Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Sergeant Madden (1939)
"Sergeant Madden": remarkable movie on many levels; classic of its time.
"Sergeant Madden" is a remarkable movie on many levels. First, it's an excellent Irish-American melodrama -- and unashamedly so. You don't like melodrama, don't watch this movie. You like strong emotions and interpersonal conflicts, extravagant actions and feelings, people and situations that push it just that little bit too far -- watch it. Second, Berry does what he always does perfectly - - the tough old guy with a heart of gold, with an edge of the maniac in the glint of his eye. The other actors are equally strong, play each part to the melodramatic, Irish-American hilt; family, loyalty, work, love, comradeship, the whole wonderful and emotional lot. Third, the crowing touch is the blend of direction and scenery & settings, the rich tapestry of indoors and outdoors urban backdrop of late 1930s USA. Josef von Sternberg, as usual, saw and found God in the details. (Inspect the living room or the boarding house!) Watch it. Enjoy. They don't make'em like this anymore. Except as a parody. Which this is not. Here's the real thing.
Two Men in Town (2014)
Exquisite film -- a real sleeper
"Two Men in Town" (2014)" is a brilliant blend of acting, directing, cinematography and setting. Why isn't this film better known? It's a real sleeper that ranks up there with series noir classics of the US Southwest -- from "Bad Day At Black Rock" (1955) through "No Country For Old Men" (2007). Yet one can see why this gets a low IMDb rating, probably low US Box Office too. This is not a happy film. This is not sunny, funny New Mexico. Another "Milagro Beanfield War" with a magically satisfying ending. "Two Men in Town" is richer; traditional and innovative at the same time. Acting A+; equally the DP work. This is both Cop Show and Western. Bigger than a single genre. Here be the desert -- of the soul. Here be echoes of Camus' "The Stranger". Here be an austere foreboding world from which man or woman cannot escape. God has left. Check it out. Good luck.
Hyena Road (2015)
"Hyena Road": Canada isn't just for limp maple leaves
One thing that makes "Hyena Road" excellent is that the film continues a cinematic and literary tradition of the Canadian ability to fight back, of intelligent opposition. In popular literature this goes back as far as Robert Service. In film it goes back to the (serious) Royal Mounties movies and to such Hollywood blockbusters as "The Wild North" (1952) and Stewart Grangers' character of Jules Vincent. Because Canada has become such an appendage to the USA in modern times we forget how outstanding the fighting ability of these people and their institutions can be. I do Not write this as a Canadian, mind you. But as an objective, non-Canadian who was very impressed by the combative intelligence and cross-cultural savvy of "Hyena Road". This is a sleeper. This is a keeper.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Why "Mr. Holmes" works so well.
Everything is right about "Mr. Holmes". The pace is slow and thoughtful, as it should be for a story in which the protagonist is a master of extraordinary reflection. It is a story about age, aging, generations, the passing on of traditions and the gathering of life's goodness, the feel of life's stings. Hence bees and wasps -- one makes honey, the other lives to hurt -- are central figures. It is delightfully English in the traditional sense of understated and careful; respect for the hierarchies of class; and communicating in a way where the less said the better, the more known -- well, better not say it. Mystery abounds. About our life as people. The consolation of place, landscape, nature, house and home, family and friends. The sanguinary need for telling tales. This odd species called human beings. And the unique Mr. Sherlock Holmes. For whom "Mr. Holmes" is a wonderfully respectful homage.
The Lobster (2015)
Goes from good to dull -- better luck next time.
This film is like an inverted pyramid that starts off with good, big juicy ideas and gradually becomes progressively more small-minded, self-conscious and lost in belly-button lint picking. Main ideas being: what is a couple? Who decides? When does the solitary self need another self to be complete? Unfortunately the narrative loses speed as it progresses towards a climax that never really happens. It's a story that lack catharsis. It is crippled by literary development (too wordy!). It tells too much and shows too little -- specially after the escape from the sanitarium. Why? Is the wordiness supposed to be meaningful? If so, the meaning does not come across. The culminating vacuum scene in the highway restaurant is what Woody Allen used to call a "take the camera and run" ending -- the film stops but doesn't really arrive at a conclusion. In spite of the movie going from hot to tepid to deadly dull (honestly, it's one of those movies you start looking at the time about 60% through...) -- some of the acting -- specially that of Angeliki Papoulia and Léa Seydoux -- is truly charismatic. But these occasional jewels -- as the use of our contemporary nowhere shopping mall placelessness in key scenes -- exist amid a very uneven and overall an intellectually pretentious effort. The film suffers from a lack of overall coherence. In sum, a good effort -- but better luck next time.
