Syndrome K (2019) was co-written and directed by Stephen Edwards.
It's a documentary about an amazing group of young doctors who set out to save some of Italy's Jews from capture and murder by the Germans.
The physicians invented a deadly disease--Syndrome K. It was said to be highly contagious and almost always lethal. There wasn't any Syndrome K. The "patients" were Jews who were saved from the Germans for a few days until they could be placed in convents and other locations where they were relatively safe. (Many Romans--clergy and non-clergy--bravely helped the Jews.)
The story itself is amazing. Unfortunately, the movie isn't well constructed. About 1/3 is interviews with the doctors or their relatives. That's great. About 1/3 is recreations--OK. About 1/3 is more or less random WWII stock footage--not great. I think the producers wanted a full-length documentary. They didn't want a 55-minute documentary, so they had to lengthen the film by filling it out with something. They could have tracked down the Syndrome K "patients," or relatives of the people that were saved, but that would have been expensive, and they didn't go in that direction.
This movie has an excellent IMDb rating of 7.8 (with very few raters, however.) I didn't think that it was quite that good, and rated it 7. We saw this film as part of the wonderful Rochester Jewish Film Festival.
The Mahabharata (TV Mini Series 1989-1990) is an immense epic co-written and directed by Peter Brook. Brook is renowned as a very creative director, and I think that this movie supports that renown.
According to Wikipedia, The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world. The TV series listed on IMDb is 5 hours 18 minutes long. We saw it on DVD, where is was 3 hours and 10 minutes long. I think the DVD version covered all the major points of the plot, but obviously we missed whatever was shown in the additional 2 hours 8 minutes.
The DVD also contained "The Making of The Mahabharata," which was fascinating. The movie is in English, but Brooks brought in actors from all over the globe. He knows what he wants in an actor, and their performances were outstanding.
We are accustomed to the epics we know--The Iliad and the Odyssey. Gods come down from Mt. Olympus and engage in conversations and give advice to humans. However, when that occurs in The Mahabharata, it appears strange to us.
Other matters in the film are unusual to us, but, I assume, they are not unusual to people from India. For example, a woman marries a blind king. In order not to be able to see what he cannot see, she wears a blindfold for the rest of her life.
A mother tells her five sons that they must marry the same woman. Muslims may practice polygamy, so why shouldn't Draupadi--a important character in The Mahabharata--practice polyandry? (In fact, if you look up polyandry in Wikipedia, you'll see an Indian painting of Draupadi and her five husbands.)
My guess is that someone educated in India will follow the intricacies of the plot. I was able to understand most of it, but sometimes I got confused about which cousin was killing which cousin. Very complex, but still very interesting.
There were so many actors in important roles that I can't single any out, with one exception. Mallika Sarabhai portrays Draupadi, and she is fascinating. (Ms. Sarabhai has a Ph. D., and she is a dancer and choreographer as well as an actor.)
This movie would work better in a theater, but it worked well enough on the small screen. The Mahabharata has a very strong IMDb rating of 7.8. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 10.
The Metropolitan Opera presented Samson et Dalila (1998). This opera demands great voices, great conducting, and great staging. This version of Samson et Dalila gives us all three.
James Levine conducted, and he's extraordinarily talented. (He's in disgrace now, but no one has ever suggested he wasn't a great conductor.) Plácido Domingo is a wonderful Samson. (He's also in disgrace now, but the man could sing like no other.)
However, for me, Olga Borodina owns the role of Dalila. We heard her sing in St. Petersburg, and she sang Dalila's famous aria Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix as her encore. It is her signature aria and it's glorious to hear her sing it.
This was a particularly important opera performance, because it was opening night, and on that evening Domingo tied Caruso's record of 17 Met opening nights. It was also 30 years to the day that Domingo sang his first role at the Met. He deserved the recognition and awards that he received at that performance. However, I still think the evening belonged to Borodina.
This opera would work better on the large screen, but it did well on DVD. I enjoyed every minute, and rated it 10.
Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1982 TV Movie) was directed by Rodney Greenberg. It's a record of a live performance given at the Glyndebourne Opera. The legend of Orpheus and Euridice is part of our culture. It's made for opera, because the plot hinges on the fact that Orpheus is a brilliant musician. Gluck's version is still performed frequently, as is an equally wonderful version by Claudio Monteverdi.
This Orpheus stars Dame Janet Baker as Orfeo. (When women portray men in opera, it's called a "trouser role.") Dame Janet was one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th Century, and when you hear her sing in this opera you immediately know why.
The Swiss soprano Elisabeth Speiser sang the role of Euridice. She was admirable, but it must have been hard playing opposite Dame Janet.
Orfeo ed Euridice is available on DVD, which is how we watched it. The acoustic quality of the opera was excellent but, 40 years later, the visual image isn't as crisp as it would have been if the recording had been done now. The film has an excellent IMDb rating of 8.2. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
Personal note: A few years ago we saw a student production of this opera at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. I don't remember much about the mezzo-soprano, but soprano Ellen Robertson was superb. Remember that name--some day she may sing Euridice in a new version at Glyndebourne. If not there, then at the Metropolitan, Covent Garden, or La Scala.
Golden Voices (2019) was co-written and directed by Evgeny Ruman.
It stars Mariya Belkina as Raya Frenkel and Vladimir Friedman as her husband, Victor Frenkel. The Frenkels had a successful career in Russia because they were very good at dubbing Hollywood films into Russian.
However, when they move to Israel, there isn't that much demand for their skills. Still, they might be OK, except that they don't have the movies to work with. So, they end up filming the films which, of course, is illegal. The plot is the story of how they survive in a country in which their skills are not needed.
The acting and direction are excellent. The movie appeared to be low-budget, and was a little rough around the edges. Still, I enjoyed it and recommend it. Golden Voices has a tepid IMDb rating of 7.1. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 8. We saw this film virtually as part of the outstanding Rochester Jewish Film Festival.
The Nazis didn't distinguish between rich and poor Jews
The German movie Als Hitler das rosa Kaninchen stahl (2019) was shown in the United States with the translated title When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit. The movie was co-written and directed by Caroline Link.
The Kempers are successful, intellectual, highly integrated German Jews. Max (Marinus Hohmann) is a theater critic and Anna (Carla Juri} is a concert pianist. Riva Krymalowski portrays their daughter, Dorothea.
The Kempers are fortunate to escape from Germany just before the Nazis begin to round up Jews. However, although they escape the Holocaust, they have to settle for life circumstances that are far below the standards to which they are accustomed. The plot of the film relates how they fared after they escaped.
I thought the actors were excellent, the story was gripping, and the direction was outstanding.
We saw this film virtually as part of the wonderful Rochester Jewish Film Festival. The movie has an anemic 7.1 IMDb rating. I thought it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
Swan Lake (2018 TV Movie) was directed by Ross MacGibbon. This performance was given at Covent Garden in London with dancers of the Royal Ballet and musicians of the Royal Opera House.
Vadim Muntagirov gave a fine performance as Prince Siegfried. However, Swan Lake belongs to the swans, played by Principal Dancer Marianela Nuñez.
Nuñez is one of the greatest dancers of her generation. (We've seen her dance at Covent Garden, and she's superb.) All we can do-in the theater or watching the film--is wonder how any human being can do what she does and do it so perfectly.
If you love ballet, this is the film to see. If you don't love ballet, this is the film to see. Swan Lake has a very high IMDb rating of 7.9. Not high enough--I rated it 10.
Blue Jay (I) (2016) was directed by Alex Lehmann. It stars Sarah Paulson as Amanda and Mark Duplass as Jim. (Duplass also wrote the script.)
Amanda and Jim meet in the small town in which they both grew up. Amanda has moved on, and is now married and has a successful career. Jim is stuck in a dead-end job with no future. We learn that they had been lovers in high school but, obviously, had taken very separate paths since then.
Some of the chemistry is still there, but, clearly, the damage to their relationship is irreparable. The plot of the film is what happens after they meet.
