lasttimeisaw

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Point Blank (1967)

one of Lee Marvin's most eminent characters that taps into the time-honored appeal of wounded masculinity A betrayed, taciturn loner clinically exacts his revenge in John Boorman's POINT BLANK, which stylishly epitomizes the one-man-against-an-evil-organization trope, starring Lee Marvin as the first-name-eluded Walker, one of his most eminent characters that taps into the time-honored appeal of wounded masculinity.

Marvin's star charisma is unequivocally put into great use here with a hard-boiled patina and an aloof containment of cynicism, double-crossed by his best friend Mal Reese (Vernon), who also takes away his wife Lynne (Acker), Walker's ascendancy as a hell-bent one-track mind strips him of all other earthly trappings (emotion included) but his comparatively petty pecuniary restitution, even the proactive approaching of Lynne's sultry sister Chris (Dickinson, vamped up with appreciable depth into a seductress' seesawing psyche) can hardly stir his presence of mind, paired with his astute lucidity when grappling with his sinister but clueless antagonists (crammed with memorable supporting turns like a lecherous sleaze in the form of John Vernon, or a suave but scheming Lloyd Bochner, eventually hoisted by his own petard) in bottom-up expediency, his final wordless fading into the darkness is a trenchant retort to a world suffused with vice and avarice, sardonically, Walker never liquidates anyone with his own hands.

Saliently, Boorman visualizes an unorthodox editing modus operandi to spice up the action, from the treacherous prologue, to its measured ambush with the organization's supremo, aided by editor Henry Berman's studious dexterity, it defies audience's wont viewing habit by strewing the plot with fleeting flashback that impinges on the film's coherence but whips up a quaint tension that strangely buttresses its thinly panned-out story and its Neo-noir mores.

As cool as a cucumber, POINT BLANK pointedly retains its epoch-reflecting atmospherics and vigorous mode, a sound testimony of Boorman's stupendous versatility and Marvin's indelible screen incarnation that would emanate huge impact on its many a cinematic progeny, a flinty enforcer whom nothing can hold back.

Thoroughbreds (2017)

an uncharacteristic fable about sororal toxicity and sociopathic deception Premiered at Sundance in 2017, but only released stateside one years later, American director Cory Finley's feature debut THOROUGHBREDS is a trend-bucking female-bonding thriller which passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

Two high-school girls Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke), once best-friends, touch bases under a new circumstance (pretense and lies, a pall of antisocial stultification) and their rekindled friendship is tested by a cold-blooded plan of murdering Lily's minted stepfather Mark (Sparks), whom she despises but, much to a viewer's consternation, the occasion behind her motive is less lurid and more self-serving than we anticipate (an abused victim, one might easily guesstimate, reckoning its typical rich stepfather and teenage step daughter setting).

Amanda, is the head case prima facie, a self-claimed emotionless being (the Shelton Cooper ilk sans any academic ardor), whose grisly contravention is only revealed later and hinted in the beginning. So by comparison, Lily is the far more "normal" one, lives in Mark's enormous manor, she is the princess but with a very dark streak. Finley builds the tension patiently with his reductive modus operandi, in fact, it is conceived as a stage play, which is consummated with coup-de-théâtre, a static long-take leaving the bloodshed to our imagination only, then segues into the incriminating aftermath, to a stirring effect.

The two young leads, both cutting their teeth in the horror genre, Cooke (THE QUIET ONE, OUIJA 2014) and Taylor-Joy (THE WITCH 2015 and SPLIT 2016), bootstrap each other's mentality with acumen, aplomb and unalloyed thespian machination; as for the late Anton Yelchin (1989-2016), in his final film, it is plaintive to watch his abject, slovenly small-time ne'er-do-well Tim, trying futilely to boast about his brighter future whereas his glint of vulnerability is too close to home in the context.

As a singular career calling card, THOROUGHBREDS ultimately suffers, like many of its ilks, from its ill-devised, blasé dialogue, often takes us right out of the ambiguous atmospherics with a tang of distaste simultaneously, for all its affectation, Erik Friedlander's strangely unearthly accompaniment strikes a chord with Finley and his two leads' effect to bring an uncharacteristic fable about sororal toxicity and sociopathic deception to the fore, and admirably, without femininity being subjected to any kind of sexualization, that is promising.

Soshite chichi ni naru (2013)

a slow-burn heart-warmer that transmutes its dramatic ethical selling point into an illuminating lesson of how to better oneself as a father LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON, a switch-at-birth family drama, concocted at the hands of Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda, this Cannes Jury Prize winner, unsurprisingly, is a slow-burn heart-warmer that transmutes its dramatic ethical selling point into an illuminating lesson of how to better oneself as a father.

Two families, the Nonomiyas and the Saikis, elitist versus plebeian, find their respective six-year-old sons are switched at birth in the hosptial, and face the ineluctably tectonic decision of whether switching back their kids or remaining the status quo.

Forgoing an even-steven tactic, Koreeda unyieldingly sets the focus point in the Nonomiya family, namely the father Ryoto (Fukuyama), an aspiring corporate employee, living with his meek wife Midori (Ono) and their son Keita (Ninomiya, a doe-eyed cutie) in an anonymous high-rise apartment, whose winner-takes-it-all precept conforms to the mainstream values of our contemporary world, not to mention the cutting-edge Japanese society, where independence and impersonality strike sharp in contrast with populace's overt superficial courtesy.

It is a ghost of relief upon receiving the earth-shattering tidings that betrays Ryoto's mild disappointment in Keita's quiet make-up, and a schism with Midori (who confesses that Keita's tender personality takes after her) materializes but never over-boiled. Like father, like son, Koreeda perceptively burrows into the cause and effect pattern through Ryoto's father Ryosuke (Natsuyagi, who passed away shortly before the film's premier in 2013), whose broken marriage and bloodline-first attitude allude to Ryoto's own upbringing, and point up the film's most valuable message: a defiance to the patriarchal conformity.

On the other side of bargain is the easy-going Saiki family, Yudai (Franky) and Yukai (Maki), who runs a small store and have 3 kids, Ryusei (Hwang), their oldest son, is actually Ryoto and Midori's biological son. Although Koreeda allocates less time for them, yet it is understandable, because there is no major sea change is instigated (save the initial shock of course), they have no discrimination between the two boys, welcoming Keita as well as respecting Ryoto's decision of swapping, first tentatively only on Saturdays, then a permanent one. The classism undertow is smolderingly approached, and slowly gives way to mutual resignation, until tacit admiration when the Saikis' more organic, spending-your-time-with-your-kids philosophy gets the better of Ryoto.

Koreeda is a sublime maestro who can patiently elicit a profound humbleness out of his workaday story and disarming cast, on the strength of his meticulously orchestrated compositions and lights, more often than not, in company with consummate music choices, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is no exception, star Masaharu Fukuyama staggeringly sheds his pop-idol halo and puts his internal conflict through an empathetic wringer, and even during the mawkish crunch (that camera revelation) a priori, he is compelling enough to register an understated catharsis which sustains the film's high potency of compassion and restraint. Lily Franky makes for a perfect counterexample as Yudai, holds his own against a snooty Ryoto and engages an unstrained chemistry with the kid actors, but never flaunts his contentment in the latter's face. The interactions between two wives are less definitive, but Maki makes her mark in establishing Yukai as a pillar in the household, not an appendage to her husband.

Finally, apropos of the sensitive treatment of the motive behind the swapping, Koreeda eschews any conspiracy theory or accident, but plumps for a more chilling spur-of-the-moment act goaded by the green-eyed monster, a pungent grace note scrupulously reminds us the miasma festering in today's modern society.

Io la conoscevo bene (1965)

an unalloyed Italian hidden gem exhumed from near obscurity A definite highlight of Italian filmmaker Antonio Pietrangeli's career, on which would be tragically put a kibosh by his untimely death in 1968, in reality, people do die of drowning after falling off a cliff.

I KNEW HER WELL continues his streak of strong female presentation, first and foremost, it is a story about a prelapsarian countryside Italian girl Adriana (a 19-year-old Sandrelli uncannily likens a luscious Taylor Swift), who jauntily pursues her star-making dream in the capital city.

Pietrangeli and his co-writers configure a loosely chronological and episodic narrative detailing the interactions between Adriana and a smorgasbord of male characters, from boyfriends, bedfellows, exploiters to sympathetic have-nots, scathingly refracts the sprawling turpitude infesting the showbiz, that a young and unsophisticated Adriana is always given the short end of the stick, can never fall in love with the right guy, and occasional sparkling of kindness dims quickly since it is just not the right time, and the film's ostensibly disengaged observation gives way to an abrupt kicker in the end, where a dysphoria-stricken Adriana takes a radical step to purge her profound disillusion out of her existence.