"Vulcano": an atmospheric gem
Why isn't this movie better known? The principal actors and actresses are superbly believable; the intertwining of fact and fiction, place and personality, the era and its mōres are woven together as the finest cloth. It is one of those astonishing black and white films that feels like it is in color -- the dark and varied shades of emotions that run through the characters like fire and water, salt and hot seasoning. Plus it is deeply and deliciously melodramatic -- in the finest sense of this word: people drawn as figures who are good or bad & not without the possibility of rich, grey shading; sharp characterization deepened from two-dimensional cameo to three- dimensional sculpture; dialogue with strong emotional appeal and a plot driven by the determinism of forces larger than mere humanity. One major appeal of "Vulcano" is its Queequeg-like primitivism, the sense of "what must be" in a nature-driven world. It is classically Mediterranean. A wonderful film to learn from, too see and see again. Where can one find its likes now? In our world of special effects and neon-bright, digital-driven images we have lost sight of this natural depth. "Vulcano" sees how far down and into the human experience superb, naturalistic acting, story telling, directing, photography and cinema overall could once go with great grace and truth-telling pleasure.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)
Superb sense of place, acting, & a fascinating maze of a story
How do you have "there-ness" in a movie? Where do you get a "sense of place" and why is it valuable in a film?
Watch the superb "The Man on the Eiffel Tower" (1949; but which appears to have been first released in France in 1948 as "L'homme de la tour Eiffel") and you will learn.
In his Westerns John Ford acquired a powerful cinematic sense of place by his use of Monument Valley. In the 1948 "Naked City" they grasped a rooty feel for city, urbanism, metropolis by filming the gritty, gripping tale of crime and punishment in & around Manhattan of that era.
Here " The Man on the Eiffel Tower" accomplishes cinematic magic with Paris at a fragile yet thoroughly potent moment of its existence -- the horrifically cleared aftermath of World War Two. The city is oddly empty compared to how packed it is today by people, cars, buses, bicycles, noise, ploys and titillated tourists.
But in " The Man on the Eiffel Tower" Paris as a design, as a web of shimmering streets, as a bundle of houses wrapped around a timeless, roiling river, a city of monumental yet fragile and humanized milepost buildings -- has rarely been as powerfully and insightfully shown as in "The Man on the Eiffel Tower".
But I do the actors an injustice. See them. They are equally vital and articulate as the character of Paris.
I have personally never seen that usually very-irritating and raspy, cynical figure of Simenon's Inspector Maigret played as well and as charming as he is done here by Charles Laughton at the height of his wise powers.
Franchot Tone as the you-love-to-hate-him villain is as spooky and brilliant as he was years earlier in his less nuanced roles in "Mutiny on the Bounty" or in "Lives of a Bengal Lancer". He strikes just the right tone. Has a delicious, lean, intelligent self-destructive meanness about him; his character almost godlike in his strength. Something divined from E. A. Poe.
While Burgess Meredith is as charismatic, delicate and strong, attractive and irritating as a human cockroach; you can't take your eyes off the innocent and guilty thing he is -- as, likewise, with Laughton and Tone and many of the other quality portrayals in this film.
Do yourself a favor. You like classic movies? Check out "The Man on the Eiffel Tower". And you'll see why -- as the character Muley says in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" -- "Place where folks live is them folks." Paris.
Ivory Tower (2014)
"Ivory Tower" rates an A+ -- Yet is profoundly lacking
"Ivory Tower" is very good and the best thing that I know of to date on this subject.
But. It is the tip of a Mount Everest of an iceberg. It is by no means exhaustive.
For example, "Ivory Tower" does not consider the alternative models of higher education that work elsewhere. This is an abysmal crack in the middle of this otherwise A+ contemporary piece of documentary investigative journalism.
For starters, why not consider the viable alternative models of higher education -- their traditions & place within their own indigenous cultures -- in Europe? And what the USA can learn from them? Europe is, after all, the taproot of US higher education. For at least a decade now there's been a wave of young Americans who come to Europe for affordable, excellent higher education. Reverse immigration -- is this not tragic? Why the myopia in "Ivory Tower" which suggests this crisis is only a US problem or only has a US solution? On one level this documentary is like the "World Series" in US baseball --which pretty much excludes the rest of the world.