Both Paulson and Duplass are excellent actors, and Lehmann is a brilliant director. The cinematography is outstanding--stills of the outdoor scenes could be framed and hung in the Eastman Museum of Photography.
Blue Jay has a solid IMDb rating of 7.3. I thought it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
A Cantor's Head (2020) is a short documentary directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou.
Cantor Netanel Hershtik has lost his job at a synagogue at which he's been employed for decades. We're told that his singing is now considered old-fashioned. He's not about to change. As he puts it, "They want a young man who plays the guitar."
His singing is superb. It's hard to imagine that he could be replaced by anyone at the same level of skill. Someone with that kind of artistic and religious talent is very hard to find.
Of course, we only see the cantor's side of the story, so it's impossible to know the other side. The cantor is a forceful person. Maybe he made enemies within the temple's board of directors.
We saw this film as part of the outstanding Rochester Jewish Film Festival. It doesn't have five ratings yet, but it's an excellent film, and worth seeking out. I rated it 8.
Beats of the Antonov (2014) is a documentary written and directed by
Hajooj Kuka. (Hajooj Kuka also is credited with the cinematograpy and editing.)
I admit that I know very little about the conflicts in Sudan. I'm aware that South Sudan broke off from Sudan after prolonged civil war.
The South Sudanese are primarily Christian or adhere to traditional African religions. They see themselves as African.
The Sudanese are primarily Muslim, and see themselves as Arab.
However, as often happens when countries are broken up by religious/ethnic/racial conflicts, the split isn't exact. The people in the south of Sudan are, of course, Sudanese. However, they see themselves as African, not Arab. That's why they are being bombed by the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
The Antonov is a type of Russian cargo plane, converted into a bomber by the Sudanese government. Every day an Antonov flies over the region and drops bombs.
The people use music and dance as a way to maintain their ethnic traditions and ease the horror and fear caused by the bombing. For them, dance is not only enjoyable but also therapeutic.
I recommend this movie because it's informative and because the music and dance sequences are impressive and beautiful. The film has a modest IMDb rating of 6.8. I thought that it was better than that and rated it 8.
The Razor's Edge (1946) was directed by Edmund Goulding. The film is based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.
Tyrone Power portrays Larry Darrell, an American pilot who rejects the upper-class life expected of him. Instead, he leaves for India to find the meaning of life. Gene Tierney plays Isabel Bradley, the woman who loves him.
The talented cast also includes John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, and Herbert Marshall--all stars in their own right. (Baxter won an Oscar for her work.)
This movie has a strong IMDb rating of 7.4, and it was nominated for three more Oscars. OK--people thought and think that it was a good movie. A very knowledgeable friend told me that she thought it was a good movie.
I thought it wasn't a good movie. For me, Darrell's rejection of conventional life isn't replaced by anything more than his temporary acceptance of a life of self-denial. And where does this all lead him--to a place where he gets a "real" job rather than work in finance.
In my opinion, you don't have to live alone in a cabin in the Himalayas before you decide you don't want to work in finance. We don't get a suggestion that he will organize a union at his job or help the poor people of India or the U. S. He will get a job. So much for transcendent meaning in his life.
I rated the movie a 6.0--a minority view, but what's the point of writing reviews if you don't set down your honest opinion for others to see?
The Spanish movie Dolor y gloria (2019) was shown in the U. S. with the translated title Pain and Glory. The film was written and directed by
The movie stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, a famous movie director, but now past his prime. Penélope Cruz portrays Jacinta, Salvador's mother when he was young.
This is a film where the plot is both important and complex. The movie flashes back and forth between the young Salvador and the aging Salvador. You can't really understand the present situation without knowing what came before, even if what came before is 30 years in the past.
It's no surprise that a brilliant film emerges when Almodóvar is able to work with his favorite actors--Cruz and Banderas. In fact, the movie received 189 award nominations and 69 wins. Dolor y gloria has a strong IMDb rating of 7.5. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
The Mexican film El circo (1943) was shown in the U. S. with the translated title The Circus. It was co-written and directed by Miguel M. Delgado.