Wonderfully concatenating manifold vignettes into a cogent case study pertaining to the disintegration of a starlet-to-be's pipe dream (often meld perfectly with era-specific tuneage and dancing routines), Pietrangeli enlists a swell group of multi-national supporting actors, natives Manfredi (unscrupulous), Salerno (pompous), Fabrizi (smarmy), Nero (four-square), joined by a French (Brialy), a German (Fuchsberger), an Austrian (Hoffman) and a Swiss (Adorf) to bolster the mainstay, among whom, Ugo Tagnazzi brilliantly steals the limelight with his backbreaking tap dance and abjectly obsequious attitude as a struggling has-been.

As our leading lady, Sandrelli is de facto a phenomenal wet-behind-the-ears ingénue, but also excels in bringing about a palpable strength of integrity and defiance that is well beyond her age, yet, more often than not, emanates a ghost of melancholia even when hijinks are in full swing. Unequivocally evokes a young girl's version of Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA, I KNEW HER WELL is an unalloyed Italian hidden gem exhumed from near obscurity with its shimmering amalgamation of vintage style, unaffected poignancy and incisive self-mockery.

Design for Living (1933)

bears witness to Lubitsh's master-class aptitude of economic elegance under the Studio system A minor Lubitsch fluff transposes Noël Coward's eponymous play onto the celluloid (but in only bare-bones terms), DESIGN FOR LIVING is a witty but stuffy comedy hammers out an uncharacteristic denouement for a risqué three-way relationship between two men and a woman, a progenitor of François Truffaut's JULES AND JIM (1962).

Three Americans in Paris, best friends and roomies, struggling artists Tom Chambers (March) and George Curtis (Cooper) both are swept off their feet by a chic girl Gilda Farrell (Hopkins), who reciprocates them with isometric amount of affection, before soon a platonic ménage-à-trois under the same roof is propounded and accepted with a tripartite agreement, only sabotaged when one party is away in London for his burgeoning playwright career, the remaining two becomes an item, occasioning a crack in two men's friendship, and a seesawing Gilda has only one exit route when she is again, impelled to make the impossible choosing, leaving both and hurriedly marries to her long-time admirer Max Plunkett (Horton, utterly jolly in his priggish, business-oriented persona), which turns out to be an exasperating mistake on her part. It is a jocose folie-à-trois panning out like a heady and mellifluous minuet, predominantly confined itself within interior spaces, aptly conceals its hanky-panky business off the screen (released within a whisker of the advent of the notorious Hays Code), but revels in its proto-screwball faux-naïf characterization to the hilt. The trio leads are all up for it, although acting side by side, a debonair March fairly eclipses an impetuous Cooper in his sonorous diction and unperturbed demeanor, but the cynosure here is a ripsnorting Hopkins, exerts her high-wire balancing act between two emblems of idealized American masculinity and only comically falls prey of her own indecision in the slapdash third act, as a matter of fact, Lubitsch cunningly expurgates all the frills and trimmings from his camera (including a climactic brawl, vanishingly completed in a trice), less is more, this blithe rom-com once again bears witness to Lubitsh's master-class aptitude of economic elegance under the Studio system.

Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

WINGS OF DESIRE holds dear in its heart the most elemental sensation of being alive, a knockout, through and through Invisible (or occasionally visible only to children's beady eyes) angels are wandering among us, telepathic to our inarticulate thoughts, but ocularly, lives in a black-and-white realm, sometimes hovering above with a God's eye-view, sometimes passing us by like an apparition, sometimes contemplating our misery with utter poignancy, but they are unable to interact with neither a mortal's live nor the physical world, all they can do is observing, listening, extending a conciliatory but discarnate hand when empathy hits hard, in Wim Wenders' WINGS OF DESIRE, that is the price for a bystander's infinite existence.

In West Berlin, just a few years before the demolition of that infamous wall, two angels Damien (Ganz) and Cassiel (Sander), dwelling in Berlin State Library, among others, confer about their philosophy, their year-round observance and their mission on earth, and divergence starts to crystallize when Damien gets particularly attached to a trapeze performer Marion (Dommartin, in her film debut), submerged entirely in her lonesomeness. Before her circus disbands, and encouraged by an erstwhile angel, the actor Peter Falk, COLUMBO himself, who forsook immortality 30 years ago, Damien decides to follow suit in pursuit of fulfilling his providential encounter with Marion; meanwhile a stolid Cassiel, closely follows an old man Homer (the swan song of the octogenarian Curt Bois, for an extraordinary career spanning over seven decades), sauntering around the city for the remnant of his war-ravaged past, becomes increasingly distressed after witnessing a young man's suicide and refuses Peter's overtures, remains his angelic form against the inexpressible torment as his deathless burden.

Wenders' humanistic inclination melds fittingly with Peter Handke's poetic text, namely, the seminal and recurring poem SONG OF CHILDHOOD, monologized from Damien's perspective. It is not a fluke that he was crowned BEST DIRECTOR in Cannes, Wenders takes a great leap of faith in furnishing viewers with those sublime aerial craning shots and meditative dolly sequences, to say nothing of presenting Marion's nail-biting acrobatic performance, and the dichotomy between Angel's sepia-inflected monochrome and a varicolored human world totally nails the tonal shift that lends the film a timeless luster of cinematic appeal, which is not solely on the eye level, but plunges deep into one's psyche, to cogitate on humanity through a purely existential ground.

Bruno Ganz is singularly expressive with his soul-reaching gazes and as a newly born human, he manifests a touching impression of elation and amazement that almost becomes mesmeric to behold; also, a supple Solveig Dommartin, gallantly conquers both senses of garish and ethereal while kills it on the trapeze, whereas Peter Falk relishes in his meta-presence with gusto and geniality. Gingered up with live rendition from Simon Bonney's Crime & The City Solution and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, WINGS OF DESIRE holds dear in its heart the most elemental sensation of being alive, and at the same time, formulates a lucid message to mankind's inescapable pathos, a knockout, through and through.

Indochine (1992)

a behemoth of epic filmmaking that gingerly keeps cultural misappropriation and political contention at bay, but holds that faded memory in its heart Régis Wargnier's starkly impartial dissection of the declining colonial French Indochina (now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) in the 1930s, INDOCHINE is a perfervid melodrama that walks a fine line between rational self-examination and exotic exploitation, not to mention it chalked up Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM honor in 1993.

Catherine Deneuve plays Éliane, a wealthy French spinster and the proprietress of a rubber plantation in Indochina, whose well-off days is thrusted into an imbroglio when she and her Vietnamese adopted daughter Camille (a porcelain-like Linh Dan Pham in her film debut, taking the short end of the stick for some graphic nudity here), both fall in love with a handsome French sailor Jean-Bapiste (Pérez, an optimum dreamboat, smouldering with vigor and ardor), through quirks of fate, Camille kills a French officer when she barely reunites with a demoted Jean-Bapiste in the Dragon Islet, the pair soon starts their fugitive days with a Communist theater troupe, during which Camille bears him a son, Étienne, and their anti-colonial feat turns into a local legend, sparks and fans endemic insurrections against the French dominion, before soon, an eternal separation gains on the star-crossed lovers, and the infant boy is returned to Éliane, who is gnawed by guilt and powerlessness, while Camille is being cooped up in prison, and the next time they meet is years later, yet nothing can be the same again, Camille is no longer the silver-spooned heiress, but a Communist fighter devotes herself to the noble cause of her country's liberation. Sensing the colony's numbered days are pending, Élaine sells the plantation and returns to France with Étienne.

Wargnier doesn't pull punches in delineating the atrocity subjected to the downtrodden local paupers by the supercilious colonists, primarily through Camille's eyes during her headstrong pursuance of the man with whom she is smitten through an almost unilateral coup de foudre, driven by a resolution that is blindly impetuous, human beings are weighed and checked, and sold like animals, indeed, Camille's own quagmire is triggered by witnessing heinous murders of innocent people committed by those representing the privileged life as she knows it before, this is that hammer blow dashes her own illusion of the complacency under colonialism, which eventually leads viewers to feel slightly disappointing, that the film is not gutsy enough to brings her perspective into the cynosure.

Which doesn't necessarily mean that Éliane's passive, conflicted realization is less impactful, she is the perfect specimen of French gentility and superiority, her slow disintegration with those around her can connect more with occidental audience (it is a French production after all), and Deneuve is superb to look at, not just in her usual enigmatic glamor and appeal (she still has it at the age of 49), but in those more poignant moments too, her Éliane holds sway whenever she goes, whoever she encounters, but there is a cauldron of inarticulate emotions shaping up her wholesome personality (beholding her reaction after receiving a slap in the face), that is what Deneuve is demanded to bring about, an Oscar nomination is quite a feather in her cup.