That said, this is otherwise an excellent news piece about a deeply troubled, divided time in US Higher Education. There's almost a percolating Civil War. For "Ivory Tower" is also about the larger crisis in US social mobility. Plus suggests an institutional crisis in teachers' failure to deal with this problem in conjunction with their students -- since they together are the front line soldiers in this struggle.
The film's frustration is satisfying. It honestly exposes a problem that will not go away because of solutions proposed by the US government (local or national) or by the utopianism of digital technology.
The solution is somehow with The People -- as the Cooper Union segment ironically shows. Yet The People are oddly passive. Why? "Ivory Tower" is right. The USA's higher education system is either being deeply restructured to favor an economic elite or America is witnessing the destruction of the older, GI-Bill, democratic model of the dynamic engine of college education & social mobility.
Yet in "Ivory Tower" are the key fissures even identified? This is more of a cry, a frantic waving for help. And you can't tell if the troubled figure is waving or drowning.
What & where are the tools needed to fix US higher education? And "education" meaning what? Do Americans themselves fundamentally believe in intellectual education or practical training? Why is there such a profound lack of agreed-upon national levels for skills and knowledge? Why in effect are so many "nonprofit" universities dysfunctional, profit-making corporations? Why the blood-sucking banks living off of student loans and ex-students' careers ruined, stifled, threatened because of the student loan Sword of Damocles? Does this problem exist because, at heart, the USA is deeply anti-intellectual? Because other values rate higher? Like success or money or privilege and pleasure? What now? Thank you.
La meglio gioventù (2003)
Ten+ Out of Ten+ for Best of Youth. Why?
You need to exhaust a dictionary of adjectives to do justice to the delicacy, the nuanced quality, of this film. It has a breathless way of dealing with the most essential human emotions. Nothing is vulgar or tawdry. There is a sublime sense of place (which could only be Italy -- but not only in this time period). This is a must see film because it sees into the viewer. It exposes and bears witness to our common human experience -- with perfectly light and deep paintbrush strokes that move gracefully unrushed. It is, by far, one of the most generous films I have ever seen because it bares the soul of emotions and thoughts without casting judgement on them. For lack of a better phrase, it is overflowing with love. But not cloying or sticky or possessive "love". Because "Best of Youth" teaches that life lived at its best is not this way. Life is the vitality of love one knows in youth and should keep forever. See it. Thank you.
Blue Ruin (2013)
Adds darkness to film noir
Blue Ruin adds darkness to film noir. Because sometimes in noir -- no matter how hard that good leading figure tries -- the blackness is inescapable. There's the fate of the situation that the leading figure tries to overcome, tries to correct; he or she just wants to do what's right. And they do. I think our very lost hero here even finds his way. Why isn't that enough to free him? He's good enough to escape this awful cobweb of events. But there is no one spider who has spun the web. It's a stark, dark case of the way things are. This is not a "fun" film. It takes its subject very seriously. Blue Ruin grapples with moral issues and leaves the viewer still wrestling. In Blue Ruin's cinematography there are qualities of a first film, a touch of the new and amateur. But this oddly enhances its quality and gives the story the air of a docu-drama. You watch it and think: "surely this could happen". With all the rough edges and awkwardness of real life. You don't know why. The story is too solid to answer its questions. Life is more like wrestling than dancing.
The Calling (2014)
contemplative more than thrilling
This movie's genre is mis-named. It's contemplative. It's also as dark, northern & cold as its Canadian landscape. Could the same effects not have also been achieved by a director or movie from Finland or Sweden or even Germany? (Compare the slow tempo of much German cinema.) It's a story about a state of mind with little light & much darkness -- and death is just a kiss away. Of course it also has a thriller, hunt-'em-down narrative. But I do not think that is the point. The story masks an attempt to portray a state of mind -- where do I go now? life seems hopeless, pointless & what's the use? -- concerning which mood of mind all of the actors are superb, first rate older (& younger) pros. This is definitely not a fun flick. But definitely first-rate in its own quirky way. Thank you. PS: Why is so much Canadian-based cinema so bitter and dark?
