June Summary















ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Manhunter

Worst: I know that technically this is suspense, but "Manhunter" wasn't scary enough to place in that genre.



CLASSIC:
City Lights
Dodsworth
Gaslight
Winchester '73
Wuthering Heights

Best: "Dodsworth"
Worth: "Winchester '73"...it's not bad, just kind of forgettable.



COMEDY:
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Sleeper
The Darjeerling Limited
The Muppet Movie
The Purple Rose of Cairo

Best: "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo"
Worst: "A Million Way to Die in the West"



DOCUMENTARY:
Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Best: Although I had problems with it, this documentary is emotional and well-made.



DRAMA:
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Her
My Dinner with Andre
Stranger Than Paradise
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Best: "My Dinner with Andre"
Worst: "Stranger Than Paradise"



FOREIGN:
Au Revoir Les Enfants
Black Orpheus
Cleo from 5 to 7
Europa Europa
La Notte
Lola Montès
My Night at Maud's
Paradise Now
Sátántangó
Underground

Best: "Paradise Now", "Black Orpheus", and "Au Revoir Les Enfants"
Worst: "Sátántangó"....I don't need seven hours of pointless film.





The Darjeerling Limited (2007) (R)
















"The Darjeerling Limited" is as close as we'll ever get to seeing Wes Anderson make a road-trip movie, and it's one that somehow doesn't seem very successful at first glance. The movie has Anderson's signature style plus some; but what makes it annoying is that you have to immerse yourself in the Anderson world surrounding "The Darjeerling Limited" including the short film "Hotel Chevalier" for everything to make sense and for all the jokes to hit the mark.
The first part a comedy that very abruptly morphs into a drama "The Darjeerling Limited" sees one of Anderson's smallest casts giving their most heartfelt performances and in spite of everything that piles up against is, it does work for me.
Set in India, the movie's prologue sees a business man speeding through traffic and a train station, desperately trying to catch his train. As it departs from the station, he runs to hop on, but isn't fast enough...though Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody) is fast enough to catch the train.
The tree Whitman brothers have been summoned together by their oldest brother, Francis (Owen Wilson). Peter, Jack (Jason Schwartzman), and Francis are now on a train The Darjeerling Limited and ready to have a spiritual adventure. Francis, who is recovering from an accident and whose head is severely bandaged up, has an itinerary of things that they must do as the train makes its way across India. It's very clear that the Whitman boys do not get along. It's been over a year since they've seen each other and the only reason then was for their father's funeral. They each have their own quirks: Francis likes to tell people what they want, though he doesn't realize it...he's very passive-aggressive with his speech. Jack doesn't wear shoes and is constantly falling in love with every woman he sees. He writes short stories that he is convinced are original, but are just derived from his life. Peter wears his father's glasses even though the prescription is too strong for him headaches. As a collection of people, the brothers are compulsive spenders and pill-poppers. One scene shows all o them exchanging the questionable pain killers they have, sampling each one like it was a tasting.
Perhaps this is some commentary on how they all want to numb their lives. This makes sense, because even though the over-arcing emotion that the film gives you is happiness, there is more fried than anything else. Death, abandonment, betrayal, insecurity—they are all very cleverly disguised in the plot.
As the three brothers being their spiritual journey, they encounter many different obstacles that keep them from reaching their place of complete tranquility. Anderson is his most emotional here, his most pondering and meditative. In this way, we begin to see Anderson having some journey with his characters, one that gives the movie its deep emotions that resonate with the viewer. When the movie finishes, it finishes quickly, quietly and lovingly...but also very immaturely. It's a very optimistic and brash ending for a work with the complexity that "The Darjeerling Limited" has. But as I mulled over the ending and the work as a whole, I begin to think that Wes Anderson wanted it that way. So for that, I applaud Wes Anderson because he reminds us that our stories could have a fairy tale ending. It may be implausible and unrealistic, but it is comforting.
So for all its wanderings and almost indigestible Wes Anderson antics, "The Darjeerling Limited" remains a film on family and loss. It's very curious to see Anderson's take on this, but it is also very genuine underneath all the style. The mark the film left on me is surprising and I know this is a movie that I will be returning to many times.










Score: ★★★½

Paradise Now (2005) (PG-13)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Paradise Now" exemplifies movie making at its finest. It is a burning and powerful work that never ceases to dazzle from one scene to the next. Always humble and filled with the most sensational, human, and uncomfortably real performances, "Paradise Now" is a genuine and near-perfect movie.
Set in Palestine on the West Bank, "Paradise Now" observes two friends, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). In one of the film's first scenes we see how the two differ. They are working at a car garage and one of their customers is complaining that the bumper they just put on isn't straight. Said is very polite about disagreeing and tries to pacify the man. Khaled, on the other hand, gets mad at the man and knocks the bumper off with a hammer.
Said is the more meditative of the two and "Paradise Now" tricks you into thinking that the movie is solely about him; but not so. Khaled has the more dramatic change...for the movie is about changing your mind about some of the most important issues.
Captivating from its first shot, "Paradise Now" steals your breath as it captures you in its story. It is so deft and clever about telling the story that you wind up wondering how you got to this point in the story and the final frame of the film is nothing short of pure genius.
Director and co-writer Hany Abu-Assad really knows how to pull the best performances from his cast.
Another added character that brings much life to the movie is Suha (Lubna Azabal), whose work never seems fake. She was fearless in "Incendies" and here again she proves herself to be one of the best actresses living. 
What starts out feeling like just an observation on life in a culture unlike the Western world, "Paradise Now" transforms into something deeper and something more potent when Said learns that a resistance movement has recruited he and Khaled to be suicide bombers and travel to Tel Aviv to bring justice to the world.
At first, he rejects the idea. He never says this, but we can see it in his eyes and here again I have to be impressed with Kais Nashif. As hesitant as Said is, Khaled is excited. He is happy at the opportunity and considers (like their brethren tell them) that it is a great honor. 
But the day comes and not everything goes according to plan—the result of these snags send both Said and Khaled into tailspins, emotionally and mentally.
One of the most important movies made in recent years if only to humanize the suicide bomber, "Paradise Now" strangely enough never condemns nor elevates any of the actions of its characters; but somehow finds a way to question their mindset.
You won't find a movie like this but every so often.
This isn't a flawless movie, but it's just about as close as you can get. It never feels trite, faked, or too emotional. In fact, if anything, the movie could be criticized for being too apathetic.
Hany Abu-Assad manages to create world of people that are touched by Said and Khaled. He forges relationships, love interests, and the most sensational dialogue. 
"Paradise Now" is a movie that I cannot say enough good things about. It is a silent, brooding work that lets its emotions fester inside until they boil over. It's the kind of movie that ca break you, the kind of movie that makes you question, the kind of movie that manages to inspire even with its dark story, the kind of movie that makes you check yourself, the kind of movie that everyone should watch.
It is essential.