Visually and tonally speaking, Wargnier and his team give them all to recreate the nostalgic grandeur of a bygone era, and ascertain that they put their money where their mouth is, cosseting audience with scrumptious land/sea-scape panning shots and oriental exotica, Patrick Doyle's orotund accompanying score is well conducive to its grand design, all in all, INDOCHINE is a behemoth of epic filmmaking that gingerly keeps cultural misappropriation and political contention at bay, but holds that faded memory in its heart.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

this 90s flamboyant drag cult made from Down Under is truly, a hoot and a half Revisiting this 90s flamboyant drag cult made from Down Under, a trio of drag performers, two drag queens, Mitzi (Weaving) and Felicia (Pearce) and a trans-woman Bernadette (Stamp), embarks on a road trip on their titularly coined bus, from Sydney to the outback to perform their routines, en route, they meet multifarious people (whose reaction ranging from beneficent, gobsmacked, impassive, miffed to violent, and the juxtaposition between the aborigine and the white hicks is piercingly sharp) and each has his/her own generational revelation to cope with by the time their four-week-stint ends.

Felicia, a sassy whippersnapper played by a sinewy Guy Pearce in his breaking-out cinema role, who constantly squabbles with Bernadette and has to learn his lesson in a hard way after he has a narrow escape from hate-crime induced mutilation, and Pearce is barnstorming to a fault, as if he is too self-aware of his orthodox masculine appearance, which he compensates with a patina of overlown effeminate affectation and posturing that runs to distracting, as we know that queer and masculine don't necessarily exclude each other, perceivably, he is the weakest link in the fold.

Hugo Weaving's Mitzi, acting more natural in his persona's stage/private distinction, carries a more weighty responsibility when we realize he is married to a woman and they have an eight-year-old son Benji (Holmes), the burden of guilt and shame is what weighs down on every nonconformist being's soul, his tentative attempt to reconnect with Benj engages with a tender vulnerability that precariously avoids becoming saccharine, which says a lot about the performer's emotive strength.

Nevertheless, the best performance unequivocally comes from Terence Stamp, whose Bernadette is long in the tooth, but she proves that wisdom, dignity and snide quips are amassed through years of hardened self-preservation against side-eyes and brandishing fists, Stamp embodies her with superlative poise larded with subtle cynicism and utter phlegm, which makes Bernadette's romantic kindling with a rough diamond Bob (Hunter) more like an unexpected boon than a hackneyed plot maneuver.

The show must go on, and for a drag troupe of three, lip-syncing of queer-friendly iconic hits (Charlene's I'VE NEVER BEEN ME is an infectious show opener, which would be dusted off in Lynne Ramsay's YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE 2017, and rendered an idiosyncratically poignant effect) is just a one trick pony doesn't offer much variations, so their pageantry lives and dies with its gaudy, zany, eye-popping, varicolored, Oscar-winning apparel, particularly when being put into use against the vast topography in the middle of nowhere, and the crowning moment on the top of King's canyon, that majesty feeling of being unique in a cosmic world is so refreshing and life-affirming.

Lastly, one cannot stress this enough, it is an unqualified relief that director/writer Stephan Elliott sticks to his guns with a less dramatic leitmotif to anchor his tragedy-prone subject matter in the most gracious way one can probably conceive, PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT is truly, a hoot and a half.

Game Night (2018)

a mainstream American comedy tinged with a mild distaste of its cavalier attitude of mollycoddling the lowest common denominator A reveal-after-reveal black comedy grinds out the perennial problems of a man's sibling pressure and a woman's natalism instinct to actuate an unexpected game night which goes very much awry for the game-loving couple Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams), and their equally game friends.

Director duo Daley and Goldstein sustains a care-free, jaunty pace from the word go and never subverts the good vibes with menace from a criminal underworld, summoning three heterosexual couples to solve a blundering kidnap mystery game of Max's brother Brooks (Chandler), ostensibly spurred by material gain, the plot is pretty derivative and seems to been left on the shelf at least for more than a decade, before being dusted off with a few more twists to spice it up, a frivolously and persistently needling spat between the African-American couple Kevin and Michelle (Morris and Bunbury), is for him to find out who is the celebrity she slept with 10 years ago during their cooling-off period, and the answer is none other than Denzel Washington, albeit a fake one, who is 54 years old in 2008 while Bunbury is barely 19, egregious daddy issue is too passé for 2018, guys!

A third pair is a harebrained jock Ryan (Magnussen) and his new date Sarah (British comedienne Horgan), an elder but much more sharp-witted companion compared to his usual one-off bimbos, a slavish opposite attraction byplay but sparks don't fly high. Although it is nice to see Bateman, Hall and Chandler, three TV leading man congregated together to engage some generic action and harmless laughter, the real scene-stealer here is Jesse Plemons, aka. the poor man's Matt Damon (although I will bet anyone that he will notch up an Oscar for acting sooner than his more prestigious doppelgänger), as the creepy neighbor Gary, straddling mischievously between the elaborated master-mind and the valiant policeman, and irrefutably, the least obnoxious character among the posse.

And that's it, GAME NIGHT is a fun choice for a movie night, preferably with friends, not too ambitious but there is enough spontaneous laughter to cherish, in tandem with a mild distaste of its cavalier attitude of mollycoddling the lowest common denominator.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)

Greenaway's self-reflexive, symphonically flamboyant opus can be construed as a nonconformist filmmaker's knowing salute to a free-spirited genius As the title indicates, this is a biopic inspired by the Mexican days of Soviet Union cinema vanguard Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), after his sortie into Hollywood proved to be futile, in 1930, he was assigned to make the ambitious but ultimately problematic project QUE VIVA MEXICO in Mexico (the whole ordeal is worthy of its own screen re-enactment), which Eisenstein would later relinquishes, a relatively intact version would only be released posthumously in 1979.

No one would expect Peter Greenaway's treatment to be strictly reverent, although now in his seventies, Greenaway has no hesitation of venturing into the prurient facet of Eisenstein's idiosyncrasy and abandon, preponderantly, the film is a two-hander between Sergei (Bäck) and his Mexican guide Palomino Cañedo (Alberti), to whom Sergei claims to lose his virginity. Sergei's homosexual initiation is explicitly explored in the palatial hotel room he stays, on that vast bed, the sex temple he shares with Palomino, and coins the first ten days in Guanajuato as "Ten Days that shook Eisenstein", a wordplay to his revolutionary pièce-de-résistence OCTOBER: TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (1928).

Greenaway delights in magnifying Eisenstein's blunt self-reflection and directorial frustration (although it is mostly an interior piece that largely overlooks the filmmaker's onerous field work, excluding a visit to the Mummies of Guanajuato and the institution of the Day of the Dead celebration) through his larger-than-life approach which constitutes operatic ways of utterance, info-dumping sleight-of-hand where real-life footage is rapidly juxtaposed to counterpoint the references in a triptych split-screen, and majestic, but noticeably digitally airbrushed and light-inflected scenography, being put into great use in the flourishes of 360 degree twirling shots and seamlessly edited faux-long shots, etc., all is impressive on a grandiose scale, but also appreciably betrays an overreaching effort to reassure us that he is still at the top of his game.

Under the spotlight is Finnish actor Elmer Bäck's madcap impersonation of a ludic, unprepossessing Eisenstein, sporting a fuzzy, bouffant hairdo à la Einstein, and gives his all to Greenaway's undue caprices, which on the whole leaves the impression that Eisenstein is more hysterical than sympathetic, a clownish figure whose brilliance is very much elusive to moderately stunned audience, a typical case of miscast should be noted. Luis Alberti, by comparison, comes off less scathed owing to his more natural and unaffected "stud" role in the play.

By and large, Greenaway's self-reflexive, symphonically flamboyant opus can be construed as a nonconformist filmmaker's knowing salute to a free-spirited genius who constantly clashes with his times and whose legacy should be incessantly exhumed to meet new light and fresh air, and knock dead any number of spectators.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947)

a Punch-obsessed schemer who is ironically blind-sided by and eventually dies from the aristo-recognition he is spoiling for On paper, a middle-aged, faintly portly George Sanders doesn't seem to befit the image of Georges Duroy, aka. Bel Ami, the caddish protagonist of Maupassant's belle époque novel, and on the screen, he looks no better (meticulously arranged mustaches included), uppity, yes, but not dapper enough to cut the mustard as a congenital heart-breaker to his female admirers galore.