The Signal (2014)
Fine story -- destroyed by Fishburne's lazy acting
"The Signal" is a good idea poorly executed. The story is as old as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and it provides a new twist on this theme. It's refreshingly realistic in many ways by virtue of its ability to surprise the viewer. The story has magic; it illuminates by mystery. But why isn't it better? It's main charm lies in the strength of its young actors. The two male leads: Beau Knapp & Brenton Thwaites have a credible, alternately goofy or vulnerable charm. The female lead Olivia Cooke is deliciously realistic; creates a strong yet empathetic character.
The Signal's major fault line is the banality of Laurence Fishburne. Here is the reason why The Signal isn't better. Mr. Fishburne produces flat, spiritless acting. It's lazy. Like actors at their worst, his narcissism shows. It's not an attractive site. Since Matrix One (1999) -- in which he worked fine -- for my money he has become increasingly more of a liability. He is pretentiously profound. This is unlike his earlier films -- such as "Higher Learning" (1995) -- when he had a credible integrity; he was muscular and not a fatty.
Would it not had been better if the Fishburn character -- "Damon" -- was played by an animated character who the viewer thought was real? A cartoon could have acted better than Fishburne in this movie.
The Homesman (2014)
Remarkable work of auteur cinema -- realism at its best
Tommy Lee Jones has a wry, dry character -- rich and deep as unwatered open plains of the Americas. He's transferred his particular personality power to the story of The Homesman. He's successfully created a fine work of "auteur cinema" (much as I personally think this form rarely exists).
The Homesman is an emotionally and powerful, idea-rich, almost humorless story -- with an immense amount of humor. It has very tight, economic tale telling with no fat on the bone; in which much is implied, historical accuracy hits its target by nuance, and the story itself is deeply respectful of an intelligent audience.
The Homesman is not "entertainment" in the haha, shoot-'em-up Western sense. It's realism committed to a moral cause -- criticism of the disenfranchised, the homeless, the people who cannot make it no matter how hard they try. It has a brilliant sense of time and place that tells the life stories of dozens of hard-enduring, long-suffering "forgotten men" -- the women no less than the men.
The key heartbreaker is Hilary Swank's character of Miss Mary Bee Cuddy. She's born into a Western frontier world where she and everyone else believes and practices that "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Hard workers and decent people. But tragically that is not enough. Why? The Homesman leaves that question deliciously unanswered. Life is not fair. God is not just.
Beautifully The Homesman does -- kind of -- answer life's problems with the value of sheer vitality and gutsiness itself. Thus that key visual motif in the movie that comes from: George Caleb Bingham, "The Jolly Flatboatmen". We must dance the dance of life, however mad.
Not Safe for Work (2014)
Remarkably effective film
Visibly low budget & minus wham-bam special effects, Not Safe For Work relies instead on acting and story. This is a very effective film.
Have you noticed how there is a new generation of worry, fear, threat concerning the power of corporations and big business in our collective lives? Most effectively, in Margin Call (10+), but elsewhere across a broad spectrum of movies US & otherwise. Not Safe For Work is a significant contribution to this contemporary genre: Don't Trust Business.
The two key male leads in this story are specially strong, most significantly the villain -- aka "The Killer" -- played by J. J. Feild, who exhibits a powerfully creepy calmness in voice and body language. His evil -- the banality of evil -- signifies the rot at work in the world of business itself. Max Minghella, playing the key office worker, has a true Jack Lemmon charm as the wily office schmo who's not such a looser after all.
This story happens to be about US business. But corporations & capitalism being what they are nowadays in our global, post-Cold War world; this business tale could be about China, Brazil, Germany, or Whathaveyou. Like a fine police procedural by Ed McBain, this plot is easily transferable to most other modern cultures.
Finally the fact that the heroes escape and yet do not (if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil the plot for you) shows how serious is its moral and political intent. Not Safe For Work is an intriguing incrimination. How can one escape from where business life is now? The answer is left deliciously hanging in Not Safe For Work. Yes, folks, we are unsafe. Try to find a way out. Just try.
A Single Shot (2013)
An exquisitely dark, rural, all-American series noir.
This is an exquisitely dark, rural, all-American series noir. Plot line and moral being: a good man goes bad, because that's the way things can be, the way things are. Nature -- human or otherwise, isn't kind. Mistakes happen. And you often pay for them in the wilderness of this world we live in alone and altogether. Chance has its way of crushing you, burying you alive. Watch out. Plus, aside from a potent story line, the acting is downright first rate. Not a single one of the actors are off key. I don't know who did the casting for "A Single Shot", but they deserve an award for it. Also exquisite in this film is the ending -- one of the most original examples of "open ended" I've ever seen in a film. You've got to be in a dark, worried mood to like this film; its darkness is relentless. "A Single Shot" is not for everyone; in no way is it "G" or "GP". But for thoughtful adults it is very well worth the watching.
