lasttimeisaw

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The Red Shoes (1948)

One of the most factitiously gorgeous movies of all time, but there is a catch If there is a poll of the most factitiously gorgeous movies of all time, Powell-Pressburger's THE RED SHOES will no doubt be surmounted on the top tier, for its kaleidoscopic use of Technicolor, highlighting the minutiae of its personages' fine complexion under sublime warpaint, carrying on to a fairyland luster that reflects the center story, and most extraordinarily, its scenography of phantasmagoria and spectacle, conjured up by art director Hein Heckroth.

Certainly, for highbrow spectators, THE RED SHOES is an absolute humdinger even it is just for its eponymous ballet piece, written by Brian Easdale, choreographed by Robert Helpmann and headlined by a virtuoso Moira Shearer, this Hans Christian Andersen inspired magic tragedy has been roundly integrated into the narrative, where a budding prima ballerina Vicky Page (Shearer) is torn by her hankering to play her bespoke showpiece and the secular love with Julian Craster (Goring), a promising composer, and the blockade is set by the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook), who has discovered Vicky in the first place, and loathes whoever dares to blemish the purity of devotion to art by falling into that profane thing called love, already he has instantly dismissed another ballerina Irina (Tchérina) when she delightfully apprises the news that she is going to get married, so both Vicky and Julian should have known better.

First of all, the ever-dapper Austrian actor Anton Walbrook effuses a superb air of condescension, complacency and cruelty that gives to the propulsion that the lax plot needs the most, calibrating every line and gesticulation with tacit investment of Boris' warped tunnel vision, he runs rings around his co-star Shearer and Goring as inhabiting "the man with no heart" with unyielding determination, he is at once obnoxious and fascinating.

The fascination must be dialed down towards the ill-sorted pair, Ms. Shearer, is a fabulous dancer but not exactly what one might call as a supreme hyphenate, and even under the slap, furrows materializes on the face of Goring, who was 36 years old and looks like a doppelgänger of Dirk Bogarde (who would be a perfect Julian at a tender age of 27) to this reviewer's eyes, then yet has to play a sapling, so it is somewhat grating to see he is constantly referred as a "young man" by Irina (Tchérina is only 24), premature senility prevails, and that is not to say he is given much to do as the thankless fodder who bewitches Vicky into wedlock and cannot let her embrace the glory she yearns.

Whereas viewers are showering in divine immersion of the most astonishing craftsmanship ever been executed on the screen, the discrepancy between its visual-and-aural extravaganza and a hoary, faintly incoherent (no effort is made to emphasize what the titular ballet means to Vicky, for instance) and evasive (unpunished plagiarism needs some scathing condemnation here) script only mars the ascension of THE RED SHOES as an irrefutable chef d'oeuvre that creates a harmonious symbiosis of cinema and ballet, and by the time they launch another attempt in THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951), the duo's mojo has drastically faded.

Possession (1981)

two protagonists' extraordinary submergence into a rarefied sphere of total delusion, submission and possession, and that is the hallmark of Zulawski For all its over-brimming madness and mind-bending delirium, Zulawski's POSSESSION, more than anything, brings out a corybantic Adjani as its unrivaled center piece, a performance that blows right in front of a viewer's face with excessive intensity, peculiarity and potency, topped off by her subway tunnel solo-dancing as the possession reaches its apex with a gloppy miscarriage, heralding the conflicting dyad of Faith and Chance finally crumbles, she loses Faith, so only Chance remains inside her body.

That might sound inexplicable, but POSSESSION is Zulawski's gonzo imagination of the inexplicability that torpedos marital unions (extracting from his real life experiences), Adjani's Anna, makes a deal with a demon to exchange for the eternal affection from her husband Mark (Neill), why? Because she senses that Mark's love is dwindling, yet, the contradiction is that Mark, blindsided by Anna's divorce plea, is still besotted with her, clear as day, so where does she get that impression? In the bedroom one might posit, in her mind, Mark's sexual potency is directly indexed to his interest in her physical body, when that interest appears diminishing, seeking corporeal pleasure from a virile lover Heinrich (Bennett, uncannily exuding some homoerotic heat as the ne plus ultra of an alpha male) cannot disabuse the idea that Mark has fallen out of love with her, so when Faith is ritualistically purged out of her system, she plays fire with Chance, instigates her possession of molding a carbon copy of Mark out of a gooey, amorphous entity (courtesy of Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi's staggering craftsmanship), so she can have him for keeps.

But of course, Mark loves her, more precisely, he is mad about her, Zulawski's straight headspace even offers Mark a carbon copy of Anna, Helen (also played by Adjani, with a more pleasurable comportment), the convivial kindergarten teacher of their son Bob (Hogben), to distract him, but he remains being possessed by Anna, even her increasingly erratic behavior driving both to the precipice of hysteria, physical violence and nervous breakdown, not to mention her murderous spree, he is going to the stake for her, to appease the profound guilt that he cannot satisfy her. Sam Neill's unsung embodiment of a man losing his grip and inwardly humiliated by his unsatisfactory sexual prowess can be attributed to one of his finest screen bravura, and he is equally chilling in the form of Mark's doppelgänger in the end, as if being directly teleported from Graham Baker's THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981), as the Antichrist, a movie he starred in the same year.

As this reviewer sees it, the entire horror is stemmed from a woman's instinctive misapprehension of her husband's lessened libido, a message might appear misogynous to a certain degree, but that is just one school of thought, and there is some truth in it, which can be ascribed to the thin fine line between "libido" and "jouissance", a perceptive hindsight is that both genders should dial down on the phallocentric obsession.

Trifling with the Berlin Wall background and espionage games (yes, the film is a French-West Germany co-production, set in Berlin and it appears Mark's vocation is a spy), POSSESSION is a manic jumble of a married couple's self-destruction reified by restlessly roving camera movement, grueling intimate confrontation, cacophonous sonic experiment and gory demonology, all circling around the two protagonists' extraordinary submergence into a rarefied sphere of total delusion, submission and possession, and that is the hallmark of Zulawski.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Ron Howard's vintage Star War spin-off misses a trump card to turn this one-off side-dish to a proper main course on the table Even as massively popular and prestigious as the STAR WARS franchise is, a crashing misfire can still be borne out of resting on the past laurels, pungently attests that in Hollywood "nothing is too big to fail". SOLO, encumbered by the earlier snag during its production, original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and Ron Howard took the rein after it had already been under shooting for months, strives for resuscitating our beloved daredevil pilot Han Solo from the beyond with a younger self trotting out his exploits and adventures before he meets Skywalker siblings, however, audience is not charmed by this spin-off.

What is more alarming and incredible is SOLO's offshore fiasco (stateside $213 million plus $ 180 million in international market, presumably, it needs at least $500 million to break even its costly price tag), particularly with a puny $10.1 million revenue in China, it is an abysmal number for any blockbuster in this world's second-biggest ticket-buying trade, how the hell could that happen?

Assessing it individually, SOLO is an above-average heist film leverages all the chills and thrills through its pyrrhic victories (a train-top raid, an intergalactic voyage, and a slave revolt that not so amusingly sends up the zealous droid L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and the climax plays up the gamesmanship between Solo (Ehrenreich), his mentor Tobias Beckett (Harrelson), his reunited girlfriend Qi'ra (Clarke) and the evil crime lord Dryden Vos (Bettany), with some expecited if sophomoric twists.

Solo is a bumptious, macho whippersnapper but as Qi'ra correctly notifies, he is a good man underneath, even good to a fault of nondescript (apart from his aircraft maneuvering faculty and a talent for Wookiee tongue), harboring a resolution to save Qi'ra, who is left behind during the opening escaping escapade, but, when later they finally reunite, he cannot suss out the fact that she is not a damsel-in-distress waiting for her knight-in-the-shining-armor in the first place, yet still hopes for rekindle their romance while he doesn't bother to find out what has happened to her, even considering she claims there is no time for that during their hectic schedule, but why not squeeze some time for harmless canoodling?

When Qi'ra reveals her ulterior motive, which sensibly, is not a betrayal but a simple fact, the girl outgrows the boy during their lost three years, she still loves him, but she becomes the girl that gets away, the plot is fairly acceptable, but feels old-fashioned in its boys-will-be-boys chivalry (even the film considerably allots more focus on Qi'ra's vacillating mentation), very 70s, that style is right in the wheelhouse of Howard and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, but this sort of sign of the times fails to connect with new audience, Solo is too cock-a-hoop to emerge as a true hero under the circumstances, he needs a learning curve, but what Howard and his teams have achieved feels short-changed, albeit a diligent Ehrenreich tries his best to emulate Harrison Ford's nonchalant coolness, he is neither the savior nor the scourge for this missed opportunity, there is only that much an actor could do in a jinxed enterprise.

Sprinkling vintage connections into the story to engage STAR WAR devotees, like the ritualistic first glimpse of the Millennium Falcon, the friend-or-foe chemistry between Han and Lando Calrissian (Glover, sports an effervescent persona suffused with guile and alacrity, even briskly knuckles down for an whopping human-droid affection that certainly can knock one's socks off), the provenance of Solo's "shoots first" second nature and even a cameo from Darth Maul himself. But just like in the coda, Lando has his card stolen in his sleeve, the film also misses a trump card to turn this one-off side-dish to a proper main course on the table.

Moy laskovyy i nezhnyy zver (1978)

"Loteanu's sumptuous vanity project doesn't see eye to eye with today's climate." THE SHOOTING PARTY, aka. A HUNTING ACCIDENT is Soviet filmmaker Emil Loteanu's cinematic interpretation of Chekhov's only full-length, eponymous novel, and the final product is as sumptuously alluring as it is melancholically tedious.