However, this Hollywood adaptation, directed by a workmanlike Albert Lewin, resolves to downplay the sordidness in Bel Ami's social-climbing wiles and his misogynist contempt towards the weaker sex, his maneuver is self-seeking, for sure, but not without a proper gentility that is very characteristic of Parisian's silk-stocking upper crust, as if he intimates that it is those women's own fault of being uniformly bewitched by his natural appeal, as if he were merely a grudging condoner, and it always takes two to tango, whether it is Clotilde de Marelle (a 22-year-young Lansbury, already playing a widow with a tot under her belt), who pledges her subservient love to him at the expense of her own pride; or Claire Madeleine Forestier (Dvorak), the business-savvy wife of Georges' comrade-in-arms-turned-munificent-benefactor Charles Forestier (Carradine), voluntarily ties the knot with Bel Ami when she sees fit, business-wise; or Madame Walter (Emery), a modest-looking minted housewife, who foolishly takes their affair a bit too seriously, and her nubile daughter Suzanne (Douglas Rubes), gravitated to him like a witless moth to the unaccountable fire.

Therefore, it is not strange that George's belated redemption is vamped up by a pall of Hollywood romantic soft touch (Darius Milhaud's majestic score is also here to help), and then almost immediately dissipated by the cockamamie dueling face-off, that excruciatingly camp struggle of his rival is a whopping embarrassment even by Hollywood's dated standard at that time, which, in hindsight, could be second-guessed as a deliberate move to diffuse the fatalistic heaviness in favor of a sanitized feeling of facile poetic justice.

Yet, for all its foibles, Gordon Wiles' sumptuous production is a florid delight to sore eyes, and against the disadvantageous character arc, many of the distaff players manage to hold out their own stance, a slightly slouching Lansbury is excellently expressive apropos of her dramatic chops; Ann Dvorak takes pleasure and pride in rendering a beguiling ambiguity that manifest that she is not a victim but his equal in the aftermath, and Frances Dee, as Marie de Varenne, the sole rejector of Bel Ami's advances, makes her virtuous retort a welcome tonic to the picture's often disinterested pace and Sander's phlegmatic central performance.

Another boost is Max Ernst's painting "Temptation of St. Antony", materializes itself for several seconds in its chromatic flair, the sole exception in this magnificently restored black-and-white eye-catcher, which, after all, belies its sensational tagline on its original title "the history of a scoundrel!", more a Punch-obsessed schemer who is ironically blind-sided by and eventually dies from the aristo-recognition he is spoiling for.

La Ciénaga (2001)

a very fine stepping stone from a robust film-maker making a good fist of counterpoising the inexplicable with the pedestrian Shot in Salta, director Lucrecia Martel's hometown, nestled in the Argentinian high plains, her debut feature THE SWAMP is a cinematic homage to the place and milieu where she grows up, it is intimate, clammy, misty and torpidity-ridden, an internalized sociological drama that definitely puts her name on the cinematic map.

Two households' quotidian lives are interlocked together, Mecha (Borges) is the matriarch of a petit bourgeois family, husband Gregorio (Adjemián), two teenage daughters Verónica (Balcarce) and Momi (Bertolotto) and a younger son Joaquín (Baenas) who has lost his right eye and pending for an operation. Most of them vegetate around in their decrepit countryside estate under the influence of the humid and sweltering weather, a sanguineous accident brings back her eldest son José (Bordeu) for a sojourn and the visits from her working-class cousin Tali (Morán), who is living in the town with her husband Rafael (Valenzuela) and a brood of 4 (or 5?) younger kids, a prominent feature sees Martel unfolds the story in medias res and leaves no explanatory pointers, therefore it is completely left to viewers to piece together the make-ups of the two families (and other backstories) through its meandering and characteristically rowdy narrative, a task this reviewer might not able to cinch in the end.

Kit her camera with a slithering but sensibly unobtrusive mobility, Martel unwaveringly levels it to her close-knit characters with clinical observation, often from unorthodox angles, no establishing shots, seldom focuses on the exterior locations or utilizes long shots, the camera is restive but the characters are entrapped and enervated inside their pokey space, mostly on their beds, lazing around, doing nothing, their stalemate is contagious, a metaphor blandly illustrated by a buffalo bogged down helplessly inside a swamp.

Day-to-day triviality is given a microscopic examination under Martel's perceptive, score-free orchestration, through which she deftly lays out the chasm between classes and races (Mecha vs. her Amerindian servants), latent lesbianism (Momi's obsession with the young maid Isabel, played by a stolid Andrea López), the connubial strain and sheer contempt, religious sideswipe (through faux-newsreel of Virgin Mary's alleged manifestation) and the quasi-incestuous horseplay between José and Véronica, and pertaining to Martel's female slant, it is him in the state of dishabille for viewers to gaze upon, all integrated organically into this understated but telling drama that excoriates Argentina's pandemic ennui, to the point when its detriment start to tell in the accidental (but presaged) tragedy which brings down the final curtain, it hits less like a wake-up call than the designed vagaries of kismet, a very fine stepping stone from a robust film-maker making a good fist of counterpoising the inexplicable with the pedestrian.

The Band Wagon (1953)

"the" genuine chef d'oeuvre of a Minnelli musical Forget about AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) or GIGI (1958), this is "the" genuine chef d'oeuvre of a Minnelli musical, THE BAND WAGON is a glittering meta-pomp jauntily fights its corner for the middlebrow fluff over the highbrow pretension, not to mention it is where THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! standard derives from.

An over-the-hill screen star, is given an opportunity to headline a Broadway musical to resuscitate his ebbing career, if the protagonist were a woman, the film would be Billy Wilder's downbeat elegy SUNSET BLVD. (1950), but thanks to the showbiz's ingrained double-standard, for a nimble-footed Tony Hunter (a 54-year-old Astaire), everything is rosy and eventually he is able to have his cake and eat it too! (actualizing a consequential comeback and simultaneously winning over the heart of his much younger leading lady.) However, enveloped in his aw-shucks and avuncular bonhomie, he is fortuitously accorded with a laissez-passer.

Creative license is put into comical use through the character of an omnipotent triple-threat Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan, flip but nevertheless, an able hoofer), a very persuasive producer, a conceited director and a grandiloquent luvvie, who has been on a tear in Broadway and idiosyncratically decides to transpose the show's fluffy original material into a boundary breaker, viz. a musical reinterpretation of Faust. Everyone has to humor him on the strength of his clout, only a disastrous tryout can drench him out of his airy-fairy excess. Thankfully he ekes out enough alacrity to let the self-knowledge-savvy Tony resumes the rein henceforward, and the movie's money shots transpire in a string of pluperfect musical numbers, including the ingenious, knee-dancing ditty "Triplets" (Astaire, Buchanan and a sparkling, corn-fed Nanette Febray, who is particularly reminiscent of Astaire's quondam partner Ginger Rogers), and is topped off by the entrancing "GIRL HUNT" ballet pas-de-deux between Astaire and a voluptuous Cyd Charisse in her crimson sheath dress, against a modern noir-ish scenography.

Endowed with a game and nimble cast (the monkey wrench in the works is a stooped Oscar Levant, often looks uncooperative and miffed on the sideline), THE BAND WAGON is a passé romance, lukewarm comedy but a sterling musical production, beaming with gems composed by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, choreographed by Michael Kidd, both ocularly and aurally, this first-time reviewer is stock-still bewitched with a waxing smile at the corner of his mouth.

Certain Women (2016)

a microcosmic film-making in its most auteurist stature Carving out a sublimely low-key triptych out of Maile Meloy's stories onto the screen, Kelly Reichardt's lucidly orchestrated CERTAIN WOMEN whisks her audience to a small-town Montana, and in each part of the triptych, a woman finds herself flummoxed by a common-or-garden quagmire about human interaction (by turns, professionally, domestically and emotionally) which soberly flouts any sensationalism through Reichardt's brilliant execution.

Laura Wells (a pensive and discomfited Dern), a middle-aged lawyer, is frustrated by the persistent visits of her client William Fuller (Harris, strives for an ostensibly expansive persona but strikingly betrays his disquiet bobbing right underneath the surface), who insists on suing his company for the work-place injury inflicted on him, even after Laura repeatedly explicates to him that it is legally nugatory reckoning with his circumstance, still he won't take her advise seriously, not until he implicates her into a late-night hostage foolery, the episode finds an almost anticlimactic pay-off.

The heroine in the second segment is Gina (Williams, exquisitely smoldering in her understated flair), who is married to Ryan Lewis (Le Gros), and they have a teenage daughter Guthrie (Rodier), their marital rift starts to aggravate when they visit an elderly friend Albert (Auberjonois) to buy a heap of sandstone lined up haphazardly in front of the latter's house, which they can use to build their own abode. If Laura's plight is occasioned by exterior intrusion and social prejudice (people tend to believe an authoritative male figure than a female one), Gina's story tackles a more internal frustration within a nuclear family, stranded inside a loveless marriage (right out of the box, Reichardt notifies us Ryan is Laura's part-time lover), Gina seems to have an upper hand over a biddable Ryan and in negotiating with Albert for their house's sake, but Reichardt's observant camera brings home to audience that she is also invidiously victimized or undermined by the male parties here, not to mention being given the short shrift from the pubescent Guthrie. A scathing but tonally placid critique about motherhood, wifehood and being a strong woman allocates the second chapter ample elbow room (for both Gina and spectators) to breathe and introspect.

