18 March 2014

Seven of the Films I've Watched of Late Some Were Okay Others Great

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) I liked it a lot it was swell. I grinned from ear to ear from opening credits to closing credits and for several minutes thereafter. There's not much better a recommendation one can give a film. I suspect there are some who don't appreciate director Wes Anderson and his unique visual style and quirky characters. That's there problem. Anderson doesn't so much make movies as he creates worlds. This is the essence of story telling. This story is a doozy set as it is in a fictional European country in the 1930s and replete with all manner of character from the lovable to the detestable to the hilarious to the bizarrely eccentrically weird. The cast features over a dozen Hollywood stars many in very small roles indeed. This would suggest that actors are chomping at the bit to get into Anderson's films and who can blame them? Ralph Fiennes Tilda Swinton and F Murray Abraham are among the more prominently featured but the real star is the previously anonymous Tony Revolori as Zero the lobby boy. One suspects we'll be seeing a lot more of him and desperately hoping to see a lot more from the mind of one Wes Anderson.

Blue Jasmine (2013) on DVD Blanchett still amazing as anyone can see. I'm much more a fan of directors and am infinitely more likely to watch a movie because of who directed it rather than who starred in it. The few exceptions are with older films that star people like Cary Grant The Marx Brothers Humphrey Bogart Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Stanwyck. If I love a movie its probably because of my appreciation for the director's work than for an actor's. Rarely do I rave about actors. Blue Jasmine was written and directed by Woody Allen and in both roles he did his usual excellent job. However this is a Cate Blanchett film. Rarely does a performer so embody a role -- Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Kristin Scott Thomas in Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008) Sean Penn in Milk (2008) and Bette Davis in The Letter (1940) are other examples. This was my second viewing of Blue Jasmine having seen it when it hit theaters last Summer. Knowing "how it ends" I could better focus on Blanchett and marvel at her immersion into the character. I also noted how strong the supporting cast around her was particularly Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin. It's an Allen film but al hail the great Cate.

I Confess (1953) a Hitchcock film among his best. This is a criminally underrated Alfred Hitchcock movie. Montgomery Clift hears a confession of murder and is subsequently the chief suspect in the same murder. Of course he can't reveal what he was told in confession even though the murderer is a scoundrel (as most are) so for that matter is the victim. Meanwhile he's tangled up with a woman -- Anne Baxter -- who knew the victim and its all rather complicated or would be if it weren't for the fact that Hitchcock was the director and he had a way of making complex stories accessible and understandable without dumbing them down an iota. I suppose I Confess just gets lost in the shuffle among all of Hitch's great work but in my mind its great in its own right.

The Human Comedy (1943) here is a movie I never again want to see. Just preceding and after US entry into World War II Hollywood cranked out a lot of thinly disguised propaganda films meant to stir public ire against the Axis and stimulate patriotism. Surprisingly a lot of these ended up being damn good films even a classic or two such as Casablanca (1942). However the Human Comedy directed by Clarence Brown and starring Mickey Rooney was not among them. To call it sentimental pap would be an insult to sentimental pap everywhere. Spoiler alert: at the end of the film Rooney has just found out his big brother Marcus has died in the war. On his way home to tell the family a friend of his brother who served in the army with him shows up. He's been injured in the war. The film ends with Rooney entering the house where he tells ma and siblings that "the solider has returned". The end. Of course the family will expect that Marcus will walk in. Not only will it be a stranger instead but they'll then learn that Marcus is dead. Utterly ludicrous. Up until then the film is just a study in unrealistic sentiment. The ending is just intellectually insulting.

The Black Power Mixtape (1967-1975) (2011) a very good documentary and that ain't no jive. When I was in high school we took a field trip to Black Panther Party headquarters in Oakland. Later I briefly dated Huey Newton's sister-in-law. I was enamored of the Panthers and the black power movement growing up as I did in Berkeley during their heyday. Both the Panthers and the black power movement took some wrong turns but their principal impact was to make the civil rights movement relevant to a younger generation and teaching that turning another cheek wasn't the only response to virulent racism. This documentary was culled from Swedish TV documentary and news programs of the period. It is excellent. It offers a fine overview of the time and from a fairly neutral perspective though truth be told most Northern European nations couldn't help but be sympathetic to the struggle for black power in the US. Were I still teaching US History I would use large section of the Black Power Mixtape.

Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) a German film with a lot of violence and a little sex. I'll grant you this was an excellent history lesson for anyone and it is an engaging story that maintained my interest for its entire two hour plus running time. BMC is a fine introduction to the radical left movement that employed violence in the 1970's. But there is no center to it and very little way in character development and is ultimately superficial as cinematic art. It was good enough to preview its subject matter but not good enough to make me want to explore it. Meh.

La Vie de Boheme (1992) a film so great I want to scream. I have never purchased a film for my DVD collection without first having seen it and loved it. So it was quite a surprise that I put La Vie de Boheme on my Amazon wish list. It was quite a delight that the missus gave it to me for my birthday. Why such confidence that I would love the movie? In large part because Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki has yet to make a film I didn't at least really like and everything I read about LVDB as the good folks at Criterion previewed its coming release convinced me that this was one of his best. It is. LVDB is set in Paris and centers around three struggling artists -- a musician a writer and a painter. One finds love one finds some success they all find that life and love are often to be endured. It is as beautiful and honest a film as you'll ever see and indeed proof that honesty in art often equals beauty. In glorious black and white.

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