Score: ★★★★

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008) (Unrated)
















"Anvil: The Story of Anvil" is a documentary about never giving up your dreams. It surrounds the band "Anvil" and their sad saga. Formed when the two predominant members were just fourteen years old, the band saw its share of success for the most fleeting of moments and then it vanished into the background. It remained there for the rest of the years until the making of the documentary.
Heralded as one of the papas of heavy metal, Anvil's style proved that metal was unapologetic and shocking to those growing up in the 80s. Lead singer and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow would scream out the word "sex" as part of his lyrics and play his guitar with a dildo...subtle.
After the movie's quick opening, which shows several gurus of the rock world paying their respects to Anvil, the film is quick to transition to the cold winter of Canada where Lips works for a catering company. Anvil never became successful and after their initial tour in Japan and the buzz they generated...they just vanished. It wasn't as if it was anyone's fault and certainly they all had enough passion to spare; but it's just one of those things...the heat petered out and the fire that was Anvil died.
But the love for music and performance never died inside Lips or drummer Robb Reiner, so they continued to strive for that fame, that life of influence in the music world which is so hard to achieve.
They tried for thirty years...
The movie picks up with the band as the rockstars are now in their fifties and ready for fame more than anything. They strive for it daily. The documentary feels like their awakening with a not-so-gentle critique of the music industry. At one point Reiner saying that he "f**king hates" the industry because of how persnickety and pious it is.
Bands like Anvil, which are influential and still making good music even after three decades get swept aside for the cutesy pop artists who don't deserve it. In many ways, not much has changed from the release time of "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" and "20 Feet from Stardom" because they are singing the same tune. Music is beauty but the music industry is unfair.
A glimmer of light comes in when the band believes that it has a manager. Tiziana Arrigoni comes in and tries to set up a European tour for the band; but they hit snag after snag. Missing buses, missing trains, late for venues, and the like. Eventually they all realize that they aren't getting paid for this.
The low point comes when Robb and Lips gets into a fight about whether or not the band is going to dissolve on the streets of Europe. They decide to play for their audience, which turns out to be less than ten people.
There is a lot of soul to "Anvil: The Story of Anvil"; but there is also a lot of melancholy moments that eat up the screen time. The viewer understands the mental anguish of the people and we don't need nice shots of trees, flowers, cats, lonely landscapes, or string music to make us feel that much more.
Director Sacha Gervasi is sure that we don't get lost in the heavy metal and see the people beneath. Lips is very childlike and very much living a facade. There is one moment when he is required to be more brash and he just can't do it—the result of his politeness costs him a job. Robb seems lost in a world of artistry. He smokes, plays the drums, and paints beautiful paintings. 
They all had their dreams of Anvil making it big and becoming a superpower in heavy metal. They still have those dreams.
As the band works on a new album, I can't help but be reminded of Rob Reiner's "This is Spinal Tap". After viewing the documentary, "Spinal Tap" seems funnier and more poignant. 
"Anvil: The Story of Anvil" makes you want to get out of your seat and start doing something with your life. It is inspiring and altogether a nice movie, though nothing spectacular.








Score: ★★★

The Secret Life of Water Mitty (2013) (PG)
















Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a work in hipster-placating nonsense. Much like Spike Jonze's "Her", the movie relies heavily on its look and its soundtrack, which both are fairly solid. Alas, unlike the unconventional romance, there is pretty much nothing underneath it all.
Have you ever had day dreams about punching that annoying co-worker in the face? How about going up to your crush and planting a kiss right on them, only to find out that they have been dying for you to do that all along? Win a competition? Of course you have, and so has Walter Mitty. He daydreams constantly, it consumes the majority of his time, because he wishes that he could be romantic, a poet, and a warrior—Adventurous, Brave, and Creative.
The movie begins as Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) painfully sits at his computer and tries to cyber-flirt with a girl that he works with, named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). He is using eHarmony and it isn't going very well because the site won't send a "wink" to Cheryl. This gets Walter having a conversation with Todd (Patton Oswalt) an eHarmony support guy.
But moving on...
Walter works at Life magazine which is in its final stages before shutting down and becoming solely web-based. The man supervising the change is Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott complete with sketchy beard) who doesn't really like Walter.
For the final issue, they are going to use a photograph taken by the legendary photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). The negative in question, said to be "the quintessence of life" is number 25 on a reel that the photographer just sent, including a present for Walter for all the years the two collaborated. The present is a wallet with an inspiring quotation and the negative is missing...uh-oh. Not taking it lightly that he just misplaced what could have been the most important photograph of his career, Walter tries desperately to stall for time which leads him to try to track Sean O'Connell down.
Using three workable images from the reel of negatives, Walter tries to get clues as to the photographer's whereabouts and this leads him on a physical, spiritual, and adventure-filled trip.
It's so crass, this movie. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" would like you to believe that it's as easy as all that, you can just give up your life and go traipsing around the world...it won't matter; but the sad fact that the movie doesn't address is that these things don't just happen. Maybe I'm a cynic, but it would seem to me that the point of the movie is blind rejection of the social structure...which could be a good thing (don't get me wrong). I'm all for letting your hair down and traveling the world, I just don't see Walter as that kind of person. He's much more bookish, adventuring in his mind and not with his body; but when he does get the chance to go places, he does so effortlessly. This man is in tremendous physical shape, yet we never see a gym, nary a treadmill. What gives?
Using many moments of fantasy to fuel its story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is slow starting and then goes too fast for the rest of the film. There are inspired performances here, namely by the seasoned cast that includes Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, and Patton Oswalt...but the rest of it is just too cutesy for me. There is no real emotional connection that I have with the piece, though I applaud Stiller for his effort.
Much of the movie seems like a perfect project for a high-school student to dissect. It's also the kind of movie that is both inspiring and depressing: look here's a film made by a guy who makes films about how you (who cannot make films) should try to reach for your goals. Maybe I'm just being bitter...
All this to say that there is absolutely nothing malignant to Walter Mitty. If you want to watch the movie and just be inspired, good for you. For me, the movie balances its dramatic scenes with Stiller's awkward sense of humor and most the potentially great moments collapse swifter than a tranquilized rhinoceros.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is well-made and likable, but nothing impactful.









Score: ★★½

My Night at Maud's (1969)
















Eric Rohmer's "My Night at Maud's" is much less about the characters involved and much more about a point being made—albeit a point that doesn't immediately jump out at the viewer. Perhaps the movie is about hope and taking chances, or pragmatic religion getting in the way of our experiences, or even more drastic: it's about the secrets we keep. All that being said, the movie operates as fairly entertaining on its own without the heavy symbolism and need for analysis...though it does leave you cold in the end.
The movie begins with the introduction of Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as a philosopher, Catholic, and progressive student. He is trying to read the works of Pascal as well as understand his own religion. He takes a view on sex that seems foreign to his cohorts, who would much rather have a good time than think of the consequences.
Perhaps Jean-Louis' problem is that he thinks too much. He's always taking everything to its logical conclusion, no matter how much it hurts him to do that. Love seems distant and elusive, though he wishes for marriage as "everyone does".
He pines after a blonde-haired girl in church and thinks about marrying her. On a chance encounter, he bumps into an old school friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez) who invites him along to meet a very special person. This person turns out to be Maud (Françoise Fabian) whose easy charm and nice personality easily endears herself to all those meet her, even Jean-Louis through all his logic and wondering.
The longest scene in the movie takes place at Maud's house (hence the title) and consists of the most shameless flirting and the deepest conversations.
I don't know how but Eric Rohmer manages to tap into the thought process that we all have and how we are all hypocrites. He shows us Jean-Louis firmly rejecting the advances of Maud and eventually slipping into bed next to her while she's naked (though nothing happens). This much is certainly symbolic of something, though I don't really care what.
As the movie continues, the relationship progresses and Jean-Louis has to do the worst thing possible: rationalize. 
He and Vidal have many talks about the idea of taking a chance even though the odds are far against you. If you win, you might have happiness in the most blissful sense, but if you lose...you lose. So the audience thinks that Jean-Louis might take a chance and be with Maud and sometimes you think he's on the verge of it, sometimes it seems like the furthest thing from his mind. 
"My Night at Maud's" is clever because of its script. There are no awkward pauses or random segues, this piece is completely genuine with its words, though not necessarily its actions.
It's a meandering work that was obviously influenced by the French New Wave cinema movement, where we want to know more about style and thought rather than plot.
This isn't to say that "My Night at Maud's" is simply mediocre, because it's far and above many works of the similar time period. What the film lacks is a little simplicity in its thoughts and a little complexity in the plot.
Call my a skeptic, but there is only so much Pascal-related conversations that I can hear before I lose my interest...and then there's the ending; but that's another story.