Yet, a crescendo is crystallized in the third story, about a young girl, simply credited as the Rancher (Gladstone), whose Indian descent is only hinted, takes a horse-tending job on her ownsome, seeks any ghost of human contact out of her monotonous solitude, she stumbles on a night class of school law taught by a young lawyer Beth Travis (Stewart), who has to inure a four-hour drive (one way) for this biweekly endeavor. An unilateral attraction germinates in hugger-mugger, so how far does one can go to venture a possible reciprocation? Most of the time, the answer is always there, clear as day, but no one can blame you for trying, the newcomer Gladstone kills it in her transcendent reaction shots in response of a bewildering nonevent, brimful of subtlety and unfeigned undertow of heart-breaking, meanwhile Stewart brings about a significant mien of jaded weariness and guarded spontaneity as a wrong-footed, short-changed bottom feeder. Opting for a less elaborately interwoven structure, Reichardt allows each story flourish on its own terms without much fragmentation, and only tentatively suggests the characters' tie-ins (Laura and Gina is obliquely linked by Ryan, the Rancher and Laura has a fleeting encounter in her office, that is all), and most extraordinarily furnishes these heartfelt female-centered stories with an incisive contemporary spin meanwhile upholds her aesthetic integrity to the hilt, CERTAIN WOMEN is a microcosmic film-making in its most auteurist stature.

Shan zhong zhuan qi (1979)

An eerie oriental gem cunningly cashes in on traditional mythology, occult and legendary King Hu's luxuriantly restored grandeur of a Chinese ghost story takes place in the Song Dynasty (roughly 11th century), running over three hours, LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN bracingly takes its audience to get a glimpse of many sylvan heritage-certified sites in South Korea, whereas its story-line depicts the unheimlich occurrences pivots around a hapless man of letters Ho (Shih Chun), who is a non-believer of necromancy, but accepts a job to transcribe an all-powerful Buddist sutra, which presumably will bring nirvana to legions of dead soldiers who are the casualty of the ongoing warfare between Song and Western Xia Empire.

A guileless Ho is set to the border to meet a Mr. Tsui (Tung Lin), a consigliere of a deceased general (Sun Yeuh), who can arrange him for a placid place to do his meritorious deed, but soon he is ensnared into a honey trap set by Ms. Chang (Rainbow Hsu) and her daughter Melody (Hsu Feng), and King explicitly notifies us that Mr. Tsui is also complicit. In the wake of his purportedly improper behavior towards a comely Melody one night under the influence of alcohol (which is actually triggered by Melody's hypnotic tambour beats), an oblivious Ho marries Melody with alacrity, and the latter dutifully assists him in his transcribing workload, but the fitful presence of a lama (Wu Ming-Tsai) perturbs their specious serenity.

King makes ascertain that something is iffy about every single individual around Ho with manifest gesticulations that appreciably piques audience's curiosity, although one might safely conjecture that the ulterior motive is all about the sutra well in advance, and soon Ho is paired with Cloud (Sylvia Chang), a beneficent ingénue when Melody's malevolent temperament starts to take the center and repulse everybody else, but still mired in the friend-or-foe pressure-cooker until the lama shows the backstory of Melody and Cloud, among others. Ho is urged to finish his transcription by Tsui and Cloud before Melody and co. can lay their hands on it, but after everything is said and done (all the undead meets their perdition), King tentatively hints a pipe dream scenario, does the whole cock-and-bull story really happen to Ho?

Clearly, King is immensely enamored of the locality's breathtaking geomorphology, and goes to great lengths in capturing its fauna and flora with illuminated pillow shots whenever Chinese traditional music pipes up, whether diegetic or not (the score is credited by musician Wu Ta-Chiang), be it from Melody's aggressive drum or Cloud's euphonious flute, although it is severely at the expense of narrative momentum, and renders the whole work a tad padded-out and incoherent.

On a more inspiring note, King intentionally holds back his characteristic and expeditious kung-fu shtick which has made his mark in DRAGON IN (1967) or A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971), and hammers out a series of slightly haphazard but clamorous confrontations, mostly between Melody and the lama during their elongated percussive smack-off, tarted up by vivid-colored smoke, efficient special effects (wire-fu included) and sharp editing skills.

A mudra-exerting Shih Chun might appear somewhat harmless reckoning that he is kit up with Confucian etiquette sans blistering martial art, but enough to make for a compassionate, reluctant hero; there is Hsu Feng, projecting her fierce glares with unadulterated virulence, proves herself to be a superlative villain when she is requested, and emphatically humbles Sylvia Chang's angelic presence into nonentity. An abiding impression pertains to the anonymous actress Rainbow Hsu, who plays Melody's mother, the officious but sprightly Ms. Chang, is that she is cross-dressed and played by a male actor, so it comes as a real surprise that it is apparently not the case (according to the source on various internet websites though).

An eerie oriental gem cunningly cashes in on traditional mythology, occult and legendary, undermined only by occasional longueurs as the result of its maker's undue passion sparked by the purlieu, nevertheless, King Hu's scintillating idiom of synesthetic felicity is an awestruck coup de maître, that no one can ever gainsay.

The Last Days of Disco (1998)

a sparkling eulogy of Whitman's own youthful abandon and disillusion USA conversationalist Whit Stillman's third feature, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO trades on his personal experiences of NYC's disco-scene (salted with Harvard-disparaging quips) in the early 80s, ebulliently scrutinizing a coterie of freshly out-of-college yuppie-wannabes, who are habitually congregated in their common haunt, an unconscionably popular nightstand, meantime, their love life and career path wax and wane variably, signposted by its title when their disco days are unexpectedly being put paid to, time to grown up when reality bites.

Alice (Sevigny), a self-contained sylph dithering about making the right decisions - don't be judgmental, be sexy, always at the bidding of her more popular but stuck-up friend Charlotte (a fresh-faced Beckinsale, looking ghastly under the slap), both girls work in the same publishing house and mingle with the likes of Tom (Leonard), a spiffy environmental lawyer, Jimmy (Astin), an enterprising adman, No.1 and No.2 prospects on Alice's infatuation list, then there are Josh (Keeslar), a young assistant district attorney and Des (Eigeman), a college-dropout who becomes one of the managers of the said nightclub, both take a fancy on the quiet but intelligent Alice.

Gender study and sex politics are thrown into the mix where philandering and mendacity (using "gay excuse" to break off relationships), gender double standards (you are a titillating slut, I will not forfeit our chance of a one-night-stand, but afterwards, we are finished.), treacherous friendship (Beckingsale is totally in her wheelhouse as the paradigm of the so called "green tea bitch", avant la lettre), even venereal disease, collectively roil the dynamism of their pairing-off games, to somewhat wacky but consistently buoyant vibes, however, a byplay relative of an undercover police investigation is only patchily introduced as a frivolous plot device, fails to emphasize what is at stake, and the manic-depressive Josh, accorded with a forthright quirkiness and spontaneous elocution, potentially the most fascinating character among the posse, is wasted by the wooden, stilted performance from the blandly handsome Keeslar, whose recapitulation of the film's tenor near the finish-line comes off as a deleterious overkill.

However, club-scene hasn't died out, has been continuing luring new generations of hipsters and scenesters with theme-specific variations to this day, over three decades later, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO is, to each their own, a sparkling eulogy of Whitman's own youthful abandon and disillusion, and on a sociological level, a zeitgeist-reflecting conversation piece that thankfully doesn't belie its maker's undue conceit and guile.

Dark Victory (1939)

Another plenary victory in Ms. Davis' bang-up repertoire Another plenary victory in Ms. Davis' bang-up repertoire, DARK VICTORY, her tear-jerking star-vehicle directed by a nimble-handed Edmund Goulding (commendably downplays the story's stagy vibes), strikes as an elemental force of itself which poignantly probes the doleful subject of how to face death on one's own terms when there is not much time left.

Davis plays a young, free-spirited New York socialite Judith Traherne, who has been assailed by headaches for months until her vision is also impaired, after the check-up of Dr. Steele (Brent), an operation is exercised to remove the tumor in her brain, but it is the "prognosis negative" result that sounds the death knell to her, merely 23 years old, she has only less than one year to live, before blindness and then quietus catches on with her sequentially.