CO2: Great Intentions, Why so poorly done? What does this say about...
CO2 clearly had noble intentions -- which are as right as rain and average as white bread for these American times. We are poisoning our environment. Here is proof of it. Theoretically one could have had a fine Eco-thriller here. The cinematic execution is passable, about "B". The acting is awful, about "D+". The plot is "A-". Why such a tremendous imbalance? How did this happen? One cannot help but wonder if the self-righteousness of Environmentalism didn't get in the way here. That CO2's authors (director? producer? film company?) thought that this theme was so right, so morally correct that it couldn't go wrong, that they had a slam-dunk of a subject. But the film -- like much Environmentalism -- preaches instead of teaches. It lacks magic, also what's called "the moment" in theater -- when the audience forgets they're watching a show. CO2 is relentlessly, simplistically didactic -- Good (the intelligent women,the thoughtful scientist, the sweet, sensitive guy who's wounded and dies) versus Bad (the macho dad, the evil company head, carbon gas!) -- didactic to the point of being a story that applies pressure without seduction. Such a shame. Such promise. Is this in the nature of the modern Environmental movement? Who or what is ultimately at fault here?
The Mob (1951)
Did Elia Kazan know about this movie when he made "On the Waterfront"?
I got to ask -- because so much of the plot of "On the Waterfront" is here. Broderick Crawford is first rate (not as good as in "All the King's Men"); because Crawford has none of the depth and range of Brando. Plus, this is not a longshoreman's movie -- it's the cops' movie. The police are the key players; they get the full camera foreground and background. But how could "On the Waterfront" (1954) have existed without "The Mob" (1951)? All the character and story leads are here -- plus our hero gets a threatening backseat ride in the car with a gun pointed at his gut. The police forensic details are excellent; not hokey (and probably based on WW2 techniques?). It's surprising this movie isn't better known. Again, quality-wise, it's not "A+" as a film -- more like "B+". It's got long, excellent passages that are then followed by filler, Hollywood product (like the scenes with Ernest Borgnine). But what's great about "The Mob" is how when it works it rings true about the life and struggles of blue collar Americans just after the victory of WW2. Where's their victory? Except for the cops. In sum, tough minded doozie of a film.
The Sleeping City (1950)
"The Sleeping City" (1950): a visionary work of excellence
Within New York City's Bellevue Hospital in post-World War Two America there is a drug racket, the interns are supplying "the white stuff" -- heroin -- to an intermediary who's selling it illegally, with the help of the head nurse. The interns get suckered into the racket but the head nurse and the bad guy villain do it for the dough. Great dialogue. Superbly dark setting. Fine, competent acting with a semi-documentary feel to their simple, profound human weaknesses and strengths. All of which is caped by the physical-psychological setting. The hospital is where patients are asleep with their illness and the weak may be manipulated by the strong. Or is it America itself which is "the sleeping city"?
"The Sleeping City" is film as a visionary reading of the corruptions inherent both in a medical system where people are overworked and underpaid, stressed to their breaking point and hence easily manipulated -- and where the single, myopic solution for all problems is money. Almost.
For into this mix comes Detective Fred Rowan, aka Richard Conte, in an under cover sting operation. Conte acts his grim, good-Judas role beautifully, tough as a slowly sniffing, plodding bull; secretive as a spider. In the end, Rowan's/Conte's tactics solve the immediate problem. Not without irony. For this story wisely offers no long-term strategy to the sleeping sickness of corruption at work in the vast hospital complex and in America's medical system. Good men and women, ordinary folk, are lost in a vast concrete moral maze. The world is far more grey than black and white. People die but are not redeemed. Doctors are lost and not replaced. All of society suffers, although a few of the guilty are punished.
Finally, the dialogue is superb. With give and take like: (-) "How is he doc?" (+) "Breathing from memory." And "Don't ever argue with a cop, son. Just answer his questions." And the ending rises out on a beautiful, urban long shot, dark and double-edged as a pleasing sunset with no rain, peace without quiet, and reminiscent of the city finalés of King Vidor's "The Crowd "(1928), Mike Nichols' "Working Girl" (1988) and other films which use the city setting for perfect enhancement of trenchant storytelling.