The plot centers around a 19-year-old bombshell Olga (Belyaeva), the daughter of a forester, playing the field between three older men who are besotted with her, Count Karneyev (Lavrov), noble widower Urbenin (Markov) and our protagonist the court investigator Kamyshev (Yankovsky), only the latter she truly loves, but oscillating between financial security and veridical feelings, she makes many a decision against her best judgement, until a hunting accident brings down the curtain on her transient life, but the guilty party gets off scot-free, much obliged to her own withdrawal of the information in extremis.

By meting out punishment to Olga as the token sinner and her husband a scapegoat taking the rap, Chekhov's novel ineluctably hews to that time-honored phallocratic presumption that it is any above-board man's poetic justice to penalize a wanton nymphet, and what rubs salt into the wound is that Loteanu's film is saturated with wandering male gaze and old-money decadence, a combo looks execrably unfashionable to today's ethos (or, on a less militant note, merely to this reviewer's lights).

The fact that a 16-year-old Galina Belyaeva (who would be endowed with the lofty epithet "Russian Audrey Hepburn") would soon be led to the altar by Loteanu, 25 years her senior, echos the director's own possessive infatuation with nubile youth, and their matrimony lasts only 5 years, which says much about the treacherous nature such union implicates.

For all its lyrical longueur, loosey-goosey character arc and an unsavory surplus of machismo that mingled with aristocratic dissipation, THE SHOOTING PARTY has its own merits, both for its production value and aural abundance, not least Eugene Doga's consecrated wedding waltz, and the cacophony invoked by a cohort of Gypsy musicians is so discordant that it is tenaciously embedded in the mind. Also, the cast is good if not great, Belyaeva is an ethereal being, but hobbled by a far too fluid characterization she is an objectified prize up for grabs; Oleg Yankovskiy is typically pronounced in subsisting his concealed passion with four-square resolution, and Kirill Lavrov obviously revels in the count's total abandon with all the theatrics welling up to the fore, yet, they are delectable, alas, the same adjective can barely be referred to Loteanu's own vanity project.

And Then There Were None (1945)

"Clair's classic adaptation of Christie's whodunit is rightfully glimmering with sparks than combusting with starburst." French filmmaker René Clair's last Hollywood fare during his American exile period (1941-1946, four features made for four different studios), this adaptation of Agatha Christie's well-known murder mystery TEN LITTLE INDIANS, seizes on the novel's intriguing premise, corrals a posse of 10 sinners on a secluded British island, where divine justice awaits for them.

Clair intentionally defuses the story's somber atmosphere with his jocose wordless opening sequences introducing the eight strangers from one to another, as their lives are concatenated on the same boat (both figuratively and literally), they are all invited by Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owens to the island for the weekend, curiously, none of them actually meet the hosts before, including the two servants Thomas and Ethel Rogers (Haydn and Leonard), who are hired to tend to the guests.

Of course, the hosts fail to materialize at the dinner time, after a dutiful Thomas plays a vinyl record (at the behest of the host through a letter), a solemn voice denounces each of them for their respective past murderous crimes, just like what happens in the famous nursery, these "ten little Indians" will sequentially and mysteriously dispatched by an unknown perpetrator until "and then there were none", but this is a cheat, simply because that doesn't actually happen as the studio senses that during the ongoing war at then, it would be too bleak an ending for escapism-seeking audience, so spoilers alert, the movie should have been more appositely retitled as "AND THEN THERE WERE TWO", and the script sensibly lets the lucky pair getting away with the accusation (one assumes a false identity, another seems to be cover the crime for a closer one).

Clair's workmanlike classic style rounds off the ups-and-downs of a narrative saturated with (predictable) death that wholly hinges on the acting chops, Judith Anderson is as haughty as per usual, not turning a hair even when the Grim Reaper lurking around, and a mannered Richard Haydn deliciously chops the scenery before his time is running out, quips "everyone must eat a speck of dirt before he dies!". A bonhomous Barry Fitzgerald playing off an equally proactive Walter Huston holds court, whereas the mis-pair of a mansplaining Louis Hayward and a demure June Duprez leaves a less palatable taste as the former seems to be overtly credulous in believing the latter's innocence, especially when it doesn't chime in with the culprit's final remark "next trust a woman!", a pat venom left by a hardened bachelor in a formulaic celluloid adaptation of a classic whodunit.

Una Mujer Fantástica (2017)

Reviews of Lelio's AN FANTASTIC WOMAN and DISOBEDIENCE Released within the same calendar year, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio's fifth and sixth features boldly anchor their focal points onto people from marginalized spectrum and ethnic minority, and present two intimate character studies in which fortitude surmounts adversity.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is an Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM title-holder, and its title refers to Marina Vidal (Vega), a transgender woman living in Santiago, Chile, whose much elder boyfriend Orlando (Reyes), promptly succumbs to a brain aneurysm on the night of her birthday, and what follows is the standard transphobia from Orlando's kin and common folks alike, besets her when she tries to adjust herself to the aftermath of this sudden bereavement. Lelio doesn't hold back from the ugly repercussions when Marina is divested of her protector, common-or-garden verbal abuse escalates into physical humiliation and violence, and she has to brave it all by her lonesome.

Through Lelio's anti-rhetoric modus operandi - for example, a Marina-versus-the-wind snapshot makes great short work of encapsulating the morass she is in - trans-actress Daniela Vega brilliantly channels Marina's internalized baptism of fire with her dignity and integrity unscathed, it is a one-woman's show carried on her shoulders, Vega shows immense range from resilience to fragility, through her fierce gaze, tooth-clenched restraint and androgynous pulchritude that is so distracting unique and fetching (plus her mezzo-soprano virtuoso is a sumptuous boon), not for one moment, Marina cowers before the inane hostility which marginalized people meet on a daily basis, in fact, she has no pecuniary attachment to Orlando's next-of-kin, all she wants is to officially say goodbye to her loved one and one's grievance swells when such a fundamental human right cannot be met with a more benevolent fashion.

Yet Lelio doesn't launch tirades to reprimand the blinkered mind-set (because that would be too cliché and tactless), even Marina's pent-up fit on top of an automobile doesn't necessarily offer viewers a cathartic exhilaration, because we twig, Marina's worst enemy is not them, they are inconsequential characters soon to be out of her life forever, the exigency is that she must condition herself to the unfair world of her own accord, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", like Lelio's bullseye-scoring metaphor pertaining to the content of Oscar's locker (after making a striking example of Vega's physical versatility in the strictly gender-binary sauna house), its vast emptiness is a wake-up call to anyone who pursues a lost cause or cannot let go something or someone, which or who simply doesn't exist anymore.

DISOBEDIENCE takes place in a very different continent where klezmer and ordinances abound, but also tackles the consequences of a recent bereavement, hip New York photographer Ronit Krushka (Weisz) receives the bad tidings that her estranged father (Lesser) has passed away, which brings her back to the orthodox Jewish congregation in London after many years, where she reunites with her childhood friend Dovid Kuperman (Nivola), the chosen disciple of her father, a beloved Rabbi, who has tied the knot with Esti (McAdams), a revelation blindsides Ronit, because Esti is her former lover, and it is their sapphic affair that severed her tie with the congregation and prompted her exile years ago.

Let bygones be bygones, what a naive thought, Ronit stands out like a sore thumb in the place where she grows up, it is discomfiting to see that even today, the Jewish doctrine about the weaker sex can be still so antediluvian, the same-old platitude, getting married, having children, blah blah blah! Believe me, even in a democracy-deficient developing country like China, folks have more sense of inclusivity than this London enclave. Rachel Weisz has a field day to play the free-spirited, recalcitrant black sheep, retorts back to the elders for the sake of one-upmanship, and one may give the wrong impression she is the one who is ready to make the fur fly here.

No, it is not the case, what occasions Ronit's unexpected return (Dovid is surprised to find Ronit at his doorstep) is Esti, who languishes in the heterosexual marriage (symbolized by her unsightly wig) and pines for Ronit's return to rekindle her long-subdued desire, she makes the first move (catalyzed by The Cure's LOVESONG, golden idea!) and in the post-BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR era, girl-on-girl sex can no longer sit back only with heavy petting coddling male gaze, so bona-fide saliva transmitting and simulated orgasm strive for the status of new norm.

More significantly, Esti is saddled with the exigent awakening to come to terms with her suppressed sexuality, from that point, Lelio's film quietly shifts its emphasis to her, and Rachel McAdams slowly takes an upper hand in the dueling game by her wonderfully timed introspection, subtly yet compassionately achieves a well-balanced symbiosis of powerlessness (waiting for Ronit's reciprocation and Dovid's grant of freedom) and determination (hellbent on raising a child under a different roof of persuasion).

As a result, the story gives the final say to Dovid, a heterosexual man who has the power to free Esti or make her life miserable all at his proposal, which doesn't seem to be jibe with a with-it feminist vogue, but Lelio is bestowed with a godsend, whose name is Alessandro Nivola, disappearing into his personage's hardened carapace of orthodoxy, he bifurcates Dovid's affecting modesty and sincerity into two tributaries, one toward Ronit, kind but formal, a hesitation only lingers upon his amicability, betrays his reservation, and another toward Esti, the woman he loves and marries, it is solicitious and respectful, and after being dumbfounded by Esti's resolute coming out, he processes the whammy with extraordinary aplomb, heightened by Lelio's attention in minute gestures, and when he unleashes that "free will" speech in the climax, it is resoundingly touching sans any soupçon of condescension, therefore, the film salvages this love-triangle tangle with a concerted effort from both genders, and a less pandering coda that is nothing if not satisfactory, thus here is an apt exclamation to Mr. Lelio "May you live a long life! (and bring us more inspiring tales)".