What the narrative makes great play of is a one-two step of secrecy-keeping decision, starting with Dr. Steele, whose growing affection of Judith convinces him that he should keep a lid on the bad tidings so that a newborn Judith would at least enjoy the most of her precious remaining time, then, as a maladroit liar, he is blindsided by a perceptive Ann (a stalwart Fitzgerald credibly actualizing her dramatic chops), Judith's bestie-cum-secretary, to whom he lets on the truth and finds himself a partner-in-crime in contiguity with Judith, the latter eventually alights on the hammer blow that cruelly dashes her high-spirited prospect of a new lease on life (including marrying Steele and starting their nuptial life in Vermont), and reverts to her carpe diem intemperance and horse-riding, only to be struck by an epiphany when she frolics with her stable hand Michael O'Leary (Bogart, still paying his dues in subservient roles, but manages to seal a kiss with his leading lady, a boon is not bestowed to Brent, who was in fact engaging an affair with Davis at then), ergo, a right decision takes her on the right track and finally, she finds courage and peace towards her imminent fate, with dignity intact and its fallout minimized to the one she loves, which constitutes the second keeping-mum plot device that amply builds up the climax.

It is one of Davis' most spellbinding performance which potently attests her sweeping acting mutability, in the beginning, she is a defensive self-denier, more or less congruent with her sharp-tongued, faintly priggish persona, but not exactly descends into an overbearing prima donna, in no time, her defense is thwarted by Dr. Steele's suave solicitation, yet, what really hits the mark is during those tender moments, where her facet of repentance and earnestness overtakes the screen as we are compelled to invest our empathy to a young woman whose entitlement of living being unfairly cut short, still, she is able to come to terms with it in the most affective fashion that categorically elevates the film above the not so uncharacteristic sugar-the-pill treatment, which the Hollywood assembly line habitually implements on its unsavory subject matter, that is what one calls a legitimately tickets-selling one-woman-show!

I, Tonya (2017)

I, TONYA holds sway as a rebuttal to the truth-debunking trend and flags up the inherent impediment in front of everyone's upstream battle There is something unconscionably rebarbative in the factual story of Tonya Hardling (1970-) (Robbie), an erstwhile top-notch American figure skater who falls from grace in the wake of a physical assault inflicted to her fellow teammate/rival Nancy Kerrigan (Carver), with which she may or may not be involved, that is, it represents the most air-headed idiocy and indignity executed by those we might refer to as "peckerwoods", for wanting of wits, conscience, compassion, even wiles, they are piteous for sure, but there is also a pithy Chinese adage, which can be roughly interpreted as: a poor person must have a detestable trait.

Director Craig Gillespie briskly soups up this biopic with revelatory modi operandi of four-square faux-interviews and breaking-the-fourth wall gimmick to feed us prompt commentaries and wry afterthoughts apropos of its state of affairs from the subjects, an inviting tactic to piece together the less fluid chronological narratology. And the money-shots are certainly hinged on the re-enactments of Tonya's historical Olympic performances, and with a helping hand of cutting-edge CGI magic, despite on some occasions we can fairly discern the effect that Robbie's face is edited onto the gliding skater in the post-production, by and large, the filmmakers have done a cracking job to construct them with a scintillating cinematic sheen.

Apart from a physically backbreaking stunt for Robbie to pull off Tonya's aptitude on the ice rink, she weaves through the whole shebang with amazing verve and compelling agency, aided by a beneficial factor of the film's slant on Tonya: blameless in the scandal, and is not someone who is willfully refuses to play along with the tacit rule of figure skating, but simply she is just a different kettle of fish from those elected ice princesses to represent a nation's international image, a tragic figure falls victim of the dark and sanctimonious side of a typical American dream.

Consequentially, Robbie is proudly initiated as an Oscar nominated actress, which bullishly paves the way for her leading lady status among the Hollywood current echelon. But it is Allison Janney's Oscar-certified showstopper as a monstrously abusive mother that takes this reviewer aback (not in an entirely salutary sense though), as rewarding as to see a veteran of Janney's caliber finally pays her due to grasp the holy grail, her showy and bitter incarnation of LaVona Golden, Tonya's mother, ruefully overreaches the boundary between caricature and baring-it-out authenticity.

Still and all, another monster in Tonya's life, Jeff Gillooly, her abusive first husband played by a smoldering Sebastian Stan, is left disproportionally unsung compared to the hailing laurels received by the two aforementioned ladies, in fact, Stan is far from a sub-par contributor to the film's hair-trigger dynamism, and rightfully, he transmits Jeff's pernicious influence with poise and a semblance of inner conflict that is so critical in a role's wholesome characterization, which is found wanting in both case of LaVona and Shawn Eckhardt (Hauser), the presumed barmy culprit whose presence only reminds us the nadir of human lunacy.

By turns ebullient, over-the-top, rousing (partially thanks to Fleetwood Mac's infectious THE CHAIN), sardonic and archly cynical, I, TONYA holds sway as a rebuttal to the truth-debunking trend and flags up the inherent impediment in front of everyone's upstream battle: we cannot choose our parents, but can we choose our own path then? Not really, as Tonya's story tells us, when something so hardwired such as one's upbringing, stands in your way, just suck it up and keep your heads above the water.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

a farrago of state-of-the-art rescue-and-fighting rough-and-tumble in its most kaleidoscopic register To commemorate the tenth anniversary of MCU, spearheaded by IRON MAN (2008), the third Avengers assembly vehemently pushes the envelop of the superhero mishmash, now has a plethora of roll call at the creators' disposal, and bang!, it puts half of the entire universe's population at the risk of perdition if the mega-villain Thanos (Brolin under heavy CGI reconstruction) successfully collects all six Infinity Stones (Power, Space, Reality, Soul, Time, Mind) in his gauntlet.

Apparetly this chapter boasts a series of all-out pitched battles across the galaxy as the fans know it, and marshals stimulating pairing-ups (Iron Man, Spidey mingling with Doctor Strange, Thor saved by Guardians of the Galaxy quintet, and the rest are united in Wakanda) through its non-stop action escapades, whether it is on spaceships, Earth, or other forbidding-looking planets, with a teleporting Thanos always getting what he wants (and rubbing out several peripheral characters offhand), whereas the Avengers can only savor a triumphant tang by eliminating his quartet of minions, aka. Children of Thanos (including Carrie Coon's Proxima Midnight) together with innumerable and ferocious cannon fodders.

The stakes are extremely high, and what lends Thanos an upper-hand to lay his hands on the stones is his hellbent resolution, even if it means to sacrifice someone he loves, a crescendo reaches in the midpoint when the irony of Thanos' loveless temperament suddenly altered by his ostensible crocodile's tears, which reveals his most profound feelings under a villain's pedestrian merciless carapace, and believe it or not, it actually grants him legitimacy to attain the Soul Stone, at that point, one can sense the premonition that nothing can stop him. Yet, the writers offers one fat chance to subdue him in the epic battle executed by the pageantry of teamwork on the planet of Titan, only backfires in the hands of Star-Lord (Pratt), owing to his irrational rage of some very bad tidings, well, a one-stone-two-birds coincidence couldn't be more expeditious.

It is sensible to lay down the final battle on the tiny globe called Earth for earthlings' geocentric pride, and in Wakanda no less, riding on the coattail of BLACK PANTHER's phenomenal popularity. After another much-tarried sacrifice seemingly scuttles Thanos' plan in the Avengers' collective, last-ditch bravado, however, in possession of the Time Stone (Doctor Strange, this one is on your relented sentimentality), Thanos is able to revert to a previous moment and fulfills his feat with a plaintive cliff-hanger when a selected bunch of our favorite heroes morphs into dust and vanishes into thin air.

In the mean, INFINITY WAR is a farrago of state-of-the-art rescue-and-fighting rough-and-tumble in its most kaleidoscopic register, punctuated by amusing one-liners and japes notwithstanding (Drax the Destroyer should be re-coined as the Prankster), and astutely trades on audience's accumulative investment of its bloated dramatis personae, prepares us a bottoming-out scenario for the more rousing turnaround in its upcoming next installment. Most major characters are understandably shortchanged due to its enterprising scale, Thor (Hemsworth) arguably gets the most boost by a new eye-ball and a freshly wrought storm-breaker axe, and Gamora (Saldana), predicated on a closer relation with Thanos, is allowed a more heart-felt passage to finish her own precarious journey, elsewhere, INFINITY WAR doesn't outdo a common MCU audience's moderate expectation, but a solid job is something of a merit at this step, although one might detect a trace of too-big-to-fail conceit might stymie any further bold maneuver in this most lucrative cinematic universe that has been entertaining an overpopulated planet for a decade and now orbits right into its red-hot heyday.

Les anges du péché (1943)

Bresson's debut feature examines the power of religious piety but saves us from another nun-demonizing diatribe Robert Bresson's first feature film, ANGELS OF SIN examines the power of religious piety and sets the story within a Dominican convent where female ex-cons are rehabilitated, and makes great play of a professional cast.