Score: ★★★

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) (PG)
















"The Purple Rose of Cairo" sees Woody Allen at the peak of his powers. It's a work that reflects the very best of all of Allen's great attributes—his charm, his romance, his intelligence, and his humor. It is not without the "Allen themes" mainly infidelity, 'the average life', realism, mortality, and the intricacy of everyday life; but the rest of the film is a dazzling masterpiece. Truly endearing and blindingly original.
"The Purple Rose of Cairo" is actually a movie about a movie. The film focuses its lens on Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a woman hopelessly in love with the movies. Allen's love for cinema is shown here again in Cecilia as she returns to the theater again and again, always ready to be taken away to a different land. She is a waitress at a little diner where she works with her sister (Stephanie Farrow); but that's now what she wants to do, she wants to live the life of the screen. Her husband, Monk (Danny Aiello) is a typical scumbag character. He is abusive, lazy, and loud. Cecilia is ready for a change and one day she goes to the theater to see a new movie called "The Purple Rose of Cairo". The movie has all her favorite stars in it and she gets captivated by the story: a group of rich socialites journey through Egypt and bring back a young archaeologist who falls in love with a jazz singer.
She is in a daze the next day while she is waitressing. Convincing her sister to go to the movies with her, Cecilia goes back and sees the film again, if anything loving it more the second time.
But things aren't too great at home and Cecilia suspects her husband of cheating on her. She tries to leave; but it doesn't work out for her. She comes home with her tail between her legs.
The next day doesn't go too well and she gets fired from her job. Instead of anything rational, she spends the entire day watching "The Purple Rose of Cairo" again and again. Near the end of one showing, the young archaeologist character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) turns to her and starts to speak to her. Announcing his attraction to her, he steps out of the screen and walks right to her and then they
run out of the theater.
Dazed and confused, Cecilia is now left with a dreamy, albeit completely fictitious character who is falling in love with her by the second. The strong attention and lovely looks are hard to turn away. Cecilia realizes that this Tom Baxter character is the man of her dreams...but things don't always work out like they do in movies.
Unleashed from their prison of monotony, the remaining characters in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" just sit around the living room and wait on Tom Baxter's return so they can continue their movie.
There are so many dynamics in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" that work well, mainly the way Allen spins the story so that you are convinced of its authenticity. The introduction of Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels again) as the actor who played Tom Baxter is a stroke of genius. Jeff Daniels does a remarkable job as the master of both characters...both who are substantially different from the other.
But the real star of the movie is Mia Farrow because her nervous way of talking—she never quite gets a sentence out—and her demeanor that shifts during the movie is pure magic.
"The Purple Rose of Cairo" is less neurotic than Allen's other works and less bitter also. It remains one of the director's best works and one of the crowning jewels in his proverbial crown.
It's smart, heartfelt, and just so damn wonderful.















Score: ★★★★

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) (PG)















So take a Roald Dahl book and then give it to Wes Anderson...the result shouldn't work, and yet it does on such a magnificent level. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" follows Anderson's canon of quirky and cameo filled movies; yet it is one of his most approachable and certainly his most endearing. It's not a movie for children I would argue, simply because of how tangible the drama is...this isn't Disney, that's for certain.
The movie (which appears to be a combination of stop-animation and computer generation...either that or the animation is flawless) begins as Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) get captured by a farmer as they are stealing chickens. Mrs. Fox drops the bombshell—she's pregnant.
Flash forward a couple of fox-years and now young Ash (Jason Schwartzman) has a dad-sized chip on his shoulder and appears to be going through the terrors of fox-adolescence.
His cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) is coming to visit for a while and Ash isn't thrilled at the idea of the houseguest. Less so is he pleased when it turns out that Kristofferson is one of the mega-talented people that excels at everything.
Mr. Fox writes a column in a newspaper and decides that he doesn't want to live the rest of his life underground. In mid-life crisis fashion, he decides that he's going to buy a tree...so he does. The house that the family relocates to now sits atop a hill and overlooks the three biggest men in business: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.
These men are chicken farmers, goose farmers, and cider manufacturers; and they all are evil. Well, they really aren't that bad, but consider them your sworn enemy should you try to steal from them...which is precisely what Mr. Fox intends to do.
Returning to his life of crime for "one last job", Mr. Fox enlists the help of an opossum named Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky). 
Punctuated with classic rock songs and the Wes Anderson style, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is interestingly enough the closest to Tarantino that the director has ever come. Told is chapter sections with all the heavy realism of a man and his family going through a stale period in their marriage, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is laugh out loud funny and a glorious unpredictable ride.
It's the quintessential animated movie for those trying to steer away from the juggernaut genre of anime; but not only is it brilliant escapism and definitive of animation, it's a glorious movie regardless of its medium.
What Anderson creates from the source material is a story of aging and beauty (yes, as cliche as that sounds). It's the story of a family, the story of revenge, and a story that sees great hurdles and unexpected twists.
The voice cast here is unparalleled, as Anderson casts usually are. We have Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, and Wes Anderson himself as well as a plethora of others.
What "Fantastic Mr. Fox" does is look at the relationships in a fairly Coen-esque fashion that meets a fairytale. We have the slightly stilted dialogue and the wide sweeping angles, those trademarks are still there; but this movie also serves as a bookmark in Wes Anderson's career. This is the turning point when his work started to become always and consistently revered as worth something. Sure you might have liked his previous work, but it almost all slid under the view of the public eye.
It lost the Oscar for best animated feature to "Up" which is hard compare to, but Anderson's film holds its own and maybe even extends further than Pixar's masterpiece. 
Whatever you think, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is hugely entertaining, wildly colorful, and the most fun I've had in a very, very long time.











Score: ★★★★

City Lights (1931)













Charlie Chaplin never tries to make his movies about the success of an individual, rather they are an artistic take on the unlikely event that love can occur in the oddest of places. For his comedies, he always centers himself as the ragamuffin character, waiting on good times to roll around and spare him the life of the beggar.
With "City Lights" there is nothing different here except that Chaplin takes a little longer to finish his inevitable story line. The movie begins as a city is unveiling a new series of statues and when the covering is lifted for its debut, they find a tramp sleeping in the arms of one of the statues...how horrifying!
The tramp gets out of their hair and goes about his day, nothing particularly special happens until he meets a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) selling roses by the side of the street. She is quite pretty and he immediately wants to impress her so he buys a flower and then sneaks off, coming back to spy on her.
There is one more player to "City Lights", a rich and suicidal man (Harry Myers). Typical of "classic silent comedy", tragedy is not that far off.  When the tramp first meets the rich man, the millionaire is trying to kill himself. He has tied a rope around his neck and around a rock and he's prepared to drown himself. The tramp tells him to lighten up because the sun will shine tomorrow and he should be around for that...the humor of the situation is how the tramp almost dies several times trying to "save" the man.
After the situation is cleared up, the drunken rich man invites the tramp back to his house for more drinks and more suicide attempts.
The tramp removes all dangerous objects from the house and then falls asleep. Unfortunately for him, the rich man is an entirely different character when he's sober and upon waking up, claims that he's never seen the tramp before and has him thrown out.
This is just one of the several times that the two will meet.
As he is being courted by the rich man, the tramp now has access to money and he tries to return to the blind girl's corner as often as possible to try to build a friendship. We're not sure what will come of this, but she does seem genuinely flattered by his advances.
"City Lights" doesn't have the emotional impact that Chaplin's other work does. It's not as funny and not as endearing. Scenes take far too long like Chaplin waiting to box for money. It drags on and on and it's not suspenseful or amusing. The fight itself it too long as well.
"City Lights", you'll find, is the director's most lauded work and certainly one of the most famous silent movies of all time. I find nothing particularly special about it. Chaplin did greater work in his career such as "The Gold Rush" or "Modern Times".
All this to say the movie isn't bad, in fact the opposite is true. "City Lights" is enjoyable and heart-warming and it's hard not to tear up a little at the last scenes.
Still, it's not a masterpiece and not even close to Chaplin's best, but well worth the time put into watching it and vital to include in the director's career.