Disobedience (2017)

Reviews of Lelio's AN FANTASTIC WOMAN and DISOBEDIENCE Released within the same calendar year, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio's fifth and sixth features boldly anchor their focal points onto people from marginalized spectrum and ethnic minority, and present two intimate character studies in which fortitude surmounts adversity.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is an Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM title-holder, and its title refers to Marina Vidal (Vega), a transgender woman living in Santiago, Chile, whose much elder boyfriend Orlando (Reyes), promptly succumbs to a brain aneurysm on the night of her birthday, and what follows is the standard transphobia from Orlando's kin and common folks alike, besets her when she tries to adjust herself to the aftermath of this sudden bereavement. Lelio doesn't hold back from the ugly repercussions when Marina is divested of her protector, common-or-garden verbal abuse escalates into physical humiliation and violence, and she has to brave it all by her lonesome.

Through Lelio's anti-rhetoric modus operandi - for example, a Marina-versus-the-wind snapshot makes great short work of encapsulating the morass she is in - trans-actress Daniela Vega brilliantly channels Marina's internalized baptism of fire with her dignity and integrity unscathed, it is a one-woman's show carried on her shoulders, Vega shows immense range from resilience to fragility, through her fierce gaze, tooth-clenched restraint and androgynous pulchritude that is so distracting unique and fetching (plus her mezzo-soprano virtuoso is a sumptuous boon), not for one moment, Marina cowers before the inane hostility which marginalized people meet on a daily basis, in fact, she has no pecuniary attachment to Orlando's next-of-kin, all she wants is to officially say goodbye to her loved one and one's grievance swells when such a fundamental human right cannot be met with a more benevolent fashion.

Yet Lelio doesn't launch tirades to reprimand the blinkered mind-set (because that would be too cliché and tactless), even Marina's pent-up fit on top of an automobile doesn't necessarily offer viewers a cathartic exhilaration, because we twig, Marina's worst enemy is not them, they are inconsequential characters soon to be out of her life forever, the exigency is that she must condition herself to the unfair world of her own accord, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", like Lelio's bullseye-scoring metaphor pertaining to the content of Oscar's locker (after making a striking example of Vega's physical versatility in the strictly gender-binary sauna house), its vast emptiness is a wake-up call to anyone who pursues a lost cause or cannot let go something or someone, which or who simply doesn't exist anymore.

DISOBEDIENCE takes place in a very different continent where klezmer and ordinances abound, but also tackles the consequences of a recent bereavement, hip New York photographer Ronit Krushka (Weisz) receives the bad tidings that her estranged father (Lesser) has passed away, which brings her back to the orthodox Jewish congregation in London after many years, where she reunites with her childhood friend Dovid Kuperman (Nivola), the chosen disciple of her father, a beloved Rabbi, who has tied the knot with Esti (McAdams), a revelation blindsides Ronit, because Esti is her former lover, and it is their sapphic affair that severed her tie with the congregation and prompted her exile years ago.

Let bygones be bygones, what a naive thought, Ronit stands out like a sore thumb in the place where she grows up, it is discomfiting to see that even today, the Jewish doctrine about the weaker sex can be still so antediluvian, the same-old platitude, getting married, having children, blah blah blah! Believe me, even in a democracy-deficient developing country like China, folks have more sense of inclusivity than this London enclave. Rachel Weisz has a field day to play the free-spirited, recalcitrant black sheep, retorts back to the elders for the sake of one-upmanship, and one may give the wrong impression she is the one who is ready to make the fur fly here.

No, it is not the case, what occasions Ronit's unexpected return (Dovid is surprised to find Ronit at his doorstep) is Esti, who languishes in the heterosexual marriage (symbolized by her unsightly wig) and pines for Ronit's return to rekindle her long-subdued desire, she makes the first move (catalyzed by The Cure's LOVESONG, golden idea!) and in the post-BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR era, girl-on-girl sex can no longer sit back only with heavy petting coddling male gaze, so bona-fide saliva transmitting and simulated orgasm strive for the status of new norm.

More significantly, Esti is saddled with the exigent awakening to come to terms with her suppressed sexuality, from that point, Lelio's film quietly shifts its emphasis to her, and Rachel McAdams slowly takes an upper hand in the dueling game by her wonderfully timed introspection, subtly yet compassionately achieves a well-balanced symbiosis of powerlessness (waiting for Ronit's reciprocation and Dovid's grant of freedom) and determination (hellbent on raising a child under a different roof of persuasion).

As a result, the story gives the final say to Dovid, a heterosexual man who has the power to free Esti or make her life miserable all at his proposal, which doesn't seem to be jibe with a with-it feminist vogue, but Lelio is bestowed with a godsend, whose name is Alessandro Nivola, disappearing into his personage's hardened carapace of orthodoxy, he bifurcates Dovid's affecting modesty and sincerity into two tributaries, one toward Ronit, kind but formal, a hesitation only lingers upon his amicability, betrays his reservation, and another toward Esti, the woman he loves and marries, it is solicitious and respectful, and after being dumbfounded by Esti's resolute coming out, he processes the whammy with extraordinary aplomb, heightened by Lelio's attention in minute gestures, and when he unleashes that "free will" speech in the climax, it is resoundingly touching sans any soupçon of condescension, therefore, the film salvages this love-triangle tangle with a concerted effort from both genders, and a less pandering coda that is nothing if not satisfactory, thus here is an apt exclamation to Mr. Lelio "May you live a long life! (and bring us more inspiring tales)".

Escape from New York (1981)

John Carpenter's anarchic, semi-cyberpunk rhapsody is cranked out with astonishing husbandry American B-movie doyen John Carpenter's anarchic, semi-cyberpunk rhapsody has a high concept to convert the entire Manhattan Island into a lifer's prison, peopled with all types of lowlife from crime lord to nocturnal "crazies", then thrusts a POTUS-rescue plot within a one-day stretch, and our one-eyed protagonist, the ex-Special Forces soldier Snake Plissken (Russell) grudgingly knuckles down for the job in exchange for a presidential pardon to wipe clean his criminal records, not before being tricked into carry a time bomb within his body lest he relinquishes his duty and goofs off with the rest of incorrigible perps just for the hell of it, that's what we call "trust"!

After landing his stealth glider on top of World Trade Center, a machine-gun-toting Snake roams the rubble-ridden, decrepit metropolis in the dead night, brushes with danger but finally is apprised that the president (Pleasence) is hold hostage by the Duke (Hayes), the kingpin of the turf. Aided by some unlikely altruistic allies, like his former partner-in-crime Brain (Stanton), who has betrayed him and now becomes Duke's advisor, Brain's touch-looking squeeze Maggie (Barbeau), and the gabby Cabbie (Borgnine), who still rides his big yellow taxi amid the chaos, his rescue mission takes a haphazard but not entirely insipid trajectory (a deathmatch here, a car chase involving a chandeliers-mounted Cadillac there) before escorting the president to safety, and 2 seconds before the deadline.

Performers are game, but in default setting with the exception of Frank Doubleday's vampiric mannerism as Duke's sidekick Romero, and a sinister Donald Pleasence's explosion with a vengeful salvo near the end. Russell finds a new lifeline in his beefy anti-hero persona and will become Carpenter's frequent leading man for 3 more pictures, including Carpenter's best work THE THING (1982).

An analog-era action prototype cranked out with Carpenter's astonishing acumen of husbandry, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK still holds one's attention for its post-apocalyptic set production and a pulsating futuristic soundtrack that reminisces how popular taste has changed in all those years in between.

The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (2017)

Yang Ya-che's third feature guts open a noxious canker in a wicked world and lets its pus speak for itself Taiwanese director Yang Ya-che's third feature, THE BOLD, THE CORRUPT AND THE BEAUTIFUL is the recipient of BEST FEATURE FILM in the 54th Golden Horse Awards, also winning BEST LEADING ACTRESS for Hong Kong veteran Kara Hui and BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS for a 14-year-old ingénue Vicky Chen.

Opening with a present-day frame story segueing into the live TV show of Smile Folk Song Group - whose operatic narration punctuates the narrative with a distinct tang of rustic locality against its Stygian, chroma-keyed settings - the story spirits viewers away to presumably the late 90s, signposted by the brick-size cellular phone archetype, and chronologically unfolds the intricate intrigue mastered by Madame Tang (Hui), an antiquity-dealer who brokers a lucrative real estate transaction for high-flying personages (Senator, Speaker and County Mayer of that ilk), where backstabbing, double-crossing and blatant murder crop up down the line, all aiming for one ulterior motive.

It is a smorgasbord of women's gamesmanship first and foremost, Madame Tang, flanked by her two daughters Ning (Wu Ke-xi) and Chen (Vicky Chen), the former, flirtatious, amoral and self-destructive, whereas the latter, meek, diffident and misty-eyed (and their gaping age difference hints at a not-too-well-kept family secret), mostly mingles with the wives of those involved, carefully takes stock of each other's profiteering moves and oils the wheels by wheedling, prevaricating and manipulating, without ruffling the superficial harmony.

