance to my taste is Greggory's Branwell, but this may have little or nothing to do with a lack of skill by the female players, but rather with their characters' rough composition. The story is in itself potentially interesting, and the film has some moments where its bleak dramaticity is well explored. Most of all it is a curious thing to see the English through a Frenchman's eye.

Rating: 50

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sai da Frente (1952)

Second viewing; first viewed on April 21, 1992.

The owner of a transport truck is hired to move some furniture to another city. During the trip a series of comic incidents occur.

Enjoyable comedy, above the average Brazilian quality level in films. Abílio Pereira de Almeida, the co-author of the script who also directs, was a successful playwright who also left his mark in movies. His comicity is informed by an array of different styles, from social criticism to slapstick, and even a little bit of surrealism. The main actor would become enormously popular in this and in later films which he would go on to write and in some cases direct. His rural persona struck a cord with mass audiences in Brazil, but here it is somewhat in disaccord with the urban setting. All the same, his performance is amusing. For some reason I did not enjoy this film on my first viewing.

Rating: 52 (up from 30)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Hamlet (1969)

Based on the play by William Shakespeare, written between 1599 and 1602 and in turn based on a Danish legend, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum.

The prince of Denmark suspects his uncle killed his (the prince's) father in order to snatch the throne and marry the queen.

Excellent adaptation, in everything the opposite of the also excellent one by Olivier. While Olivier's was replete with symbology and displayed a style of acting not unlike they would on a theater stage, here they opted for naturalism, both in acting and in filming, with great artistic success. Hamlet is arguably the most annoying character ever to have been conceived by a literary mind. I am sorry if this seems callous of me, but that is how I feel about him. And he is also amusing, strange as this may seem. I suspect, based on another film I saw, named Prince of Jutland, that this is entirely Shakespeare's doing, as the original character from the legend, as supposedly depicted in that movie, is the exact opposite of its Shakespearean incarnation. That original Amleth was determined and, if I correctly recall it, successful, everything that Hamlet was not.

Rating: 72

Sunday, June 04, 2017

True Romance (1993)

Second viewing; first viewed on May 14, 1995.

Guy steals from his girl's pimp, and gets into deep trouble because of it.

The ultimate loser falls in love with a whore. That's a classic situation, dating back at least to Dostoevsky. In this instance, the interesting character is rather the guy's father, who is a vehicle for some funny notions about Sicilians and their sense of racial pride. As a part-Sicilian myself, I have to put in my two cents and say that, although I cannot vouch for the impossibility of such behavior and emotions by real-life Sicilians as depicted in this movie (namely, the guy gets very pissed off about the allegation that his female ancestors mixed with Sub-Saharan Africans), I find them silly. The fact that admixture may have occurred centuries ago does not detract from the fact that present-day Sicilians and Sub-Saharan Africans are very distinct races. Anyway, this is a very nerdy movie, or actually a stage play about movies disguising as a movie.

Rating: 50 (unchanged)