Score: ★★★

Lola Montès (1955)












A biopic like none other, "Lola Montès" manages to blend fact and fiction so well that the end result is you not caring which is which, just entertained. This is odd for a French film on the verge of the New Wave of cinema—when movies were all about the feel and the look.
With "Lola Montès" we get the precursor to such movies as "Moulin Rouge", "Cabaret", and "Chicago".
We begin in a circus as the countess Lola Montès (Martine Carol) is being presented as a side attraction for the audience. The ring master (Peter Ustinov) uses his large voice and grand presence to bring revere for the slight creature seated in the middle of the stage. She is motionless for a lot of the time and the ring master opens the floor up for questions. People hurl all sorts of interrogations at Lola and she is taken back in time to when she and composer Franz Liszt were in love.
Love plays a central part to "Lola Montès", mostly because our heroine was so unlucky in love. She had so many male companions and none of them seemed to last. Perhaps she was cursed in love, or maybe she just wasn't a nice person, director Max Ophüls is certain to never make an assumption either way.
A movie that saw its fair share of controversy, "Lola Montès" was edited and cut down before its initial release for fear of the scandal it might cause. Many years later it was recut and rereleased as it was intended to be and thankfully that's the version that is easiest to get your hands on.
One can see why it might have caused such a ruffle of feathers—the naked paintings, the male companions, the implications that people actually had sex gasp!
By today's standards, there's nothing even slightly risque about "Lola Montès".
Although it is easy to misjudge the piece because of how it seems to be. The movie appears to be some high society biopic about a woman fallen from grace; but that's not what it is. It's more of a survival story and a meditation on elusive love than anything else. Don't let the pomp and circumstance fool you, "Lola Montès" is a work of staggering emotion.
Above all else, the movie serves as a tremendous technological achievement. Ophüls and cinematographer Christian Matras pull off some tremendous shots here that have impacted directors from Paul Thomas Anderson to Wes Anderson and all the Andersons in between (possibly even Lindsay Anderson).
Yet as we see in a movie such as "The Red Shoes", there is madness beneath the facade. There is an artistry to the decent of a woman and Martine Carol is completely convincing as the title character. She is somewhat reminiscent to Vivien Leigh, which is always a good thing.
As we watch Lola transition from nobody to rich aristocrat to mistress and back, we have to wonder what makes her happy. Just as we wonder this, the movie is sure to capture the disparaging looks that Lola gives to no one. She is not happy; but she is alive...as cheerfully colorful as "Lola Montès" is, it is also a very depressing work and highly artistic.
It's glorious in its own way.













Score: ★★★½

Europa Europa (1990) (R)



















So you have true stories and then you have true stories and I'm not sure where "Europa Europa" falls. The movie concerns the true(ish) story of Salomon Perel as he tries to survive World War II.
Starting in Germany, we journey with Salomon or Solly (Marco Hofschneider) as he tries to hide his penis...sorry, was that too insensitive?
But no, listen, it makes sense. The movie starts with our main character's circumcision—an event that he claims to remember—and from then on, it's as if he's cursed. No one could have predicted the hell that followed those years. Born on the same day that Hitler was, Salomon escapes the initial wave of German onslaught directed against the Jews by hiding. From then on, it's a game of cat and mouse between him and the rest of the world. He tries to switch allegiances, he tries to become different people, he learns new languages...just for survival. If nothing else "Europa Europa" rather subtly asks us what we would do to live. Would we die for our heritage? For our religion? For our family?
Anyways...
After their home town is bombed, Salomon and his brother run off to the East, to Poland, which has just been overrun. Almost drowning in a river and being rescued by a Russian soldier, Salomon is sent off to a school where he learns Russian and becomes a nice little Communist. This is the time when Hitler and Stalin were best buddies...but that time didn't last forever. As tensions grow between the European commanders, the Germans invade and wreck havoc on the town. Salomon has to escape again; but this time his Jewish heritage is what will kill him. By pure luck or divine intervention, he wins the eye of a few German officers and when they learn he can speak German and Russian, it's only a few steps from being a star.
Though the entire movie consists of a man running from his family and the truth for the sake of survival, "Europa Europa" is remarkably bland. It's not as suspenseful as it could be and the odd moments of awkward-meets-sentimental just feel like they belong more in a comedy than a Holocaust drama. 
The entire success of the movie rests on Marco Hofschneider's shoulders to be a completely convincing character...and sadly he's not. This isn't to say that he doesn't do a remarkable job, but the role requires something transcendent and he's just not that.
In Salomon's mind, the difference between himself and the Germans just lies in a "simple foreskin". This leads him to take drastic measures to hide himself, which becomes hard when every person he comes across is attracted to his youthful beauty. 
Yet director Agnieszka Holland wants to make us cry too much. She pulls out all the strings, literally. The music is so loud and emotional that it becomes very distracting. "Europa Europa" descends into the awkward mesh of good drama and....meh.
There are some great moments in the film, most of them in a dreamscape fashion. The beginning shot shows Salomon swimming silently through water, as if he's drowning in everything. Then there's the moment in a dream where Hitler and Stalin make a little waltz around the school. The metaphors are nice; and the story is a compelling one.
I find that you can't make a Holocaust movie and just expect everyone to love it because of its source material. Isn't that insulting? Now don't get the wrong idea, I liked "Europa Europa"; but is it really as good as everyone says that it is? I don't think so.
And if the story is true (the real Salomon Perel makes a cameo in the movie) then I have all the more respect for the man...but not the movie.









Score: ★★½

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) (PG-13)

















"Crimes and Misdemeanors" is one of Woody Allen's most highly celebrated films. It deals with all his favorite subjects: love, marriage, other women, mortality, morality, the meaning of life, God, and the struggle of living. Yet with all these things included, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" manages to be darker and less influential than most other Allen movies.
Surrounding two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) and Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is a spectacle with its timeline. It never ceases to jump back and forth in time, sometimes conjuring entire scenes in fictional hallucinations that also serve as flashbacks.
Dr. Judah Rosenthal, an opthamologist, is receiving an award for his philanthropic work. He attends the dinner with his family; but something seems to be weighing on his mind. The answer, which is quickly made clear to us, is that he has a mistress. Dolores Paley (Anjelica Houston) is tired of being the other woman and wants Judah to leave his wife of twenty years, Miriam (Claire Bloom). Becoming more and more hostile, Dolores sends letters to Miriam which Judah is certain to intercept. She tries to make phone calls—in essence, she's just a few drinks away from going all Alex Forrest on everybody.
Then there's Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), who is a documentary film maker whose fame is as elusive as money is in the industry. He is trying to make important films that will change civilization; but he is met with no market and the public opinion that his subjects don't matter. Yet his is mulish about his work and continues to plow into making the films he wants to make.
Enter Cliff's brother-in-law, Lester (Alan Alda). Lester is a successful producer and schmoozer who lives vivaciously by spending tons of money and helping himself to the cream of every crop. It's quite safe to say that Cliff doesn't like Lester—the feeling is probably mutual.
Yet Cliff's wife, Wendy (Joanna Gleason) is determined to get her husband work and she finds the perfect job—a director for a documentary. The only problem is the person they will be filming: Lester himself. As pompous of an ass as Lester is, Cliff's opinion towards him only convinces the viewer that the man is worse than we originally thought. He goes off on tangents about humor and how it is bent and not broke...or something like that.
We find it very easy to roll out eyes along with Cliff at Lester's antics.
So here's the connection: Lester's brother, Ben (Sam Waterston) who is a rabbi, is also a patient of Dr. Rosenthal. We have here a perfect lineup for some odd run-ins; but that never happens. In fact, the two story lines rarely ever cross in terms of Cliff meeting Judah, except for the very end of the movie.
Allen's familiar dialogue is in place and music to the ears; but my problem is how tried and true it all feels. It's not an Allen movie like "Annie Hall" which was wacky enough to make us forget how depressing it was or a film like "Match Point" which firmly supported that the director could pull off a suspenseful movie. Instead, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" playfully tries to have it all—the humor and the agony. For most of it, the movie works; but I can't help feeling a little cold by the end of it all.
What good did it do? Certainly Landau's performance is stunning; but was it really enough to make me enjoy the film? No, I don't think so.
While fun and deep in its own ways, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" never really accomplishes anything besides a very odd self-referential comment on movies having happy endings. It would seem that this is Allen's attempt to rationalize nihilism, so...he succeeds by making everything seems pointless.