Our angelic protagonist is Sister Anne-Marie (Faure), hailed from a well-to-do family, but resolves to devote herself to the noble work of reforming the sinner, and her prime object is Thérèse (Holt), a prisoner claims that she is innocent, and right upon her release, she takes her revenge to the man who should be accountable for her imprisonment and then joins the convent to dodge the punishment, much to Anne-Marie's delight (who doesn't twig her true purpose), who takes Thérèse under her wing.

But Anne-Marie's beneficent intention and zealous alacrity is brushed aside by Thérèse's penitence-free lying-low stopgap, who in turn, cunningly stokes discords between a naive and vivacious Anne-Marie and the more stolid and jealousy-inflamed ones whose telling opinions of the former are at once self-revealing and acrimonious, after a squabble about a black cat, its fallout has Anne-Marie ousted from the convent, but it takes her sacrificial final act (a bit sickly though) to finalize her lofty mission, redemption is achieved with haunting clarity in its solemn coda.

A rigid exercise in his craft of shaping up a spiritual parable, Bresson's self-disciplined style is in its inchoate state, stunning chiaroscuro and beatific soft focus compositions notwithstanding, the story has been retouched with a sentimental glamor mostly owing to Renée Faure's virtuous performance in the center, an effect soon Bresson would ditch roundly after THE LADIES OF THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE (1945), whereas a fiercely snarky Jany Holt manifests more stamina and inscrutability which is more likely consonant with Bresson's aesthetics.

The internal power play and peer pressure inside a convent is only scuffed without patent virulence, which saves us from another nun-demonizing diatribe and grants Bresson a more sagacious eye on religion and humanity, although ANGELS OF SIN can be hardly extolled as a groundbreaking jumping-off point from a future auteur.

Xi you: Xiang mo pian (2013)

Stephen Chow's VFX-heavy crowd-pleaser arbitrarily cashes in on his audience's nostalgia for a bygone era With a subtitle "conquering the demons", JOURNEY TO THE WEST is Hong Kong megastar-turned-filmmaker Stephen Chow's re-imagination of the Chinese proverbial fantasy story, almost two decades after his iconic incarnation of Monkey King in Jeffrey Lau's by turns infectiously funny and archly romantic two-parts pan-Chinese comedy apotheosis A CHINESE ODYSSEY (1995).

Here, strictly hewing to his onus behind the camera, Stephen Chow tactically visualizes an enlightenment-seeking adventure of the young Buddhist Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang), an unorthodox demon hunter who inclines to chant nursery rhymes to elicit a demon's innate goodness, is under persistent courtship from a more practical-minded fellow hunter Miss Duan (Shu Qi), and the story basically pertains to how Sanzang tames his three unruly half-human-half-beast disciples, the Monkey King aka. Sun Wukong (Huang Bo), the Pig Demon aka. Zhu Bajie (Chen Bingqiang) and the Water Buffalo, aka. Sha Wujing (Li Shangzheng), a prequel of the quartet's journey westward to quest for Buddhist sutra.

It is unexpectedly riveting to discover that the most distinctive characteristic in the screenplay is Chow's U-turn stratagem of depicting the three disciples, in their most primordial and feral predator mindset, a pre-teen girl is swallowed alive by the Water Buffalo, whereas in the Pig Demon's restaurant, corpses are embedded inside the roast pigs served to entice unsuspecting clientele, as for the Monkey King, whose bumptious temperament and indiscriminately blood-thirsty propensity is magnified to an appalling scope that ludicrously disproportionate to his diminutive and ferocious animal form (played by child actor Ge Xingyu under special makeups), all of which are poles away from audience's entrenched preconception.

Conversely, Chow's trademark comedic bent is significantly pared down in service of his dramatic revelation (including an almost sadistically suicidal devotion which duly triggers the deus ex machina in the eleventh hour), a mid-section ploy arouses most laughter with Miss Duan's riff-raff, but this is fairly standard treatment for those who are au fait with Chow's track record (both as directors and top-notch comedian actors), not to mention a cringe-worthy reaction toward Prince Important's elongated important/impotent faux pas (played by Taiwan red-hot entertainer Show Lo).

The tenor of the story is more or less the same from A CHINESE ODYSSEY, no happy ending is preordained, only this time, the protagonist is the master Sanzang, after a belated confession of love to Miss Duan, he finally gets the satori that love should not be divided by "big" and "small", but it is equally banal and frustrating when one can only that through a tragic loss, also there is an uneasy feeling to watch a woman repeatedly debases herself to solicit her unrequited feeling from a man, especially in this day and age.

The cast is, for the most part, adept, although Wen Zhang is far cry from a hardened comedian, but Shu Qi compensates with her aptitude in making Miss Duan as fey as her own quavering singing voice and dance moves, however, the biggest boon is Huang Bo, who plays the Monkey King in human form, effortlessly shifting between obsequious and treacherous, and generates more spark with Shu Qi even in half-hearted improvisation, why it is not him in the center of the story is one's knee-jerking question to Stephen Chow's VFX-heavy crowd-pleaser arbitrarily cashes in on his audience's nostalgia for a bygone era.

The Long Good Friday (1980)

an arresting, food-for-thought gangster iteration This is de facto a very long Good Friday for London mobster boss Harold Shand (Hoskins) (and he might not be alive and kicking on Easter Monday), he must impress and convince the newly landed American mafia kingpin Charlie (Constantine) to a significant partnership of redeveloping his home turf, but is ambushed by a concatenation of foul plays from an unknown party, a car bomb aiming at his mother but kills the chauffeur, a luckily defused bomb found in his casino, his pub is blown up right in front of his face, but worst of the all, Collin (Freeman), one of his right-hand men and a chum who once saved his life, is cold-bloodedly murdered in a natatorium (whose bent predisposition subjects himself to a delectable but pestilant male bait, Brosnan in his screen debut).

When the shit hits the fan, Harold is bent on getting the bottom of it, even it requires to put his clueless cronies through the mangle (or more literally, hung topsy-turvy inside his abattoir) to extract any possible lead, meanwhile, he endeavors to keep a lid on the state of affairs from Charlie and relies on his girlfriend Victoria (Mirren) to mollify Charlie's suspicion of his own absence, which turns out to be futile, he is left 24 hours to sort things out, if not there will be no deal with the Yankees.

For sure, someone close to him must have an inkling of what is going on (the go-to design of a mole within), and audience is granted with a preface in Belfast where Collin clandestinely appropriates some cash from his consignment, and taking its milieu into account, it is quite a cinch that IRA is implicated in some point, and screenwriter Barrie Keeffe's puzzle-solving script takes routinely dramatic turns to work up Harold's retaliation, lends him great opportunities of vaunting and venting to establish him as the real deal, a forward-looking, ruthless yet compassionate padrone imbued with Corleone-esque complexity, and a dumpy Bob Hoskins magnificently holds sway in rendering Harold a flesh-and-blood persona that defies simple compartmentalization, he is a live-wire simmering with aspirant ambition and sharp-witted wiles, a patriotic boaster but inanely reckons that the best way to solve all his problems is by elimination, that is his feet of clay, too cocksure in his tried-and-tested methodology which leads him to step into the taxi without even noticing who is inside.

Helen Mirren also makes for a spectacular moll, not the usual ditzy bombshell sort, but Harold's equal with acumen and a wonderful admixture of dignity and vulnerability. A square-jawed Eddie Constantine exudes a flinty but suave sheen, which is always pleasing to watch, but it is up to the newcomer Derek Thompson, who plays Harold's ill-fated consigliere Jeff, to supply emotional ammunition in the story by facing off Harold's anger outburst, his childlike ambiguity between nonchalance and sophistication (and a touch of raffishness in the elevator scene with Mirren) leaves a delicate impression and outstrips many a more ostentatious player around him.

Director John Mackenzie proves himself an able journeyman behind the camera and his invention of Hoskins' final shock-to-resignation long-take is a decisive coup-de-maître, sublimates a corny ending to something with a semblance of extraordinariness. But the movie's blaring synth Muzak has taken its time to become a major pet peeve at that point, a sign-of-the-times short-changes this otherwise arresting, food-for-thought gangster iteration.

The Last Detail (1973)

a cinematic travelogue cogently and frankly registers America's ennui and angst in the post-Vietnam War era Shoving injustice right in its audience's face, Hal Ashby's THE LAST DETAIL is an ethos-reflecting, profanity-riddled road trip of the titular detail - Navy signalman Buddusky (Nicholson) and seaman Mulhall (Young) are assigned to escort a young offender Meadows (Quaid) from Norfolk, Virginia to Portsmouth Naval Prison near Maine - that conveys hearty commiserations to the downtrodden and expresses remonstrance to the powers that be.