However, the ramifications of an ordered family massacre insidiously affects the two-fold (yet three-layered) mother-daughter correlations, when Ning finds out that she is given the short end of the stick to cover the goings-on, it puts the kibosh on their triangular co-existence, and it is up to Chen to choose her side, wisely she chooses to stay, but the belatedly consummation of her secret teenage crush, after she collectedly watches her rival exhale her last breath, boomerangs badly on her and costs her a limb but she survives, the rude awakening hardens her, years later, a stony-faced adult Chen (Alice Ko) will deny Madame Tang her final plug-pulling wish in extremis, a red apple recurs to conform audience's shattered trepidation that the bad seed is here to stay.

One might find the film misogynistic, no sympathy can no easily drawn from its female characters (although male counterparts are no less sympathetic, at least they are all shoved into periphery), Yang plumbs deep into the psyche of a ruthless matriarch who reckons everyone else as a cog in the wheel, including her own offspring, and rams home that she is not an anomaly, like a cancer, consanguineous vileness rubs off on those impressionable ones (gilded youth, in this case) with karma awaits the originator like an ouroboros.

Yang's cynical disposition certainly can not be everyone's cuppa, and for subtitle-readers, the plot is too serpentine and evasive by half to suss out the whole shebang on a first-viewing, but the film has its ineffable allure built from its visual sublimity (for its wondrously captured Far East ethos, not least the posthumous marriage charade and all the aural paraphernalia) and emanated from three key performer's concerted brilliance that can put the Yang's film on the map.

Kara Hui (presently has amassed 4 acting trophies in the Hong Kong Film Awards, three for leading and one for supporting, only trails Maggie Cheung's record-setting 5 wins in the leading category), has become an unexpectedly inspiring ageism-defying exemplar in carving out a terrifically kaleidoscopic long career which she begins as a martial arts starlet four decades earlier. In portraying Madame Tang, she graciously alternates between Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese, coaxing every line and expression with either studiously calculated cadence or pitch-perfect moderation, exuding an indecipherable mystique that is egregiously inviting.

A fresh-faced Vicky Chen acquits herself amazingly in conveying Chen's precocious dichotomy that dissembles her vindictive incentive underneath her deceptive sniveling, quivering, bashful facade, subtlety often materializes on her inscrutable visage in close-ups, a sapling aiming for the next big thing? for sure she shows great promise but I don't want to jinx it.

Nonetheless, the one unsung trouper here is Wu Ke-xi (whose lack of awards traction could be attributed to the indecisive category placement, as I see it, supporting is more apposite), Ning is a damaged good who can never live down the stigma stung her years earlier, yet Wu emits a particularly affecting frisson of vulnerability and intensity that we hardly can find elsewhere, her angular lineaments might not be prepossessing in a conventional way, but she competently attests that she is a force 0f raw emotion, with incredible range and conviction.

Eventually, it is difficult to pin down any of the triumvirate with just one of the titular adjectives: bold, corrupted, beautiful, each word can be ascribed to them in different phases, perhaps, they are legitimate for every and each flawed, complex human being, residing in an imperfect world where there is no right or wrong, just win or lose, if this is a noxious canker, Yang Ya-che for sure pulls no punches to gut it open and let its pus speak for itself.

Irma Vep (1996)

Assayas' love letter to Maggie Cheung sounds out an epidemic Gallic neurosis through a pair of foreign eyes along with its spellbinding mise-en-abyme conceit Presumably no one should grudge a film director for making a movie as a love letter to woo his future wife, it is totally his de jure entitlement. IRMA VEP (the name is an anagram of VAMPIRE) is overtly Olivier Assayas' token of love for HK actress Maggie Cheung, who would marry him in 1998, only their reunion would soon dissolve 3 years later, capped by a unusual valedictory project CLEAN (2004), which turns out to be quite a curate's egg for her fans, it copped her a BEST ACTRESS title in Cannes, but also heralds her unmitigated hibernation from the screen to date.

A French old-school filmmaker René Vidal (Léaud, sporting an inarticulate English in sullenness and fatigue), is making his latest work, a remake of Louis Feuillade's silent crime serial LES VAMPIRES (1915-1916, 10 episodes in toto) and fingers a Hong Kong actress (Maggie archly plays herself with high spirit) for the leading role Irma Vep, a feline Parisian burglar outfit with a superfine latex catsuit (her racial changeover would become an issue in the later stage).

Maggie arrives alone in Paris to shoot her part, and soon becomes convivially discombobulated à la LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) amid the rumbustious filming proceedings, in particular, cannot grasp what René truly wants in her. She is befriended by Zoé (Richard, who is prickly and gabby to a great extent of spontaneity), the costume designer, who at first brings her to a sex shop to try the outfit, and later a friend gathering where she confides her attraction of Maggie to Mireille (Ogier), only to her chagrin that the latter cannot keep a secret, which casts an ambiguous tension between their fresh, tentative bond, eventually, there is a bar between occidental gregariousness and oriental propriety, Assayas knows best.

Through Assayas' intimate eye and DP Eric Gautier's serpentine camera choreography, a satirical understatement of that unique Gallic neurosis tempered with a weird mixture of angst and entropy, pervades the scenery and heavily hinges on tempestuous verbal exchanges, whether it is in the working place or private occasions. This faux-documentary style becomes all the more mesmerizing when Assayas offers inclusive dissection of the toxic, fickle industry itself under its spectacular mise-en-abyme front.

Whereas the production slowly veers into a downward spiral, buffeted by disastrous rushes-screening, harsh criticism from journalists, a nervous breakdown and compounding rift among staff, Maggie's own search for her character takes a bewitchingly oneiric turn inside the hotel she stays, a trance-like escapade coupled with the cacophony of Sonic Youth and a fluorescent raining night, actuates a surreal kick that is decadently delectable.

Bookended by the black-and-white montage of Maggie's Irma Vep in its raw, solarized and post-edited randomness, Assayas' conceit hits the home run, he wins the girl and we are also proper swooned.

Tully (2018)

The "almost" return of a prodigal son After his one-two punch Oscar contenders JUNO (2007) and UP IN THE AIR (2009), Jason Reitman has racked up 4 Oscar nominations (including two for the prestigious BEST DIRECTOR laurels) by the age of 33, far runs rings around his father, Hollywood journeyman Ivan Reitman. However, the honeymoon period end precipitously, YOUNG ADULT (2011) can still keep its head above water, but the absolutely abysmal reception from both LABOR DAY (2013) and MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (2014), keeps prompting cineasts that head-scratching question: what has happened to this America's boy genius?

Here comes TULLY, the second collaboration between him, Diablo Cody (writer of JUNO) and Charlize Theron, the triangle force behind YOUNG ADULT, Theron plays Marlo Moreau, a 40-ish mother-of-three, enmeshed in the toil of child-bearing and stricken with postpartum stress after her recent parturition. Out of blue, her life miraculously gets a new lease from a nocturnal baby-minder, the titular Tully (Davis), a modern Mary Poppin materializes only at night to bring her life back on track, but Reitman keeps nudging us that something is amiss, not least that weird threesome with Drew (Livingston), Marlo's shiftless husband.

The husband, under such circumstances, is often prone to receive the short end of the stick, and for the sake of accomplishing the story's central subterfuge, it seems that Reitman and Cody has no option but to shoehorn Drew as a cavalier father who promptly snuggles into bed every night before 10:30 to play video games, regardless of a worn-out wife lingering downstairs (or curiously enough to check on the night nanny), thus secures the requisite that he never meets Tully without Marlo's presence (at least to audience's reception), as a result, he is portrayed as a character error on the side of insouciance and insensitivity, but Cody's script is too sober to demonize this male prototype - yes even his fetish is old-fashion and squeaky-proper, a 50s diner waitress uniform - also by virtue of Ron Livingston's hangdog amicability, a thorny gender politics doesn't go off the rail.

A spitfire Charlize Theron undertakes an even more eye-popping physical transmogrification than her Oscar-bagging turn in MONSTER (2003), reportedly putting on an elephantine 50 pounds and often slouching miserably and frustratedly in the incarnation of the most horrific nightmare, that could ever happen to any nubile girls craving for motherhood down the line, c'est la vie, behind our over-populated planet, there are gazillions of suffering mothers, taking it on themselves to the albatross diurnally, one must gives the film its credit to flag up the epidemic whose clinical diagnosis still remains moot in practice.

Theron sheds every single molecule of celebrity glamor to inhabit Marlo's lifelikeness with gusto and agency, stimulatingly connects with a feisty Mackenzie Davis, to pull the wool over viewers' eyes, there is sparkling frankness in their self-reflective inspection about a woman's choice of their other half and what fulfillment means, nothing too progressive (especially gauged by Cody's more liberal bent), yet it is somewhat therapeutic, as the ending cunningly hints.

Out of its run-of-the-mill contemporary milieu, Reitman stages a fantastical coup-de-maître with Marlo's figment where a mermaid swimming against a cerulean palette, which pays off in the money shot when the whole Marlo-Tully interrelationship reaches its breaking point, although it is a bit too corny to achieve that through a DUI car accident, the bottom line is: Reitman finally bottoms out, with his Hugh Jackman's star vehicle THE FRONT RUNNER (2018) on the horizon, one might hazard, next round, the prodigal son (almost) returns.

Imitation of Life (1934)

Both films are worth their salts, and in Sirk's case, an apposite lush jewel in his crown to conclude a luminous career Double bill time! Two film versions of Fannie Hurst's contentious weepie IMITATION OF LIFE, poignantly touches the raw nerve of the star-spangled, inveterate racial discrimination through a brace of mother-daughter dyads, one white, one black, but the latter is stigmatized with a more taxing streak.