Black Irish (2007)
Black Irish - the quality of Cole McKay
What makes "Black Irish" specially valuable is the quality of the protagonist, Cole McKay. He embodies a wonderfully believable, realistic, and valuable example of virtue.
Popular psychomythology tells us that all teenagers are a mess; as even Anna Freud claimed: "to be normal during the adolescent period is by itself abnormal". The wholly credible figure of Cole McKay put the lie to this claim. He's a person with solid common sense who respects his family and community, who knows the difference between right and wrong -- and is willing to back up his knowledge up with hard, mature decisions.
Studies show that 80% of American adolescents experience "generally positive moods and harmonious relations with their parents and peers" (see: D. Offer et alii, "Adolescent and Family Health" 2003). That's fact. That's Cole McKay who's factually & intelligently willing to fight for and to try to keep constructing this harmony with tough love for his messed-up, bad-seed brother, respect for his ambiguous mother, insightful care for his kind sister and, specially, for his wounded, Vietnam-veteran dad. Who's almost lost the best things he's ever achieved in his life. But not his son. Who binds the family with a love that releases, harmonizes, and illuminates those nearest and dearest to him.
The poetry of baseball is the key to Cole's strength. Why? The game's coherence anchors his moral values; as Bill Veek once said: "Baseball is an island of surety in a changing world." And, for Cole, it provides that energy of decency which love of the game can still provide.
La lunga notte del '43 (1960)
"It Happened in '43" (1960) - directed by F. Vancini.
A remarkable film: emotional and austere, dark and shattering, quick, packed with absolute silence along with peoples' busy chatter. Ordinary, beautiful, & awful. It is profoundly atmospheric & deliciously gets under the viewer's skin: the dark winter, fog, cold, hiding, people in corners, against walls, stuck in rooms, against windows, under shadowy arcades, a night that seems like day and a day that's never fully lit. And yet the story is straightforward, not forced,nor intellectually pretentious. "A" goes to "b" goes to "c" with knife-edge clarity. At the center of the plot is a kind of Romeo-Juliet love story. Beautifully complemented by the film's last few minutes -- a shot to the present of 1960 -- which makes that past of 1943 all the more fascinating and horrible. Simultaneously remote and intimate; inescapable. A work of genuine cinematic substance & recognized as such in Europe: where it won "Lion d'or" and for which a young Pier Paolo Pasolini worked on the script. Plus it's profoundly Italian: aware of the crimes, the sins of the recent war, the inescapable pressures and violence of politics and class. And aware that people can only do so much. There is no escape. Everyone is at the mercy of larger forces. Why do people need to see zombie films when there is story, there is history, like this of such exquisite and unforgettable, unforgivable cruelty? This is a film to preserve, remember, study, and, perhaps, even learn from.
John Ford (1993)
John Ford, written by Lindsay Andersen, directed by Andrew Eaton, 1992.
This is very good. And considering Lindsay Andersen's general anti-establishment tone & character makes this documentary all the more interesting.
Lindsay makes a strong argument for the sentiment & character cinema of John Ford as "popular art -- not 'arty' ". He interviews key, surviving members of Ford's production team in order to figure out how & why Ford made movies, to figure this out from Ford's own viewpoint and also why historical figures brought out the best in him. Lindsay does a neat trace on Ford's "righteous man" figure from Will Rogers onward, plus on how and why he collaborated with certain writers like Dudley Nichols (1895-1960) and Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977). This documentary is rich with pertinent visuals which illustrate the special nature of Ford's cinema, and with equally relevant anecdotes from those who knew him. (NB: though IMBDb gives this documentary's date as 1993 -- the film itself provides 1992 for its date.)
In the end, the puckish Andersen leaves it in the audience's lap to decide if John Ford is still a great artist for today's audience & for all ages -- or if Ford is merely of great historical relevance.
Frankly, I think John Ford's best work remains as great as it ever was. Now, if you haven't seen this documentary or much of John Ford's best work, well, it's for you to decide.