An 18-year-old Meadows is unfairly subjected to a draconian 8-year sentence and dishonorable discharge for pilfering (in vain) 40 dollars, but Badass" Buddusky and "Mull" Mulhall can do nothing to rescind the penalty, since they are self-professed Navy "lifers", what they can actually do, is to show Meadows a good time before he is cooped up, and Robert Towne's scintillating script doesn't mince words of Meadows' bleak prospect in the brig, for a callow and innocuous boy like him, he will never pull through his pending trials and tribulations as the same person. A lofty but ponderous Randy Quaid superbly telegraphs Meadows' congenial naiveté in his Oscar-nominated coup de foudre for Actor in a Supporting Role (though fairly speaking, the triad should have shared an even-steven co-leading designation), and transubstantiates it to a force of unaffected pull that absolutely evokes compassion from even the most callous heart.

The trio's hijinks entail the usual suspects of benders and attempts of making whoopee (the latter is underwent through an incredible Nichiren chant hookup and concluded with an altruistic gesture to put the kibosh on Meadow's virginity in a house of ill repute), and more thoughtful arrangements including a visit to Meadow's mother, whose non-appearance and the empty house quietly but pungently speak volumes of Meadow's ill-bred backstory, plus a wintry barbecue as Meadows' last request, where he executes his first and final crack of running away, then the ending expunges all the prior camaraderie to a terse farewell, no words, no looking back, Meadows is manhandled to a future shrouded by masculine turpitude, just like that and Ashby steely disobliges audience's anticipation of a sentimental halfway house, presents the red-tape asperity in its stead, Navy or Marine, they are all cut from the same rotten cloth.

Nicholson chalks up Cannes' BEST ACTOR laurel and parlays it into an Oscar nomination with his cynical ebullience and biting disillusion that encapsulates the signs of its times, concealing his profound distress that an innocent spirit is going to be snuffed and the damning incapacitating feeling that he can do nothing about it. Otis Young, also gives a thoroughly credible job as the contrarian-turned-sympathizer with a more reserved and practical make-up, provides a sober perspective from the sidelines (often tallies with the camera arrangements centering a barnstorming Nicholson).

When the snare drum rolls in the end, one wonders what does "last" stands for in its title, apparently it doesn't mean "final" because both men have no alternative but return to the military service, yet as a cinematic travelogue cogently and frankly registers America's ennui and angst in the post-Vietnam War era, "least suitable" might find more grounds in its context.

Pariah (2011)

A decisively unsentimental entry in the queer cinema, PARIAH is here to stay Dee Rees' debut feature, a coming-out drama expanding from her 2007 short of the same name, pivots on a 17-year-old Alike (Oduye, reprises the same role), an African-American girl maladroitly explores her inchoate sexuality against a stifling familial interference.

On paper, this précis is just like one of the numberless reiterations of its ilks, a bumpy journey of self-discovery, trepidation, excitement, and sorrow, mingled with temporal prejudice and religion-inflamed narrow-mindedness. But Dee Rees, against the story's well-trodden path (although, both her and Alike's ethnic attributes give its story an edge of freshness), lends Alike's bittersweet rite-of-passage a distinct flavor of probity and plausibility that refuses to sweet the pill.

Little doubt is cast on Alike's self-identification as a lesbian, the meat of her day-to-day battle is with the world around her, and pointedly with her family, Audrey (Wayans), her God-bothering mother high-handedly reproves her inappropriate get-up and choice of friend, her bestie is Laura (Walker), an out-and-out butch, masking her crush by ushering Alike to the local lesbian haunts. It is not in the strobing nightspot where Alike tastes the forbidden fruit for the first time, but ironically, it is through Bina (Davis), her mother's appointed friend, the daughter of her church-going coworker, Alike fully consummates her passion, yet the very next day, hits the rock bottom of a heartbreak, Bina's mood-swing is arguably, the weakest narrative linkage in the otherwise, slow-burned drama.

In due time, Alike's baptism of fire will reach the boiling point in a seminal climax when she comes out during her parents' escalating wrangle, the explosion is tempestuous and no easy reconciliation is attained afterward, but Alike, facilitated by her knack of writing, finally, she can throw off her guilt and secret, embrace a new lease on her life with resolution, she is "not running but choosing", a sagacious war cry to heighten the requisite of having a choice, for those marginalized and nonconformist.

While Dee Rees and her DP Bradford Young grace the story with a raw, restive energy that best encapsulates Brooklyn's milieu of black urban teenagers, Alike's story is sustained by its self-contained environs with exclusively non-white characters, no racial tension is broached, homophobia is pandemic, in home and elsewhere, but a touching note is that among younger generations, acceptance becomes the normalcy.

A factoid might completely knock one's socks off, Adepero Oduye is 33 when making this film and a further burrowing discovers that Aasha Davis, who plays her fellow high-schooler Bina, is born in 1973 (source from IMDb), it is sheer beggar belief that these actresses can pull off playing characters half their ages (a blessing bestowed to the race maybe), especially in the case of Oduye, animatedly effuses teen spirit and simmering angst in her breakthrough performance.

Among grown-ups there are also worthy players, although comparatively in a lesser extent, Charles Parnell (a younger-looking Keith David, anyone?) adeptly balances his benevolent father figure with his less savory image of a miffed and cheating husband as Arthur, Alike's father; then Kim Wayans, the mega-villain in this shoestring production, is another monstrous mother figure in the spirit of Monique is Lee Daniels' PRECIOUS (2009), less blustering but equally toxic and intractable.

A decisively unsentimental entry in the queer cinema and a resounding testing ground of Dee Rees' acumen and auteurist disposition, PARIAH is here to stay.

Duel in the Sun (1946)

Passé in its configuration and ideology notwithstanding, DUEL IN THE SUN effuses a sizable magnitude of spectacular whether to accommodate one's eyes or stir one's sentiments Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick's artistic follow-up of GONE WITH THE WIND, DUEL IN THE SUN is a lush western drama with King Vidor ostensibly at the helm, alas, in the wake of the creative difference between him and Selznick, the latter had to hire no less than six directors (himself included) to finish the shooting when the former reneged, so it is accountable that the final product is somewhat a curate's egg.

After her her Caucasian father Scott Chavez (Marshall) is hung for killing her "trash" two-timing Indian mother (Losch), a beleaguered mestiza Pearl Chavez (Jones) enters the foster family of Laura Belle (Gish), Scott's second cousin and quondam squeeze, who has been married to Senator Jackson McCanles (Barrymore), the landowner of a vast cattle ranch called Spanish Bit, and borne him two sons, the genteel, open-minded Jesse (Cotten) and the younger, louche Lewt (Peck).

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, a brotherly rivalry is fomented when there is such a nymphet in the household, to Pearl, although the two candidates' Manichaean disparity is clear as day, it is her own conflict between a tamed good girl (being educated like a lady by Jesse) and a wild bad girl (the trash like her mother, pining for Lewt's obsessive libido) that afflicts her profoundly, like her mixed parentage, these two congenital forces are constantly at loggerheads, and are not helped by Jesse's overtly lofty moral compass and Lewt's toxic masculinity and megalomania (who reckons her as his exclusive property, but cannot marry her due to her dark skin), she seesaws between them, to a point it is too bathetic and abject for one's palate, but when the crunches comes, under that broiling sun against the rugged man-face mountain, she knows the price to pay for being enamored with a hardened rascal, here is the most torrid and sensual love/hate self-destruction that takes two to tango, credits must be given to its morally incorrect dare that circumvents the Hays Code censors of its time.

To today's eyes, DUEL IN THE SUN is roundly tarnished by its culturally insensitive casting, the unmasked racism (Barrymore's Senator is too intractable and bombastic to merit a feel-good reconciliation), and some wide inconsistency in the narrative (e.g. a gratuitous train wrecking scene has no import or whatsoever in the context other than to create some action and noise), but as for its visual grandeur and horseback bravado, the film is for shizzle a gas for oater-philes, not to mention a young Peck is furnished with a rare opportunity to play up his villainous side, laced with his drop dead gorgeousness and a mischievous self-consciousness, completely outstrips Joseph Cotten's meek benevolence; Jennifer Jones, under her ethnicity-altering warpaint, emulates a feral posturing to a slightly hokey impression but totally earns her stripes in the coda when all her emotions well up affectingly, mixed with dirt, tears and blood.

Among its bankable supporting players, a delicately amiable Lillian Gish is vouchsafed with her one and only Oscar nomination through her extraordinary career; Lionel Barrymore has an overbearing presence too big to ignore but it is Herbert Marshall who bowls audience over with his brief but poignant appearance in the beginning, ire and contrition is alternately checked inside or oozing outside; lastly, Butterfly McQueen evokes sharp compassion as a barmy maid who can never finish her sentence more because her status doesn't deserve no one's time than her apparent prolixity. In toto, this far-off Hollywood epic is passé in its configuration and ideology, but effuses a sizable magnitude of spectacular whether to accommodate one's eyes or stir one's sentiments.