As I wrote in my review of an earlier Cantinflas movie, the plot is ridiculous, but you don't watch a Cantinflas movie for the plot. You watch it for Cantinflas.
Cantinflas is part Charlie Chaplin, part Lucille Ball, and part Chico Marx. Everything he touches ends up in mayhem. Slapstick is the key to his humor, and it really works. You just sit back and watch Cantinflas stumble from failure to success and back again. He's a brilliant comedian, and it's a pleasure to enjoy his style of humor.
We saw this movie on the small screen, where it worked well. El Circo has an anemic 6.9 IMDb rating. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 8.
The Mexican film El Gendarme Desconocido was shown in the U. S. with the translated title The Unknown Gendarme (1941). (Actually, in this context, the title should be The Undercover Policeman.) The movie was co-written and directed by Miguel M. Delgado.
Cantinflas stars as Agent 777, a ordinary guy who ends up on the police force. The plot is ridiculous, but you don't watch a Cantinflas movie for the plot. You watch it for Cantinflas.
Cantinflas is part Charlie Chaplin, part Lucille Ball, and part Chico Marx. Everything he touches ends up in mayhem. Slapstick is the key to his humor, and it really works. You just sit back and watch Cantinflax stumble from failure to success and back again. He's a brilliant comedian, and it's a pleasure to watch him being funny.
We saw this movie on the small screen, where it worked well. The film has a pretty good IMDb rating of 7.3. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 8.
The French movie Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010) was shown in the U. S. with the title Sarah's Key. (The actual translation of the title is Her Name Was Sarah.) Gilles Paquet-Brenner directed the film.
Kristin Scott Thomas portrays Julia Jarmond, an investigative journalist. She becomes interested in the horrific Vel d'Hav roundup of 30,000 Parisian Jews on July 16th and 17th, 1942. Almost all of these people were sent to Auschwitz, and nearly all of them died there.
This is a particularly shameful moment in French history, because the mass arrests were carried out by French police, not German soldiers.
When Jarmond visits a Holocaust research center, the director tells her to "make it personal." That's good advice. We can't comprehend the horror of 13,000 men, women, and children being arrested and then slaughtered.
However, we can understand the story of one family, especially of one person--Sarah. (Sarah is brilliantly portrayed by Mélusine Mayance.)
Sarah was one of the 30,000 Jews arrested. What happens next is the plot of the movie. It's grim, and hard to watch, but it's important.
This film has a strong IMDb rating of 7.5. I thought that it was even better than that, and rated it 10.
Excellent biography of an iconic star and great humanitarian
Audrey (I) was directed by Helena Coan. It stars archival footage of Audrey Hepburn, as well as interviews with her family and friend.
Hepburn was a superb actor. She was an Oscar winner for Roman Holiday, and was nominated four more times. (For Roman Holiday she also won the BAFTA Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award.)
Hepburn was extraordinarily beautiful and she was extremely stylish. It's interesting to me that the high-fashion dresses she wore--in movies and in her personal life--still look stylish today. Her preferred designer was Hubert de Givenchy, who designed the famous Little Black Dress that Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Hepburn was a noted humanitarian, traveling around the world on behalf of UNICEF at an age when most great actors would be resting in an armchair.
I thought Audrey was an interesting and factual account of Hepburn's life. It has a pretty good IMDb rating of 7.2. I thought that it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
P. S. Hepburn's most famous film is Breakfast at Tiffany's, but it's hard to watch because of the racist elements in the movie. If you haven't seen Hepburn's work, I recommend Roman Holiday (of course) and Funny Face.
The French move Le rouge et le noir was shown in the U. S. with the translated title The Red and the Black (1997 TV Movie). It was co-written and directed by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe. The film is closely based on the famous novel by Stendhal.
Kim Rossi Stuart does an excellent job as the protagonist Julien Sorel. He is from the lower classes, which in 1829, made it almost impossible to rise in the world. However, his intelligence and ambition bring him closer and closer to his goal.
As a young man, he is hired as a tutor by the mayor of a provincial town.
It's there that he meets Mme. Renal, the mayor's wife, and falls in love with her. Louise de Rénal is supposed to be a beautiful woman, so Carole Bouquet was typecast.