Score: ★★½

Winchester '73 (1950)




















It's easy, when viewing James Stewart's filmography, to forget that he was in westerns. Being noted for more courtroom-like dramas like "Anatomy of a Murder" or "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Stewart's western films often fade into the background. Yet, he made them throughout his career and they exemplify why he was such a talented actor.
"Winchester '73" is the story of the obsessive revere for a gun. The gun that changed the west forever, the Winchester 1873 was a pristine example of ingenuity in guns. Ironically enough, this movie could be used as a parable for gun restrictions; but that's another story....or another blog.
The movie begins as several famous gun slingers head into Dodge (literally) to shoot their way to a Winchester. This is the best of the best. It's a perfect gun, one in a thousand, the cream of the crop, the peak of firearms....okay, we get it, the gun's nice. Anyways, for whatever reason the Winchester company has decided that this perfect, priceless gun (of which it seems there are only two or three more) is not to be bought, but rather to be won.
In a Robin Hood-style of competition, to the winner go the spoils. Lin McAdam (James Stewart) arrives at Dodge in the stereotypical good-guy fashion. He helps the dames, he compliments the stable boys, and he dresses so chic-ly. Accidentally bumping into the sheriff, Wyatt Earp (Will Geer), Lin announces that he's here for the competition because he wants that gun. What he doesn't expect in Dodge is to bump into an old nemesis, Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). The two almost shoot each other in the bar before they realize that Earp has confiscated all the guns for fear of exactly this type of brawl.
They resign themselves to settle it on the shooting range, which turns out to be harder than first assumptions. Both of them are terrific shots and both of them nary miss a single mark; but Lin does end up getting the upper hand over Dutch. 
Let the chaos reign. Dutch hightails it out of Dodge, but not before ambushing Lin and stealing the Winchester. Now humiliated and gun-less, Lin takes it upon himself to bring vengeance down upon Dutch's head. In essence, he's going to give one hell of a dutch rub....I couldn't resist.
It becomes a movie like "The Searchers" except with a gun instead of a girl. Lin tracks Dutch as Dutch runs for it.
The gun itself is the main star of the movie and switches hands unpredictably. 
Yet this is not the reason that "Winchester '73" is interesting. The movie is good because it has strong characters and great performances. Take High Space (Millard Mitchell) for instance—the man is the typical "side kick" character, yet Mitchell breathes so much more into the character. He becomes a fully developed personality.
Like most westerns, "Winchester '73" doesn't hesitate to plunge right into the insanity. The melodrama becomes almost too much to handle, but the villains of the movie make up for the sympathetic tone the film sometimes takes. 
Stewart is great, but the movie is just shy of it. For receiving top billing, Shelley Winters is on screen a very small portion of time and those moments are eaten up with screaming and other typical "woman things".
It is entertaining though, and a movie that's well worth seeing.








Score: ★★★

Sleeper (1973)
















"Sleeper" sees Woody Allen at his most cheerful and his most slap-stick. The gags in the movie range from intellectual to physical and back including a suit that expands to make Allen look like a mini-elephant, giant fruit, and a recreation of "A Streetcar Named Desire".
The movie begins in 2173 where (or rather when) a few scientists find a man who has been cryogenically frozen for 200 years. They decide, though it is highly illegal, to unfreeze the man and then get him to help them out in their quest for rebellion and democracy.
Miles Monroe (Allen) is unfrozen and then helped regain his full motor skill. He went into the hospital for an ulcer and woke up 200 years later—that's bound to have an effect on you. What's the most interesting about "Sleeper" is how the world has changed since Miles has been away. Governments have shifted, enemies were made, and all history of the 70s was essentially lost in the pandemonium that follows. Unhealthy food has been proven as healthy and cigarettes are good for you.
Miles is used to help the scientists better understand what life was like in the 70s, as well as further their rebellious cause. Ruled by a Big Brother type character, the United States is no longer the United States. Not fully comprehending why everyone wants the head-honcho guy dispatched, Miles is roped into aiding...it's that or have his mind erased by the government.
A movie that's a strongly anti-government as it is funny, it's amazing that "Sleeper" never feels genuinely satirical and for that, I am disappointed. Though it has all the right arrows pointing at all the right moments, it never releases their full potential. Maybe it's the slapstick and causes this, "Sleeper" is punctuated with a very fun and jazzy score that Allen himself helped create.
Miles seems somewhat autobiographical of Allen himself: he loves New York, he is undersexed, and he grew up as a clarinet player.
Posing as a robot/butler, Miles gets assigned to the artistic Luna (long time collaborator Diane Keaton). In one night he manages to create a pudding monster, get high of a metal orb, and witness Luna and a gentleman retreat to the orgasmatron where they have the quickest coitus imaginable.
"Sleeper" is raunchy, edgy, but smarter than all its other facets.
This is probably best evidenced in the scenes where Miles is talking about his philosophical beliefs. But make no mistake that "Sleeper" has a large dosage of stupid fun. Imagine Woody Allen and a stereotypical 'bad guy' slipping on giant banana peels and then Allen bludgeoning the man senseless with a huge strawberry...it's not every day you see that in a movie.
That's why I like "Sleeper"; not for its political commentary or its neuroticism, or the way it dances between genres. I like it because it's a whole lot of fun and memorable in the best ways.












Score: ★★★

Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (R)



















There are genuine moments of glory in Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise"; but most of the movie's entire length is filled up with deadpan nonsense. The movie is filmed mostly in single shots with long fade outs at the end of every scene...what is the reason for this? Who knows? Roger Ebert seemed to think that it engaged the audience more and that it provided some stability and emotion for a rather unstable and emotionless movie...I disagree; but whatever.
"Stranger Than Fiction" has an annoyingly simple plot; so simple in fact that it does not even seem to merit the paper it will take to write it out. At the movie's beginning Willie (John Lurie) has a cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) who is coming to visit for ten days. He doesn't want her to visit because he's somewhat of a loafer—responsibility is not a side that he'd like to add to his TV dinner.
When Eva shows up, she's just as deadpan and uncaring as Willie is so naturally the two most antisocial people in the movie begin to get along by the time the movie is over. The best shot in the entire movie comes at the beginning, when Eva strolls down the street to "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Yet that's as exciting as it all gets: a song.
After her time with Willie, Eva goes back to Cleveland where she lives with Willie's aunt. A few months and some poker cheating later and Willie, accompanied by his friend Eddie (Richard Edson), decides that he is going to pay Eva a visit. 
They show up at the house and things get a little awkward and then suddenly everyone is off to Florida...the end.
Really, it's that simple. Oh, and everyone is annoying.
Yes, you could argue that Jarmusch capture the teenage spirit of lethargy and indifference better than any other director has in the past; but my question is: why would you want to? A movie about teenage delinquency without the delinquency is like a Quentin Tarantino movie with no cursing. It defeats the whole purpose. 
Now there is a dark humor to the laissez faire attitude that all the characters in "Stranger Than Paradise" exhibit. I understand why everyone loves the movie. It has a certain Woody Allen naturalistic feeling that it hard to love...believe me.
The trio of main characters are so chill that I felt cold.
Even in moments of excitement, it is rare to see more than a blank stare on any of the people. Yet this is a critic's darling and an awards show magnet and I just don't see why. 
"Stranger Than Paradise" has no redeeming qualities in my mind. It's shot in black and white without purpose and the long shots do nothing but add to my growing frustration.
The performances aren't there, neither is the script, and—most importantly—neither is the point. 
Thank God this movie is so short. I feel like it would have been much more entertaining if I was drunk.