John M. Stahl's 1934 Black-and-White version (both versions are made from Universal pictures, incidentally) sticks to the milieu of the source novel, business-savvy white widow Bea Pullman (Colbert) takes in black housekeeper Delilah Johnson (Beavers), and capitalizes on Delilah's secret family pancake recipe, she leapfrogs from a dead-end maple syrup peddler to a high-flying entrepreneur of pancake flour within a 10-year stretch, meanwhile vouchsafes a 20% interest to Delilah, whose modest make-up prefers maintaining the status quo to take care of Bea and her daughter Jessie (Hudson, a doe-eyed smart alec). Notwithstanding that the life of Delilah and her daughter Peola (Washington) is on the easy street by then, there is a catch here, Peola is a fair-skinned girl, who spurns her black parentage and tries every fiber to pass as a white girl, often her act is thwarted by Delilah's presence and the tension aggravates through time, until a harrowing aftermath in the wake of Peola's go-whole-hog severance, designated to turn on spectator's waterworks.

There is a deep psychological causation in Peola's plight, which might elicit different reactions, her identity limb is caused by the effacing of a skin-deep, visual distinction that makes her an outlier who doesn't know where she belongs, is it entirely her fault to pursue the entitlement she isn't bestowed? Certainly not, her outrageous hatred of being black is the fruit borne out of a sweepingly toxic, white supremacy-breeding environment that has no place for her ilk (especially for girls, whose main perspective is to marry well), like every marginalized individuals, she is punished for who she is and it is understandable during the pre-civil rights era (the novel was written in 1933), the story beats the drum for the thicker-than-blood maternal sacrifice and belated repentance in lieu of a more progressive message catering to today's taste (for instance, what could have happened if Peola chooses to embrace his blackness for a change?).

In Stahl's rendition, Peola's selfish determination comes off more intrinsic because little contextualization is applied to lend her any amount of sympathy, although Fredi Washington (a real-life light-skinned black girl and the movie would virtually hamper her big screen career) has a fiery disposition brimming with indignation. Louise Beavers' portrayal of Delilah, after watching her counterpart in Sirk's remake, is at best serviceable, one gnawing fact is that Louise is too young for the role (she was only 31 years old), and her lack of conviction as a middle-aged, heartbroken mother is not helped by the fact that Fredi is only one year junior of her, regardless of their complexions, they do not register as a mother-daughter pair, period.

So, the 1934 movie leans more towards a posh star vehicle for Claudette Colbert, the sympathetic white Good Samaritan, fulfills her all-too-easy American dream by riding on a gravy train and soliciting free advice (the operative words are "bottle it!", Ned Sparks has a wonderful time being all piqued and sarcastic as Bea's business counselor) and spreads her gratitude without condescension, on paper, it seems a tough nut to crack, but Colbert holds court thoroughly and charms us with spectacular alacrity, especially when she is coupled with an impeccably debonair Warren William as her love interest Steve Archer, who equally effortlessly, albeit obliviously, excels in getting Jessie head over heels for him. But compared with the life-and-death separation between Delilah and Peola, their strife can be ironed out with a bantamweight sacrifice which only requires the man to cool his heel for some years, the irony is pungent, not to mention a particularly telltale scene of an ascending Bea and a descending Delilah on the spiral stairs simultaneously, genuine friendship can sprout out of two disparate souls, as long as it is the white matron who holds the upper hand.

The auteur maudit Douglas Sirk bowed out the Tinseltown and returned to his homeland Germany after this remake in 1959, which becomes his swan song, in his glittery (diamonds are in the background of the opening credits) re-imagination, the capitalistic fairy-tale is wholly jettisoned, along with Steve's quaint ichthyologist vocation, the story-line is transposed to the 50s, widow Lora Meredith (Turner, enterprisingly changing her high-end wardrobe as frequent as her character's required moods) is a struggling Broadway actress and doesn't need the help from her black help Annie Johnson (Moore) to attain her johnny-come-lately success in the cutting-edge, squalid showbiz, remarkably with her integrity intact all the same, rebuffing the advancement of the unscrupulous agent Allen Loomis (Alda) with a virtuous face does all the trick. When her on-and-off boyfriend Steve Archer (John Gavin, or is it Louis Jourdan? I see doubles!), a photographer-turned-businessman, gets her teenage daughter Susie (Sandra Dee, spirited with her wonderful faux-naïf earnestness) infatuated, she doesn't have the luxury to play martyr and their conciliation has a more perceptive leaning that outstrips the original, and curiously mirrors Turner's own turmoil, she was freshly underwent through a daughter-and-stepfather tragedy in real life.

Of course, the scrumptiously soapy flee-and-catch go-arounds between Annie and her light-skinned daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner, a white girl passes as mix-raced) upstage anything else, this time, Sirk and his writers enrich Sarah Jane's misery with enough gusto, including a startling violent outburst (in the hand of a cameo by none other than Troy Donahue, a soon-to-be celluloid heartthrob), hammering home the elephant-in-the-room behind Sarah Jane's steely repudiation of her origin, and the two-hander between Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, reaches its crescendo in their tearful valediction, amped up by Sarah Jane's mouthed but unuttered "mama", which veritably can leave the flintiest soul with misty eyes, if soapiness can be this good, just let it swamp this reviewer all over! Both actresses are Oscar nominated, but Moore can walk away with the plaudits as one of the best screen performances ever, and teaches Viola Davis a wise lesson about how to be dignified, agonized and restrained at the same time without the aid of undue theatrics.

Sirk also downplays the fawning-over, reduces the foot-rubbing to one casual scene, but majestically plays up the funeral procession, gospel belter Mahalia Jackson pulverizes us with a soul-shattering TROUBLE OF THE WORLD, all prompts audience to ponder why Annie/Delilah's sole wish in this world is a fancy funeral, why are their lives so benighted that nothing else can fulfill their breathing days other than a pious devotion to the afterlife? The answer is clear as day, though. A final consensus: both films are worth their salts, and in Sirk's case, an apposite lush jewel in his crown to conclude a luminous (if woefully shortened, Sirk was 62 then and would live another 27 years in retirement) career.

Imitation of Life (1959)

Both films are worth their salts, and in Sirk's case, an apposite lush jewel in his crown to conclude a luminous career Double bill time! Two film versions of Fannie Hurst's contentious weepie IMITATION OF LIFE, poignantly touches the raw nerve of the star-spangled, inveterate racial discrimination through a brace of mother-daughter dyads, one white, one black, but the latter is stigmatized with a more taxing streak.

John M. Stahl's 1934 Black-and-White version (both versions are made from Universal pictures, incidentally) sticks to the milieu of the source novel, business-savvy white widow Bea Pullman (Colbert) takes in black housekeeper Delilah Johnson (Beavers), and capitalizes on Delilah's secret family pancake recipe, she leapfrogs from a dead-end maple syrup peddler to a high-flying entrepreneur of pancake flour within a 10-year stretch, meanwhile vouchsafes a 20% interest to Delilah, whose modest make-up prefers maintaining the status quo to take care of Bea and her daughter Jessie (Hudson, a doe-eyed smart alec). Notwithstanding that the life of Delilah and her daughter Peola (Washington) is on the easy street by then, there is a catch here, Peola is a fair-skinned girl, who spurns her black parentage and tries every fiber to pass as a white girl, often her act is thwarted by Delilah's presence and the tension aggravates through time, until a harrowing aftermath in the wake of Peola's go-whole-hog severance, designated to turn on spectator's waterworks.

There is a deep psychological causation in Peola's plight, which might elicit different reactions, her identity limb is caused by the effacing of a skin-deep, visual distinction that makes her an outlier who doesn't know where she belongs, is it entirely her fault to pursue the entitlement she isn't bestowed? Certainly not, her outrageous hatred of being black is the fruit borne out of a sweepingly toxic, white supremacy-breeding environment that has no place for her ilk (especially for girls, whose main perspective is to marry well), like every marginalized individuals, she is punished for who she is and it is understandable during the pre-civil rights era (the novel was written in 1933), the story beats the drum for the thicker-than-blood maternal sacrifice and belated repentance in lieu of a more progressive message catering to today's taste (for instance, what could have happened if Peola chooses to embrace his blackness for a change?).

In Stahl's rendition, Peola's selfish determination comes off more intrinsic because little contextualization is applied to lend her any amount of sympathy, although Fredi Washington (a real-life light-skinned black girl and the movie would virtually hamper her big screen career) has a fiery disposition brimming with indignation. Louise Beavers' portrayal of Delilah, after watching her counterpart in Sirk's remake, is at best serviceable, one gnawing fact is that Louise is too young for the role (she was only 31 years old), and her lack of conviction as a middle-aged, heartbroken mother is not helped by the fact that Fredi is only one year junior of her, regardless of their complexions, they do not register as a mother-daughter pair, period.

So, the 1934 movie leans more towards a posh star vehicle for Claudette Colbert, the sympathetic white Good Samaritan, fulfills her all-too-easy American dream by riding on a gravy train and soliciting free advice (the operative words are "bottle it!", Ned Sparks has a wonderful time being all piqued and sarcastic as Bea's business counselor) and spreads her gratitude without condescension, on paper, it seems a tough nut to crack, but Colbert holds court thoroughly and charms us with spectacular alacrity, especially when she is coupled with an impeccably debonair Warren William as her love interest Steve Archer, who equally effortlessly, albeit obliviously, excels in getting Jessie head over heels for him. But compared with the life-and-death separation between Delilah and Peola, their strife can be ironed out with a bantamweight sacrifice which only requires the man to cool his heel for some years, the irony is pungent, not to mention a particularly telltale scene of an ascending Bea and a descending Delilah on the spiral stairs simultaneously, genuine friendship can sprout out of two disparate souls, as long as it is the white matron who holds the upper hand.