Mr. Lucky (1943)
Mr. Lucky, RKO, 1943, starring Cary Grant & Laraine Day
I just caught Mr. Lucky on TCM and agree this film rates about 7.5 out of 10. What would have otherwise been a discordant mix of comedy & drama are harmonized by the genius of Cary Grant. And this is a Cary Grant in a period of his acting life when he seems deeply aware of & willing to play out the dark, cynical side of life – as in his brilliant & underrated portrayal of the cockney lad Ernie Mott in 1944's None But The Lonely Heart (directed by Clifford Odets!). What's particularly fascinating is Grant's character portrayals in both Mr. Lucky & None But The Lonely Heart is that they start out being cynical in the sense of guys who are prematurely disappointed in the future. He lives like a dog that will succeed by biting and out-foxing everyone. Then he is humanized – without loosing his cynical edge. On the contrary we see here a key into the elegance that was Grant. He lives by denying & accepting society; this suave, cool-hearted knave. You can see that he denies society for the very reason that he is convinced that it will not fail. He accepts life's contradictions. He gets on with it. Most important of all: he is loyal to the few good things in life. In short, we were fortunate to have Grant and '43's Mr. Lucky and '44's None But the Lonely Heart – these Grant-branded jewels cast in timeless celluloid.
Hereafter - great potential unrealized
This movie had great -- but unrealized -- potential. Matt D. is wonderfully downplaying his gift-curse. The little boy-twin who stays alive is remarkably credible. The female French lead is, well, the cliché of a female French lead, as is Paris, as is most things French & European. But the idea of reaching out like this & touching the afterlife as something which is not religious, not specific to any religion or church makes the spine of the movie tough & credible. Yet the realization of this narrative is weakly resolved through utter bathos; through insincere, grossly sentimental pathos -- the very worst expression of which is the ending where true love at first sight solves all problems. Huh? This is, fundamentally, a story about grieving. About the grieving which accompanies death & makes the dead feel present. Even the grieving about one's own almost dying. Instead of confrontation -- the makers finally took the camera & ran; ending it all on a weak, pathetic, mushy, cop-out kiss. Sad. What a missed opportunity.
"Disgrace": modern classic about South Africa.
"Disgrace" is a modern classic about South Africa. It is thoughtful yet disturbing, rich with emotion but grating, fertile yet ravaging. This is no place for pussy cats. It is exhilaratingly realistic, laced with romantic sentiment and veined by the theme of adamantine loyalty – an excellent movie. It puts the older well-intentioned but unctuous films about South Africa – like the adaptations of "Cry the Beloved Country" – to shame for their naiveté.
"Disgrace" is a story with a hard parable: wolves eat dogs. In spite of the fact that in the film's DVD "bonus" section there so much talk about being "forward looking" and positive; far more than these feel-good qualities is the story's demand for survival, the need to adapt to the environment (regardless of its warmth or gentle, amiable qualities).
On one level "Disgrace" is "Ryan's Daughter" without romance but a hell of a feeling. In terms of actors & characters it's first rate. Malkovich is perfectly cast as the self-indulgent & Byronically self-destructive university professor. Nathalie Becker is ace perfect in tone and body; sexual but not sexy, fertile yet dry. She is the land of South Africa. In opposition & complement is the brilliant black actor Eriq Ebouaney, the power of whose character grows on you like a root of meaning taking hold. His grace & subtlety as an actor in the demanding role he plays gives new depth to the otherwise over-used theme of identity politics.
"Disgrace" is a worthy, worrying film; far more gritty docudrama than bloodless fiction.
The Last Sunset (1961)
"Last Sunset"s competent achievements
"The Last Sunset" (1961) rates in the top 30-40% among Hollywood's Westerns. The No.1 reason is Kirk Douglas' altogether credible, nuanced acting as the villain you both love to hate and almost love. Douglas' Brendan 'Bren' O'Malley is a man who practically makes black grey. This is all the more surprising when one catches the ongoing, disturbing incestuous subtext between the O'Malley character and his daughter/lover. The No.2 reason that makes "The Last Sunset" a good film is the sulfurous Dorothy Malone. Her powerful, on screen sexuality is thoroughly charismatic and satisfying – without the need to show off feminine flesh or unduly flirt. The film's directing is surprisingly mundane. Joseph Cotten's character of John Breckinbridge shows that Cotten at this stage in his career couldn't act his way out of the paper bag his bad booze comes in. While Rock Hudson is his usual big, lumpy self. He's a statue that talks and "no rock" -- to paraphrase both James Dean & Doris Day on this embarrassingly awful actor. In spite of the film's standard cattle drive story, ordinary setting, and almost ordinary story line – it rises above its limitations, carried there on the artful shoulders of two fine actors (K. Douglas and D. Malone); and, not forgetting, a use of photography that lingers just a satisfying moment too long on their disturbing, penetrating features.