Score: ★★ 

Underground (1995) (Not Rated)
















Emir Kusturica's Pamle d'Or winning film "Underground" is a mess of emotions and narrative. It's so jumbled and confused that the viewer is left almost angry trying to keep up with its mad antics. Then again, it's also a film about war, government, and the result of ignorance...so is that permissible?
Set in the times of WWII in Yugoslavia, "Underground" appears to be a black comedy for the first part. As the characters try to out wit the Germans and the Allies—founding their own coalition of Communism—there is a sick sense of humor as bits and pieces of people and animals are thrown around with the bombs.
Marko (Predrag Manojlovic) and his buddy Blacky (Lazar Ristovski) are the ring leaders of the movement to keep Yugoslavia separate from the rest of the world during the war. They want things to remain as they are, but this is hard to do when bombs are dropped on the city and everything is destroyed. Taking refuge in a cellar, only Marko and Blacky dare to venture out to the town, and only then because of love...
Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic) is the source of attention for Blacky, who sees her on the side even though he has a pregnant wife. As things start to heat up, Blacky's wife is killed which leaves the door open for him to make his move...which he does in caveman fashion.
Natalija seems to be in love with a German officer named Franz and that is something unacceptable to Blacky for a number of reason—the most obvious one being that she is not with him.
An actress of the stage, Natalija is taken away by Blacky to the cellar where now a congregation of survivors have huddled together for refuge.
But things are not what they seem.
For a movie that borders on three hours, "Underground" feels like the shortest movie. It's so zany and annoyingly catchy that it whizzes by and before you know it, the movie's end credits are rolling up. They are large problems with the movie, notably the way it skips here and there and leaves the viewer to catch up. If it was supposed to be a cerebral movie, maybe this would be acceptable; but not really. Of course, when the end result is painted for us, the times we were left in the dark are somewhat forgivable.
A movie that spans over fifty years, "Underground"—despite itself—feels very genuine in an Orwellian way. The movie asks a question of power, but doesn't make the mistake of getting too hung up on the politics of the movie rather than the story itself.
Surreal, unnatural, freaky, and hilarious—"Underground" is an entity in of itself and I'm sure that it would be impossible to find a movie that is its equal...but would you want to?
Predrag Manojlovic gives a star performance here with a layered role that seems almost too hopeless to find anything human within, yet he does.
Kusturica here fashions a movie that is meant to be satire, enraging, and a love letter to nationalism. It mocks everything there is possible to mock and always in the most horrible method.
Still, the emotional power of "Underground" is what surprises you. It is a sneaky picture with the remarkable ability to move and though the last thirty minutes are nothing short of miraculous, you have to remember the whole picture. A weak beginning that builds into one of the most original movies of the past two decades, "Underground" is.....quite something.















Score: ★★★

La Notte (1961)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
With Michelangelo Antonioni, it's hard to feel anything but apathetic. I may masquerade as a snob, but when it comes to this director, I'm usually the one who asks the simple questions: why is this good? With "La Notte" which is a meandering and almost plotless work, Antonioni constructs one of his best works with the portrayal of love and marriage slowly falling apart.
Writer Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) is visiting a sick friend in the hospital with his wife, Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). The man doesn't seem to have that much time left and is spending his last few hours doing simple things like reading a book or sipping champagne.
The scene's poignancy is lost when Giovanni gets distracted by what we can only assume to be a nymphomaniac in the hospital and suddenly gets locked in her room, kissing and undressing her. Of course, the romantic mood is further killed (aside from the fact that his wife is waiting outside) by the nurses that burst into the room and start smacking the girl.
Now you have an odd taste of Antonioni.
The movie continues in droll form, mostly with Lidia who walks around outside, lost in thought. She is witness to a baby with no parents, a clock that has stopped, and rust that is peeling off a door. Trying to break up a fight, she is followed for a little bit by a strange man and then she stops and watches some local boys shoot rockets off.
Giovanni in this time has gone home and taken a nap...which is something that I could really relate with.
Up to this point, there seems to be no point.
But give the movie time, it will make sense in a little bit.
Deciding to spend the night out, the couple goes to a bar where two dancers perform a mesmerizing and sexy dance. It brings our thoughts to "La Dolce Vita". While out, the two don't seem terribly comfortable together, but functional at worst.
They move their activities over to a party where the movie stays until the final frame. It's here that everything starts to come unravelled. Here is where Antonioni shows that he is not a romantic, and also one of the most romantic.
Annoying, beautiful, haunting—"La Notte" taps into the idea of lost love and love in general. We watch as Giovanni and Lidia go about the party in two different ways. She suggests that he try to entertain a young, pretty girl and he does...perhaps too well. She goes off with a writer in the pouring rain.
What's the difference?
Perhaps she needs closure on the marriage and he doesn't, because by this time it's inevitable that the two of them will no continue together. He doesn't need that. He is much more dependent on her as well.
Yet even as dry as this sounds—for it is a relational drama at its core—"La Notte" is splendidly candid in its last few scenes, which make up for the drag of the first few. Richly shot in black and white with a sensual tone, Antonioni here appears very skeptical and also very hopeful. For all its depressive commentary, it's not a downer of a movie.
The ending makes you feel a little queasy, but sometimes when love goes sour, it makes you sick.
"La Notte" is a far cry from perfect, but it is a milestone in Antonioni's career and a movie that's well worth the time it takes to watch it.










Score: ★★★

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) (R)















This review contains SPOILERS!
"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is Seth MacFarlane's newest venture and his attempt to be witty once more. Ever since "Ted", the man's popularity has been sliding and hosting the Oscars wasn't exactly the icing on his cake (though I still remain a fan of what he did). So with "Million Ways" we have a spoof of the old western movie and MacFarlane on his knees to beg pop culture to embrace him once more.
What is most surprising about the movie is how much of it actually works. I went into the theater with the lowest of low expectations and was pleasantly surprised at points during the movie. This isn't to say that the movie is good, because a scene that leaves Neil Patrick Harris defecating into two men's hats speaks otherwise.
We knew it was going to be bad, we didn't expect the sappy sentimentality or the cutesy-cutesy side of it...after all, it's all about people dying, right?
The movie begins as Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) backs out of a gunfight. His girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) then dumps him and says that "she needs to work on herself". Insert eye-roll here.
It's 1882 on the frontier and sheep farmer Albert couldn't care less about any of it. He thinks that he's growing up in a stupid time with a stupid life.
But that all changes when a girl rides into town.
Anna (Charlize Theron) is a mysterious and very pretty woman who takes an interest in Albert. She decides to comfort him during his rebound time...what Albert doesn't realize is that she is married to an infamous gunslinger, Clinch (Liam Neeson).
Much of the first part of the movie meanders with no real direction. We watch Albert get drunk and try to win Louise back and we see his best friend, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi). Edward is dating Ruth (Sarah Silverman) who is a whore. This couple doesn't want to have sex because they want to get married first, why? Because they're Christian.
You should expect the anti-religious commentary from MacFarlane, it's always bitter and funny. Ruth wears a cross around her neck even when describing the sexual acts she had to perform on many men.
Albert is even more distraught when Louise turns out to be going around with the mustached and richer Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Now enemies, Albert and Foy have lots of posturing in attempts to win over Louise's attention.
This is done through sappy montages where we realize that Albert is falling in love with Anna.
But things turn ugly when Clinch comes back to town.
"Million Ways" is surprisingly short on deaths, considering how morbid its title is. It wants to be both a raunchy comedy and a golden age cinema treat, but somehow the erotic mustache licking and sheep penises keep it from being that. Shocking, isn't it?
MacFarlane is baby faced and enjoyable here and the script is a self-referential great-disaster. It is doubly surprising that in the moments of plot-furthering, the movie is quite compelling.
Yet above all else, the A-list cast (and the cameos that pop up) seem to have had the most fun making the movie. It's a disaster on all counts but somehow death by farting and an ice block rupturing a man's head like a ripe grape becomes funny.
The funniest parts of the movie include MacFarlane's barely veiled views on government and racism as well as a made up Indian language.
"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is really stupid, but it never claimed to be anything else, so isn't it already winning?