The auteur maudit Douglas Sirk bowed out the Tinseltown and returned to his homeland Germany after this remake in 1959, which becomes his swan song, in his glittery (diamonds are in the background of the opening credits) re-imagination, the capitalistic fairy-tale is wholly jettisoned, along with Steve's quaint ichthyologist vocation, the story-line is transposed to the 50s, widow Lora Meredith (Turner, enterprisingly changing her high-end wardrobe as frequent as her character's required moods) is a struggling Broadway actress and doesn't need the help from her black help Annie Johnson (Moore) to attain her johnny-come-lately success in the cutting-edge, squalid showbiz, remarkably with her integrity intact all the same, rebuffing the advancement of the unscrupulous agent Allen Loomis (Alda) with a virtuous face does all the trick. When her on-and-off boyfriend Steve Archer (John Gavin, or is it Louis Jourdan? I see doubles!), a photographer-turned-businessman, gets her teenage daughter Susie (Sandra Dee, spirited with her wonderful faux-naïf earnestness) infatuated, she doesn't have the luxury to play martyr and their conciliation has a more perceptive leaning that outstrips the original, and curiously mirrors Turner's own turmoil, she was freshly underwent through a daughter-and-stepfather tragedy in real life.

Of course, the scrumptiously soapy flee-and-catch go-arounds between Annie and her light-skinned daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner, a white girl passes as mix-raced) upstage anything else, this time, Sirk and his writers enrich Sarah Jane's misery with enough gusto, including a startling violent outburst (in the hand of a cameo by none other than Troy Donahue, a soon-to-be celluloid heartthrob), hammering home the elephant-in-the-room behind Sarah Jane's steely repudiation of her origin, and the two-hander between Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, reaches its crescendo in their tearful valediction, amped up by Sarah Jane's mouthed but unuttered "mama", which veritably can leave the flintiest soul with misty eyes, if soapiness can be this good, just let it swamp this reviewer all over! Both actresses are Oscar nominated, but Moore can walk away with the plaudits as one of the best screen performances ever, and teaches Viola Davis a wise lesson about how to be dignified, agonized and restrained at the same time without the aid of undue theatrics.

Sirk also downplays the fawning-over, reduces the foot-rubbing to one casual scene, but majestically plays up the funeral procession, gospel belter Mahalia Jackson pulverizes us with a soul-shattering TROUBLE OF THE WORLD, all prompts audience to ponder why Annie/Delilah's sole wish in this world is a fancy funeral, why are their lives so benighted that nothing else can fulfill their breathing days other than a pious devotion to the afterlife? The answer is clear as day, though. A final consensus: both films are worth their salts, and in Sirk's case, an apposite lush jewel in his crown to conclude a luminous (if woefully shortened, Sirk was 62 then and would live another 27 years in retirement) career.

Die andere Heimat - Chronik einer Sehnsucht (2013)

An estimable roman-fleuve faithfully recapitulates its auteur's life's work, aided by its chromatic aesthetics and a humble precept of naturalism A cinematic recapitulation of his canonical Heimat (roughly can be interpreted as "homeland") mini-series (three chronological installments encompassing a totol 30 episodes, released in 1984, 1993 and 2003 respectively), which conscientiously survey the shifting ethos of Germany from mid-19th century till the millennium through families dwelling in a fictitious Hunsrück village called Schabbach, octogenarian New German Cinema veteran Edgar Reitz's latest edition marks his first feature film in 35 years, on top of its whopping 225-minutes running time.

HOME FROM HOME is au fond a prequel, sets its time-frame precisely from 1840 to 1844, and the cynosure here is a geeky adolescent boy Jakob Simon (Schneider), the youngest son of a blacksmith family in the village, who is not cut from the same cloth like his peers, for example his elder brother Gustav (Scheidt), and is often called on the carpet by their parochial father Johann (Kriese) for shirking day-to-day drudgery. Jakob is an avid bookworm and is weaned on the vast world purveyed by other people's words and imagination, he begins to envisage a life beyond his home-bound hardscrabble status quo (the area is constantly plagued by crop failure, harsh weather and pandemic illness), specifically, to emigrate to Brazil, for that purpose, he even masters the language of a particular tribe of South-American Indian, and often effuses about it with sheer elation, say, in front of Jettchen (Bill), the corn-fed girl he cottons to.

Little does Jakob know, what kismet lays in store for him is diametrically opposite of that ideal, the Grim Reaper sporadically assails the family either by abrupt fits or after a chronic affliction; Jettchen, who takes a jollification-addled fancy on Gustav, a hammer blow directly precipitates Jakob's self-inflicted prison stint, ends up becoming his sister-in-law; but the last straw renders Brazil a castle in the air is the filial duty that befalls him when Gustav and Jettchen pre-empt his own pending migration, a muddy fraternal grapple turns out to be the best solution to blow off their steam.

Jakob stays, and life continues with its unchanged pace, he settles for Florinchen (Lembeck), Jettchen's comely thick-as-thieves friend he likes but not exactly loves, his erudition finally earns the respect from Johann, who also mends fences with Lena (Fouché), his daughter, Jakob and Gustav's sister who has been cut off from the family because she marries a man of a different religious persuasion, in the end of the day, Reitz's time-honored sense of perspective about life, time and humanity hits the mark with distinction.

Sensibly and relentlessly, Reitz adopts a sedate rhythm to the meandering narrative and characterizes a lyrical nostalgia (enhanced by Michael Riessler's protean score conveying emotions with high fidelity) which beautifully pervades this saga from stem to stern. The film is shot in an aesthetically mind-blowing monochrome (which anticipates Ciro Guerra's mesmerizing EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT 2015, that could be providentially welcomed as an otherworldly answer to Jakob's unfulfilled longing), which is ingeniously if economically interspersed with eye-catching polychromatic touches: a golden coin, an agate keepsake, a German flag, fire blazing a horseshoe, the tail of an arcing comet, two varicolored garlands, roadside blue berries or other floral variations, all pregnant with Reitz's divine acuity of discerning and accentuate beauty in both sweeping landscape and quotidian rigors with his reductive idiom. Thematically, HOME FROM HOME adheres to Reitz' humanism precept which precludes it from degrading into an eye-level pastoral, and incontrovertibly, he has been inculcated with the same humble naturalism which is in the veins of his coevals like Jan Troell and Ermanno Olmi, while anchoring this film in the signs of its time like diaspora, privation and disillusion, Reitz tops it off with a well-earned serenity to patch up with the aftermath of a dashed dream and bereavement.

Although the film is not necessarily an actor's showpiece, and newcomer Jan Dieter Schneider's central performance is a bit of a curate's egg, one real trouper should be name-checked, the leading actress in the first Heimat series, Marita Breuer, understatedly returns as Margarethe, the hard-working and loving mother of the household, and feeds this estimable roman-fleuve an affecting sentiment that echoes its auteur's own monody towards mortality and permanence.

New Moon (1940)

A lofty, fluffy stodge mostly hindered by a dated aesthetic guidance and a workmanlike execution The 6th out of a total number of 8 pictures headlining songbirds Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, they are cranked out either by Robert Z. Leonard or W.S. Van Dyke, and NEW MOON is credited to the former, who replaced the latter in the eleventh hour.

Amid the hubbub of the upcoming French revolution near the end of 18th century, nobleman Charles Henri (Eddy), wanted in France, assumes the identity of a bondsman on a packet boat en route to New Orleans, where he charms the aristocratic Mademoiselle Marianne de Beaumanoir (MacDonald), who is chaperoned by snooty auntie (a shrill Mary Boland), but when on terra firma, Marianne is piqued to find out Charles is merely a bond servant bought to under her employment, an incipient romantic tingle quietly transmutes into a proto-Pride-and-Prejudice sparring that occupies the first act with fair levity and a turgid overtone where opposite attraction incubates.

The second act takes shape when Charles' true identity is divulged, and Marianne has to let him go for his own safety's sake, although she has become smitten by him, step by step, still, the percolating canard of Charles' discreditable repute bedevils her. The resultant revolt is a slapdash mess even by the 40s Hollywood yardstick, actions are wishy-washy while marching song is quaintly (if appositely) antediluvian, and by the quirk of fate (or indeed, artistic license), they end up on the same ship, the titular "New Moon", whereas Marianne is the passenger, Charles leads a bunch of fellow rebels hijacking the ship, ludicrously pulls off one of the most cursory maritime make-believe mutinies ever being conceived.

After a shipwreck near an anonymous island miraculously leaves no casualty whatsoever, the third act veers into a utopian microcosm of a society build ex nihilo by the precept of parity and goodwill (of course, ample nubile maidens are conveniently deployed on board beforehand), and this time it is Charles' turn to call the shots, although Marianne has no grudges of contributing her labor like a plebeian, her doubt about Charles' character takes a little bit more time to be dissipated as we are all well prepared to what kind of an ending the cockamamie story leads to.

A lofty, fluffy stodge mostly hindered by a dated aesthetic guidance and a workmanlike execution, on a lesser level, a less telegenic performer in the form of Nelson Eddy, whereas Jeanette MacDonald at least leaves an animated affectation (not to mention her well-poised curls), he is sheer ponderous to regard with his wooden line delivery, there goes the nonexistent chemistry we are supposedly to root for. Thankfully, we have the two star's baritone/soprano voice to appreciate, but if you are looking for a good time with some substance, please give NEW MOON (1940) a wide berth.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

the second ANT-MAN standalone film chirpily rests on the laurels of its predecessor's refreshing size-shifting visual pizzazz and stimulating funny bone Pigeonholed as an entr'acte between Marvel's two juggernaut AVENGERS superhero farragoes, the second ANT-MAN standalone film chirpily rests on the laurels of its predecessor's refreshing size-shifting visual pizzazz and stimulating funny bone, competently guides audience to the finish-line through a rambunctious if not unexpected joyride.