Julian moves to Paris, where he meets the beautiful daughter of a nobleman--Mathilde de la Môle, played by Judith Godrèche, also typecast.
All three lead performers do an admirable job, and the result is an excellent rendition of Stendhal's classic. Truth in reviewing--I read the book and found it more tedious than it was interesting. The plot can't be blamed on the director. He did a good job with the plot he was given.
If you like romantic-era novels, then you'll like the book and the movie. If not, better to look somewhere else. The Red and the Black has a solid IMDb rating of 7.6. I thought it was somewhat better, and rated it 8.
Walking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route
The Way (I) (2010) was written and directed by Emilio Estevez. Some of the material came from a book by author Jack Hitt: Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain (1994).
Martin Sheen plays Tom, an ophthalmologist who is estranged from his son, portrayed--in flashbacks--by director Estevez. (In fact, Estevez is the biological son of actor Sheen.) In the first five minutes of the film we learn that Tom's son has been killed by a storm on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Tom has to travel to the Pyranees to claim his son's body. At this point, he has the body cremated, carries the ashes, and sets out on his own to reach Compostela.
This is a road movie in the most basic sense of the word. As Tom walks the route, he meets many people, especially three: Sarah, played by Deborah Kara Unger, Joost, portrayed by Yorick van Wageningen, and Jack (James Nesbitt). Sarah and Joost are walking the route for their own reasons, which we never truly learn. Jack is a travel writer, keeping notes along the way, so it's reasonable to assume that he represents author Jack Hitt.
The walk is grueling, and you can sense the fatigue and frustration of the walkers. The main characters are interesting, as are many of the other pilgrims they meet along the way.
It's a unique film, and I found it realistic and fascinating. Clearly, this is a movie that would work better on the large screen, but we saw it on the small screen where it worked well enough. The film has a solid IMDb rating of 7.4. I thought that it was better than that, and rated it 9.
McDormand is great, but why did the movie get six Oscars?
Nomadland (2020) was written and directed by Chloé Zhao.
It stars Frances McDormand as Fern, a woman in her sixties who loses most of what she owned, and goes on the road in her van. The film is a road movie about the people Fern meets as she travels. McDormand won an Oscar for her superb portrayal. (She also won her fourth Oscar for Best Picture.)
McDormand is one of the great actors of our generation. I learned to appreciate her acting when she starred in Fargo (1996). She won an Oscar for her work in that film, and another for Three Billboards (2017). My opinion is that each of those Oscars was well deserved.
Nomadland is an excellent movie. What I don't understand is why it won six Oscars. It's good, but I didn't think it was great. IMDb raters agreed. It has a IMDb rating of 7.4, which means raters thought it was very good, but not outstanding. That's what I thought as well; I rated it 8.
Promised Land (2012) was directed by Gus Van Sant. It was co-written by
John Krasinski and Matt Damon, both of whom star in the movie.
Matt Damon plays Steve Butler who is a rapacious sales rep for an eight-billion dollar oil company. His job is to come into a rural town, convince the residents that they want to sign up for fracking on their property, and then get out and move on to the next town. He's very good at what he does.
Of course, if the plan ran smoothly, there wouldn't be a plot. He meets a lovely teacher, Alice, portrayed by Rosemarie DeWitt. He also meets Dustin Noble (Krasinski), who works for an environmental agency. Damon, DeWitt, and Krasinski are all skilled actors, and they play their parts very well.
Frances McDormand portrays Sue Thomason, who travels with Butler. I've admired McDormand's acting since Fargo (1996), so I knew she was a great actor long before the 2021 Oscar. However, I think her talents are wasted in this role. She's a star actor playing a part that a lesser actor could have handled.
We saw this movie on the small screen, where it worked well enough. (Some of the views of the farmland would work better on the large screen.) For reasons I don't understand, this film has a very weak IMDb rating of only 6.6. Unless you're pro-fracking, why wouldn't you like this excellent movie? I rated it 9.