Score: ★★½

My Dinner with Andre (1981) (PG)
















A film about conversation, perception, friends, love, life, happiness, resignation, and everything in between "My Dinner with Andre" is an odd piece of film. It's remarkably perceptive and filled with the most frustrating and illuminating self-referencial comments that make the viewer feel slightly stupid. Without a pad and pen, it's impossible to follow the movie completely, which is further enraging because most of the movie takes place around a dinner table.
Wallace Shawn, playing a version of himself, narrates the movie as he walks towards a restaurant to meet his old friend Andre Gregory (also playing himself). It has been many years since they have seen each other, and Wallace isn't that ecstatic about the meeting. He always feels uncomfortable in situations like this. When he gets to the restaurant, Andre isn't there, and Wallace gives us some sarcastic commentary about why that may be. Andre shows up and then there's a lot of talking between the two of them....a lot of talking.
Most of the dialogue is provided by Andre who has just returned from a spiritual journey over seas. He has to most ludicrous, the most exciting, and the most ridiculous stories that come across as nothing beneath pretentious. He talks about his surrealist experience with a surrealist magazine and how one page had four handprints on it. He talks about leading people who didn't speak English in the purest form of improvisations.
And above all this, the two of them have dinner together. Besides the fact that I don't think they got what they actually ordered and they rarely actually put the food in their mouth, "My Dinner with Andre" is fascinating and almost faultless. It's a movie that works because of the strength of its two stars.
You get the feeling that the entire movie is made up until about twenty minutes before it ends, when Andre and Wallace have a discussion about perception. Did they actually write a script for this movie? If so, it is even more brilliant because it shows the dedication of two friends in creating a movie.
"My Dinner with Andre" provides us with a play-like structure and that is fine. In fact, that makes sense because Wallace is a playwright and is always asking about how literature or the theater could influence people.
There is a great rift between the viewer and the characters. We are not privy to jump into the conversation and join them, which would seem like more fun. But then again, maybe the point of the movie is to remind us that we glean more from listening rather than talking. It would certainly seem that every character who does not speak learns more. Yet again, I contradict myself here because by the time the two part, they are still set in their ways, but perhaps they are a little wiser...perhaps.
"My Dinner with Andre" serves as a mental exercise more than anything. As on-topic as Wallace and Andre manage to stay, it's hard to keep up with the fast pace of the movie. In that way, it really mimics a genuine conversation well.
While it might not be the most entertaining thing in the world, it is more entertaining than it sounds on paper. It is shot with simple angles and what appears to be multiple lenses simultaneously, to better imprison the atmosphere.
It's an experiment and a damn good one at that.














Score: ★★★½

Black Orpheus (1959)




















What is "Black Orpheus"? Is it re-imagining of a Greek myth? Is it a story unto itself? Or is it something in between the two?
Whatever it is, "Black Orpheus" is remarkably compelling and driven by its emotion. It is a heartbreaking and stunningly romantic movie—one that should not be missed.
Set in Rio de Janeiro, "Black Orpheus" concerns two lovers—Orpheus (Breno Mello) and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn). The movie's opening has Eurydice coming to Rio, fleeing from something. Her urgency isn't fully explained until much farther into the movie...but this much is clear: she's very uneasy. She's traveling to her cousin's house, Serafina (Léa Garcia). 
As she travels, she is met with jovial people who are preparing for carnival. They stop her in the street and try to dance with her, but she is much more intent on just finding Serafina and having some peace.
She is swept up onto a trolley and taken to the end of the line. It's here that she meets the charming driver Orpheus who is kind enough to get some help for her. She is pointed towards the house and sent along her merry way.
Orpheus, in the meantime, is trying to keep his head on straight, which isn't easy with his girlfriend Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). She is bossy, jealous, and the precursor to the Alex Forrest type character.
Sexy? Yes. Crazy? Double yes.
As plans are made for carnival, Orpheus has to get his guitar out of hock so that he can make the sun rise. Taking this side-plot from the Greek side of the story, Orpheus has an enormous amount of charm and the power over certain natural wonders. When he plays the guitar and sings, he convinces the local boys believe that he makes the sun rise every day.
Pushed into an engagement, he is allowed precious little time away from his ever more demanding fiancee. When he gets the chance to be alone, he takes it and this is when he meets Eurydice again.
It seems like the characters in "Black Orpheus" are all familiar with the Greek tale. They make jokes about how Orpheus and Eurydice are going to fall in love because that's just the way things go. What is unexpected is how beautiful their inevitable romance is.
Director Marcel Camus uses a lot of nature shots to help ground the relationship in something other-worldly. It would seem that the face of their love is something from the heavens, something from the ocean, something of the sunrise and the sunset.
"Black Orpheus" also takes the time to ask what love really is. Is it physical attraction? It is something supernatural?
Certainly there is a supernatural aspect to the movie that is vital to the plot; but in the end, we are expected to believe that everyone is completely and totally human. 
Not much happens in the movie, so "Black Orpheus" is doubly successful in creating likable and empathetic characters. We engage with them easily.
But that isn't the only surprise that the movie has going for it. Besides being beautifully photographed with vibrant colors, "Black Orpheus" is suspenseful, sexy, and frustratingly effective.
Camus doesn't use that many fancy shots. He is keen to let things unfold in front of the camera in a very natural way. There is no fancy music to accompany the more nail-biting moments. "Black Orpheus" is a very well-constructed film. The natural way everything looks helps us breathe a little deeper when love takes us to the air and through the sky.
"Black Orpheus" is a stunning movie and won international acclaim after its release. 
Whether it is the lavish dances, the glorious costumes, or the look between lovers—"Black Orpheus" is sure to make you smile.