As per usual, the original team returns with some new recruitment, fresh familiar faces like Pfeiffer (whose hype of being cast as Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is disproportionate to her actual screen time) and Fishburne are both ritualistically granted with a digitally de-aged treatment along with Douglas in their flashback sequences; a new villain Ava Starr aka. Ghost (played by an impetuous Hannah John-Kamen), at least has her own self-preserving urgency in playing havoc with the triad of Ant-Man Scott Lang (Rudd), Wasp Hope van Dyne (Lilly), upgraded to a rare co-lead prominence in Marvel's universe, and Hank Pym (Douglas), Hope's father and the original Ant-Man, in lieu of some inarticulate, cosmic plan of ruling the entire universe (Thanos, it's you I'm referring to). Among the holdovers, Michael Peña's improvising genius Luis, has more field work to operate this time but also doesn't miss the chance of welcoming a truth-revealing potion with sheer alacrity.

Truly, the whole enterprise has a limpid self-knowledge of not burdening Ant-Man and co. with too much hefty agendas, and opts for child-parenting, a universal topic barely touched on by all other Marvel pictures, to be the icing on the cake, and it works in favor of cranking up Lang's affability and normalcy (also owing to Rudd's straight-arrow comic bent and an endearing Abby Ryder Fortson who plays Lang's precocious daughter), at one point Fishburne's antagonist even righteously reprimands Ghost for floating the idea of kidnapping Lang's daughter as a game-changer, saving us from the go-to cliché afflicted to anyone who is inevitably entangled with a superhero.

Less engaging when it comes to the adult bond between Hank and Hope, adult father-daughter bond has a less winning facade to pull off, and the geeky involvement of the esoteric quantum realm (presumably will be put into critical use into reviving the perished ones in the next chapter of AVENGERS), a common challenge when a film tries to introduce something that is still scientifically inexplicable, we only get the peripheral gestures, the paranormal connection between Lang and Janet, the mutable tunnel open to the realm, the magic healing power and so forth, for general audience, it is more than enough.

No one expects ANT-MAN AND THE WASP to be a genre ground-breaker when ANT-MAN sets a providential template for it to emulate (the trope of hopping from gigantism to micro-shape and everything in between can still legitimately turn heads and induce lulz), meanwhile, as a flyweight riding on the coattail of Marvel's ever-ambitious-and-lucrative momentum, it also makes sense that its modest ambition is not purely out of aesthete choice, but also out of the functional necessity of a palate-cleanser between the two extravagant main courses, moreover, it might throw a light on the remarkable business savvy that separates Marvel Universe from DC Universe relative to luring ticket-buyers.

Flandersui gae (2000)

Bong Joon-ho's mordant debut feature retains a tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and poker-faced jocularity in its core The disclaimer in the opening reassures us that no dogs are abused in the making of South Korean cinema kingpin Bong Joon-ho's mordant debut feature, however, in second-guessing, it also bears out Bong's tendency of tackling shocking subject matters as we are neither spared with the simulacrum of cute dogs (a Shih Tzu and a chihuahua, respectively) being hung by a rope or dropped dead from the roof of a building, nor a spine-tingling verbalized hearsay that paints a grisly picture in one's mind, told by Byun Hee-bong, a familiar face among Bong's filmography. Yet for all intents and purposes, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE retains a tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and poker-faced jocularity in its core. Ko Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae) is a university docent who aspires for a professor position to secure his livelihood and earn respect from his henpecking pregnant wife Eun-sil (Kim Ho-jung), a barking dog dwelling in his cookie-cutter apartment building becomes his latest pet peeve, and he has (little) qualms to ascertain the yelping stops, although mistaken identify is par for the course and brings him in a close cat-and-mouse chase (executed with neat exuberance) with Park Hyun-nam (Doona), a valiant bookkeeper inadvertently witnesses his horrible act,

Granted, Yun-ju's casual animal cruelty can be construed as a desperate outlet for a shiftless man's smothered self-regard, and Bong's piquant societal critique of a young generation disoriented by acedia finds a contrasting light in Hyun-nam, who pulls her back into rescuing a kidnapped dog (with Bong's fantastical flourish accentuating her derring-do on the rooftop) which belongs to Eun-sil, and whose wet-behind-her-ear carriage induces a therapeutic affinity that gingers up Yun-ju's impasse and accelerates his mounting guilt, but Bong has no stomach for tacky romance, their paralleled paths only converge tentatively before life catches them up in their separated, designated routes. Under a semblance of inscrutability, the ending augurs well for Bong's directorial voyage, tempering its earthbound conformity with a soupçon of arch resignation, barking dogs might never bite, but Bong proves to be a quieter but more mischievous one with acumen of hitting some raw nerves when he sees fit.

Short Cuts (1993)

Altman is a superlative orchestrator of balancing act in conjuring up a kaleidoscopic cross section of a contemporary malaise that scourges the earth The typeface of its opening credits may look unprepossessing to today's eyes, but Robert Altman's portmanteau Los Angeles satire, inspired by Raymond Carver's short stories, retains its abiding allure by presenting a social microcosm weaving through 22 principle characters, among them are eight white heterosexual couples (Altman is Hollywood's old guard, so diversity and inclusivity are apparently not his forte), one pair is from a prior generation and the rest are 30/40-somethings married/divorced with or without kids, plus an addition of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.

Normalcy on the placid surface is disrupted in the opening sequence where helicopters are crop-dusting over an outlandish medfly quarantine area where our protagonists live, and is further overturned by coursing undertows where streams of (mostly negative) sentiments (displeasure, discomfort, jealousy, contempt, neurosis, paranoia, miscommunication, miscomprehension, ill feeling, among others) are simmering, festering and transmuting into accidents, betrayal, suicide, murder, bereavement but also fence-mending and merriment, as life it is.

Naturally, our most worrisome concern is the safety of Howard and Ann Finnigan's son, who is hit by a car driven by waitress Doreen Piggot (Tomlin), after ostensibly looking fine and refusing Doreen's request to take him to his parents, he soon falls to a portentous coma in the hospital, which puts Ann (MacDowell) and Howard (Davison), a famous TV commentator through an excruciating wringer, aggravated by the incessant crank calls from a grievance-driven baker Mr. Bitkower (Lovett) and the unbidden visit of Howard's estranged father Paul (Lemmon).

The doctor who treats the boy in the hospital is Ralph Wyman (Modine), whose wife Marian (Moore) is a painter, they live in a posh residence on the hill with a panoptic view of the area, but Ralph is bedeviled by a persisting idea that Marian has cheated on him. During a cello concert of Zoe Trainer (Singer), they meet another couple Claire and Stuart Kane (Archer and Ward), and offhand decide to invite them for a home barbecue, although Ralph regrets it in afterthought as the Kanes seem to be beneath his middle-class yardstick. In fact, Claire earns her living as a clown and Stuart is currently unemployed, who embarks on a three-day fish trip with his buddies and promises to bring back some spoils for the barbecue, but an accidental if morbid discovery during his jaunt will later cast a shadow over their relationship, a quintessential dichotomy between blokeish inconsideration and feminine sensibility.

Marian's sister Sherri Shepard (Stowe) is unhappily married to a patrol cop Gene (Robbins), who fools around with a divorcée of easy virtue, Betty Weathers (McDormand), and takes out his frustration and irritation on their family dog, who keeps yapping at him, meanwhile, Betty's ex-husband Stormy Weathers (Gallagher), what a killer name for a helicopter pilot, keeps tabs on her and exacts his revenge plan when Betty is out of town with another hubby prospect. Oblivious of the accident's grave consequence, Doreen eventually reconciles with her old soak husband Earl (Waits) with a renewed feeling of dodging a bullet. Her daughter Honey (Taylor), is married to a make-up artist Bill Bush (Downey Jr.), the Bushes' best friends are the Kaisers, Jerry (Penn) takes odd jobs and Lois (Leigh), is a skilled phone sex operator who can ambidextrously eroticizing her patron and handling her tot at the same time, their seemingly unflappable equilibrium is betrayed with an unheralded violent act which is concurrently with a seismic disruption near the end, a shudder to accentuate the sense of being alive and kicking, which separates Zoe from her mother Tess (Jazz chanteuse Ross), a cabaret singer and single mother who is too jaded to connect with her unstable daughter.

Ultimately, Altman is a superlative orchestrator of balancing act in conjuring up a kaleidoscopic cross section of a contemporary malaise that scourges the earth, partly owing to editor Geraldine Peroni's nonpareil adroitness (who is nominated for an Oscar in Altman's THE PLAYER 1992), every subplot is threaded with precision altogether and every cause-and-effect is divulged with limpid yet eloquent connotation, all on a string of the quirk of fate.

What an ensemble piece! SHORT CUTS is Venice's Golden Lion winner, an honor shared with Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS: BLUE (1993), and the ensemble cast is fêted with both a Volpi Cup and later a special Golden Globe. But the cherrypick must be Julianne Moore's eye-popping derring-do, hardly any Hollywood actress can holds court with her explosion in such a distracting state without leaving a scintilla of self-consciousness, yes, under an intimate context, it is nothing if not verifiable. Second in line are MacDowell's poignant grief, Leigh's cavalier lassitude just moments after her feigned lasciviousness and Stowe's subtle archness cheek by jowl with her smoldering ire. Among the boy's club, Lemmon has one's sentimental vote as a loquacious self-defender whose self-centred righteousness is wrong-footed by a dire emergency and Penn ekes out a tangy danger of sexual suppression itching towards a boiling point before he finally snaps, but immediately saved by an earthquake, is that Altmanesque or Carverian?