Satisfactory TV episode about a strong, fascinating woman
Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice (1989) was an episode of a TV series called American Experience. It was written and directed by William Greaves.
Ida B. Wells (1862 - 1931) was an African-American journalist and crusader for African-American rights and civil rights for women. She deserves a full-length documentary about her amazing life.
However, what we get here is a well-meaning but pretty basic one-hour TV documentary. As far as I could learn, there have been plays about Wells, but no major films.
Until we get a better movie about Wells, I recommend that you watch this one. At least it will be a start. There are too few ratings about the movie to be meaningful, and this is the first review. My IMDb rating was 8.
Swan Song (II) (2021) was written and directed by Todd Stephens. It's a narrative film, but the protagonist, Pat Pitsenbarger was a well-known flamboyant gay hairdresser in Sandusky. When director Stephens was young, he knew Pitsenbarger. Also, Stephens gathered anecdotes about Pitsenbarger from other people who had known him.
Pitsenbarger is portrayed by Udo Kier, who is a brilliant actor. The movie rises or falls on the talent of the protagonist, and in this case it rises.
Pitsenbarger has retired from hairdressing, but he has been called from retirement to dress the hair of a wealthy woman who has died.
This is, indeed, a road movie, but the road leads from Pitsenbarger's nursing home to the funeral home, both of which are in Sandusky. The plot consists of his encounters as he walks out of the facility and heads towards the funeral home.
This may sound like a pretty feeble premise, but it's just the opposite. The movie was overlooked when it was released. In fact, I'm just the second person to review it. That's too bad, because it's really good film. The movie has an excellent IMDb rating of 7.6. However, that's based on the ratings of just 44 IMDb members. I though it was much better than that, and rated it 9.
P. S. See if you can recognize the dead woman, named Rita Parker Sloan. (She appears in flashbacks and in Pitsenbarger's memories.) She's almost 80 years old, and she still looks great.
Miss Marx (2020) was written and directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. It stars Romola Garai as Eleanor Marx and Patrick Kennedy as her lover, Edward Aveling. Both of them are skilled actors, and portray their roles well.
Eleanor Marx (1855 - 1898) was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx and his wife Jenny von Westphalen. She was a fiery socialist and advocate for women's rights and worker's rights.
I wasn't familiar with the life of Eleanor Marx when I saw the movie, but I did some reading about her before I wrote this review. The film appears factually accurate. Of course, all of the dialog is created by writer-collector Nicchiarelli, and there's no way to confirm what was actually said. Even so, it sounded reasonable and realistic to me.
We saw the film virtually from the Washington, D. C. Labor Film Festival. It worked well on the small screen. For reasons I can't understand, the movie has a terrible IMDb rating of 5.6. (OK--it's not a happy movie, but that doesn't mean it's a bad movie.) I thought it was much better than that, and rated it 8.
P. S. For reasons unknown to me, there's punk rock music on the soundtrack. Not a good choice.
Everything happens inside the Intercontinental Hotel
The Mexican film La camarista (2018) was shown in the U. S. with the translated title The Chambermaid. It was co-written and directed by Lila Avilés.
Gabriela Cartol stars in the title role. She portrays a young woman named Eve. Eve is a poor woman who lives in a distant neighborhood that we never see. Everything in the film happens inside the luxurious hotel.
The movie will rise or fall depending on Cartol's acting skills. She is an excellent actor, and we believe in her as Eve.
Eve works hard, and she is respected by the other workers because of this. Sadly, they accept the hard work and low pay as a given. There's no hint that they would try to collectively stand up to management. What they do is to try to curry favor with management so that they can advance to more expensive rooms where they will get better tips.
Eve's only connection with the outside world is when she makes hurried phone calls to the woman caring for her child. Sometimes she can say a few quick words to him. Otherwise, it's all constant, difficult work.
As you can guess, this isn't a happy film. However, it's an honest film about a diligent worker. I recommend it if you are concerned about workers and their lives.
We saw this movie as a virtual presentation of the Washington, D. C. Labor Film Festival. La camarista has a fairly weak IMDb rating of 7.0. I thought it was much better than that, and rated it 9.