Score: ★★★★

The Muppet Movie (1979) (G)
















As quick witted as it is zany as it is completely full of Monty Python-head scratcher moments, "The Muppet Movie" proves that you can do good at being an easy success if you have a good script to work with. Borrowing quirks from Mel Brooks (who makes a hilarious cameo as an evil German scientist) to "The Rocky and Bullwinkle" show, "The Muppet Movie" showcases the talent of Jim Henson without making it all about the muppets as set pieces.
Beginning as the muppets have gathered together to watch the final cut of the "The Muppet Movie"—you should get used to the self-referential humor and the jokes directed right at the audience—Kermit the Frog introduces the film as the story telling how the muppets came together.
The real real movie begins in the swamp where Kermit, banjo in hand, sings about rainbows and a Hollywood agent approaches him about turning him into a star.
The actual plot of the movie is more like a series of odd instances like "Around the World in Eighty Days". What works here is that "The Muppet Movie" isn't masquerading as anything above entertainment, and it's actually funny.
Wonderfully twisted, Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) plays the villain of the movie. A restaurateur in training, he wants to open up a chain of restaurants that sell—what else?—frog legs. Guess who he wants to be the face of the restaurant? None other than our plush, green hero.
The first time he sees Kermit is at the El Sleezo bar where the kindly frog tries to help save Fozzie Bear from an angry audience mob.
The two muppets team up and start their way towards Hollywood to live the life of the rich and famous. En route they meet the rest of the motley crew and thus begins the road adventure.
"The Muppet Movie" has catchy tunes and a wicked tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at itself. It's a wonderful example of satire mixed with a kid's movie. The film is smart enough to actually mock the star-making process while it is dumb enough to have the fluff flying around with explosions.
We've all met them before, but the gags really work in the movie. Take a scene in which Steve Martin plays a begrudging water for example. Kermit orders some really nasty wine for less than a dollar. Somehow the scene convinces you that the cheap champagne and the bottle top opener, mixed with Martin's eye rolling, is funny.
The way that everything is built up could have collapsed under the weight of the muppets, but "The Muppet Movie" has a sweet running time and is never short of a quick one-liner.
From brain melting devices to the idea of endorsing cannibalism to a critique on how starlets treat their friends, there is nary a dull moment in "The Muppet Movie".
Some scenes stretch on too long, like the beginning ode to rainbows; but by the end when a reprise gathers the entire ensemble, I must admit (much as I hate to) that I got goosebumps...then again, that's not hard.
"The Muppet Movie" is engaging and gloriously colorful. It has a funny script and catchy songs.
What more do you want?










Score: ★★★½

Sátántangó (1994)

















"Sátántangó" is a work in patience for the viewer. No matter what anyone tells you (most of them will tell you that the movie is Bela Tarr's best film and one of the most original movies of the 90s) it's impossible to hop, skip, or jump around the seven-hour running time or the static shots that eat up so much time. This is a movie whose entire first ten minutes is devoted to cows and its last five are completely black.
Although, to be honest, I was with this film until about five hours into it when things started to get confused.
The movie opens to a man waking up because he hears bells in the far off country. He stands up and scratches his head—the woman he was sleeping with washes herself and then they can start their day. But this is no ordinary day, this day has already started off with crime.
"Sátántangó" focuses on a little town and the people that inhabit it. It's a movie that's never quite explained and seems to imply the existence of the supernatural; but after seven hours that little tidbit is forgotten with all the slogging through that we have to do.
Shot in exquisite black and white with stunningly impressive and well-choreographed long static and tracking shots, "Sátántangó" could work on its own as just a visual treat and a feat rather than a masterpiece, which is how I see it.
Two men who were either missing or presumed dead show back up in the town and that sends everyone into a tailspin. There is thievery, drunkenness, animal cruelty, sexual harassment, and dancing...so you'd think that we'd be constantly entertained.
Not so.
With most movies, the job of the viewer is to keep track of things, to remember instances or to make connections. With "Sátántangó" there is nothing the viewer is supposed to do but watch and become frustrated. When Tarr spends almost a complete hour watching a young girl torture a cat and then meet an untimely end...what good does that do us?
If Tarr, like Haneke did with "The White Ribbon" is trying to project the town's mentality, he's going about it in a very long and unnecessary way.
Completing the steps of a dance, the movie is told in chapter-like fashion. A narrator gives us insight into characters' minds and dreams; and while it looks and sounds nice, I find it very hollow.
The point of the movie is lost to me and frankly I don't care that it is. Billed as a "black comedy" I find "Sátántangó" a much more convincing drama than anything else. There are a few moments that ring true of humor, but they are lost in the massive screen time and the dryness that is almost suffocating.
You have to admire the work that went into "Sátántangó", because there was obviously a lot of passion directed into the film. The actors are all sensational and you forget that there is a camera present.
Sound plays a large part in the movie. We hear every footstep and breath that the characters take. We hear the liquor being poured or the gentlest of whispers from beneath closed lips.
There is a horribly twisted plot in terms of the characters: how they interact, who cheated who, who is cheating on who, etc; but the actual meat of the movie is insubstantial when you think of how long is take Bela Tarr to get anywhere.
I'm not saying that the movie isn't audacious, because it certainly is...but it's taxing and vexing. Maybe Tarr wants you to get frustrated at the movie and its apathetic way of communication—if so, well done.
If not, the movie isn't sentimental enough to make me engage with its characters, it isn't clear enough to make me focus on the plot, and it isn't short enough for me to be able to watch it without my butt falling asleep.
On this one, count me as one of the non-believers. "Sátántangó" should be seen as a cerebral achievement rather than entertainment.












Score: ★★½

Dodsworth (1936)




















It begins looking like a flashback movie. A man stands at a window and stares outside at the empire he built one last time. Just by how forlorn his figure looks staring out that window, it's impossible not to think of movies like "Citizen Kane" or even "It's a Wonderful Life". But "Dodsworth" has a great surprise held within it; it isn't a flashback movie. There is little to no reference made as to the backstory of these characters and they all seem relatively human.
"Dodsworth" is a movie that is surprising to see in the canon of film, particularly at this point in time. It is a story of a relationship, of aging, and of finding yourself...and it is remarkably impartial.
Sam Dodsworth (Walter Hudson) a motor vehicle tycoon is finally selling his company and getting on with his life. He has dedicated twenty years to his job, but now he just smokes and sits in his car as he's calmly taken away from it forever.
His wife is waiting for him at home. Fran (Ruth Chatteton) is a woman of grotesquely imagined fame. She wishes to travel through Europe and live life as dangerously as she can while still remaining in her fur cocoon of happiness and sanctuary.
Sam is told that he needs to be stricter with his wife because she's a manipulative woman; but he pays no mind to the warnings. Sam and Fran love each other in their own ways.
So the two embark on a voyage across the ocean to Europe where they plan to eat well and drink plenty. Trying to fit into the elusive upper class of society, Fran makes them both dress regally and act pretentiously. This isn't Sam's style, but her shenanigans catch the eye of a young Captain Clyde Lockert (David Niven). He is entranced by her beauty and she doesn't mind flirting with him in return. As her days are consumed by opulence, Sam finds himself genuinely enjoying his passage to Europe. He gets excited when the first lights from shore are visible. This vacation was a wonderful idea.
While the viewer begins to think that this is just a drama about a poor, unsuspecting man and his cheating wife, that's not how it turns out. As soon as Lockert starts making his moves and professing his love for her, she shuts him down. She's a married woman after all.
So they reunite with their marriage as their common ground; but Sam is starting to become uncomfortable with all the posturing that he must carry out. When they get to Paris, it doesn't get much better because there is the aristocracy in France as well as it's in any country.
The two drift farther apart and Fran starts seeking out the attention of another man named Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas) who bears a resemblance to Lockert. She wants a little something more out of life, she wants to stay young.
Sam is left trying to deal with a woman whose barreling into a mid-life crisis while still striving for his own happiness—the resulting movie is a very touching and perceptive film about marriage.
This is one of the first movies you can come across that was publicly accepted that dealt with the man's emotions instead of the woman's. This is a gender reversal of the typical strong woman movie of this era of film. Sam is selfish when he wants to be, angry, irate even, jealous, and loving. He is a fully complex character and one who never ceases to grow.
The sanctity of marriage is something that is held is less higher esteem than it is in other movies and the ending of the movie means that love can happen more than once.
Although the story of a hen-pecked man, "Dodsworth" dances around being offensive so skillfully. It's a movie with great emotional impact and wonderful acting.









Score: ★★★½