120 battements par minute (2017)

BPM is an intrepid critique that covers warts and all of a pyrrhic fight in its darkest years Drawing on his and his co-writer Philippe Mangeot's personal experiences, French queer filmmaker Robin Campillo's third feature BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) vehemently re-enacts the activism of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) group's Paris branch in the early 90s during the hiking AIDS pandemic.

As a César awards' BEST FILM recipient, BPM emanates immersive intimacy that foremost registers the immediacy of status quo, whether it is their hands-on non-violent protests on various occasions aiming at the government's inaction and apathy, the pharmaceutical corporate's sloth and cupidity in the form of immoral hunger marketing, or, predominantly, during their convocations where members contend, dispute and express their ideas and methods in a diplomatic fashion, met with either approving finger-snapping or plain hissing. Campillo's method is unpretentiously engaging with his fly-on-the-wall lens, allots munificent time to studiously record the sparks-flying meetings and tries to reach as many individual's voices as possible, even sometimes it feels erring on the side of repetition because their situation is pretty dire while their adversity has no conscience to repent. Moreover, Campillo doesn't whitewash the internecine ill-will that inherently lives and breathes inside any sort of human congregation, best incarnated by the ambivalent relation between our protagonist Sean (Biscayart) and the group leader Thibault (Reinartz).

That tactile intimacy also flows in the veins of the central romance between Sean and Nathan (Valois), and it is the latter's novice perspective that serves as the guidance of leading audience into a terra incognita in the first place. Their interaction runs tellingly from full-on sexual congress that defies fear and embraces love, to their tête-à-têtes shedding lights on their respective past, until the later stage when Sean's vitality begins to be overtaken by the virus, where a sense of tacit understanding holds out during his last days (including one last lurid orgasm on his hospital bed).

The crunch to eventually put Sean out of misery which Nathan executes with superb efficiency on top of smoldered anguish, chimes in brilliantly with Campillo's clinically perceptive take on the concomitant aftermath of Sean's demise, repressed grief, wistful relief and an insidious dread that haunts the rest "pozs", a soul-eating hopelessness becomes a sign of the times for queer community.

On the less graver front, Campillo ascertains that mood is high in daylight Gay Pride marches and vibes are sensuous in fluorescent abandon on the dance floor, striking visual flourishes include a nightspot Tyndall effect being glisteningly transformed into a virulent aggression and a blood-soaked Seine imagined by a deteriorating Sean, as his silent last cri de coeur.

Performance-wise, Campillo marshals a cracking, preponderantly youthful cast that exudes passion and spontaneity, besides his usual vim-and-vigor, the Argentina-born Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is tasked with a grueling body-emaciation which he rounds off summa cum laude, a daunting transmogrification futher underlined by the diminished color in his bulging eyes; newcomer Arnaud Valois, counterbalances Biscayart with dignified aplomb and quietening restraint that immediately distinguishes him from rest of the stigmatized activists; both Antoine Reinartz and Adèle Haenel (who plays the avid lesbian activist Sophie), pull their backs into the heady contestation with zest and artistry, plus the former makes a good fist of showing the elusive complexity burdened by a leader figure.

Encompassing and melding the tripartite elements of queerness, politics and mortality, BPM is an intrepid critique that covers warts and all of a pyrrhic fight in its darkest years.

Paddington 2 (2017)

PADDINGTON 2 amps up its aesthetic flair while cleaving to an unashamedly family-friendly tenet like its antecedent, a rare case of a sequel outdoes its predecessor As a rule of thumb, like gold dust that a movie sequel can top its predecessor apropos of quality since it is disposed to rest on the latter's laurels, Paul King's PADDINGTON 2 is an exception, although if truth to be told, the first one doesn't necessarily set up a rather insuperable grade, itself is a passable family fare targeting audience of lower age group with a predilection for animated, fluffy anthropomorphic bears, still, this sequel manages to amp up its aesthetic flair while cleaving to an unashamedly family-friendly tenet like its antecedent.

Paddington (voiced by Whishaw, proffering soothing cadence to a jaded ear), now lives harmoniously with the Browns, and buckles down in earning enough dinero to buy a pop-up book of London for his auntie Lucy's (Staunton) upcoming centennial birthday, only is summarily sent to the prison under wrongful conviction of pilfering the said book, whereas the Browns are concertedly combing through clues to sniff out the real burglar, a narcissistic has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan (Grant), who believes the book will lead him to a hidden treasure which can resurrect his dead-end career from debasing dog-food commercials.

Apart from several endearing comic skits (including one about Paddington working in a barbershop) and a stupendous passage in the pop-up book with cut-outs, it is Paddington's penitentiary adventure inducing most amazement from disbelief-suspending spectators, not just for its knowing emulation of Wes Anderson's THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014), in particular, the cliché jail-springing sequences, interlaced with a homage to Chaplin's MODERN TIMES (1936), but also the candy-striped tableaux, the epicurean revamp of the ghastly prison menu and Paddington's new-found friendship with a fellow jailbird, the rough diamond Knuckles (a disarmingly huff-and-puff Gleeson in a cook's hat), all bundled together to melt our hearts with its salutary if saccharine condiments.

The original cast returns with upgraded fervor to right any wrong standing in their way, Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Brown is submersed into another waterlogged scenario to rescue a beloved one, and a starchy Hugh Bonneville is tasked with a split leap to bowl audience over, but the spotlight is resoundingly cast upon the newcomer, Grant's delectably cutesy antagonist, burlesquing away in full throttle, and belatedly, ludicrously finds his feet and audience when being cooped up, please stay put when the closing credits roll.

Apparently, Paddington's bearish otherness is a thinly veiled metaphor of an immigrant of any persuasions, PADDINGTON 2 reinforces the benign message of inclusion and acceptance that propitiously, may sow its seeds in any labile young hearts of its core audience, a beneficial indoctrination by way of fairy-tale artifice, that ought to summarize its universal appeal and grant a pardon for its blatant wanderlust endorsement suspiciously bankrolled by London's tourism bureau.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

if one claims A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is Kazan's best work, most likely, it is not an overstatement Elia Kazan's reverberating if under-celebrated debut feature, adapted from Betty Smith's 1943 eponymous novel, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN takes a closer look on a second generation Irish-American family in the year of 1912, dwelling in their cramped tenement apartment in Brooklyn, struggling with immiseration and bereavement.

If the synopsis sounds depressing, conversely, the film is nothing if not life-affirming, Kazan attests to be a top-drawer storyteller with his unobtrusive camerawork, snaking dexterously within a two-by-four space, the narrative is unfolded from the POV of Francie (Garner), a sensitive, studious and impressionable 13-year-old girl, who develops a quasi-Electra complex towards her buoyant father Johnny Nolan (Dunn), at the expense of a small chasm between her and the more matter-of-fact, diligent housewife mother Katie (McGuire). The Nolans is a happy family, Francie also has a younger brother Neeley (Donaldson), except for their hand-to-mouth existence, because Johnny is anything but an adequate breadwinner, his forte is to bring contagious elation to those around him, with his chirpy singing and devil-may-care spirit, a pipe dreamer afflicted by intemperance, he is more contented in dreaming up what he will do when his ship comes in, than actually actuating it, alas, Johnny's American dream never actualizes, but this doesn't make him a lesser human being, on the contrary, he is a generous giver, lading out merriment whenever, wherever, spontaneously, only the sad truth is that he is not up to raise a big family, which flags up why contraception is more an imperative than an immoral contraption for humans. James Dunn wins an Oscar (beggar belief this is the film's sole Oscar nomination!) for his brimful, simpatico earnestness beautifully corroded by a telling patina of pathos.

Katie, on the other hand, is the hinge of the household, husbanding every cent (but regularly ponies up their weekly premium nonetheless), and her disenchantment of a rosier future starts to gnaw at her when it clocks to her that it might never occur, yet, it is the thought that she loves Johnny for who he is, conciliates her and puts her on her mettle, in the end of the day, it is the bonhomie the family basks in really matters, Dorothy McGuire wholeheartedly avails herself of Katie's plain demeanor and modest rig, and pours out her ambivalent emotion with unrivaled assurance and veracity, the final reconciliation between her and Francie strikes such a profound chord that it is an oceanic remiss her low-key brilliance is stiffed by the Academy here, among many an awards-worthy achievement of this refined gem.

Serendipitously, child actress Peggy Ann Garner is conferred with a special Oscar for her central performance, in fact, the whole movie is her Bildungsroman and Garner makes good in both those emotion-charging demands and those plumbing into Francie's more infantile dispositions, as in completing for parental attention from Neeley, Ted Donaldson also shines with a naturally cavalier mien that largely countervails Garner's more precocious headspace. Last but not the least is aunt Sissy, Katie's elder sister, played by Joan Blondell with snazzy verve and pizzazz, thrice married and naming all her hubbies Bill, she is by any rate, a different kettle of fish from Katie, yet the exemplar of a kid's favorite aunt, a happy-go-lucky counterpart of Johnny, but free of livelihood worries, a bonus to be a woman of its time, isn't it?

A humane, unassuming drama inculcating precious wisdom of growing up, of calibrating one's life aspect and of finding hope and sunshine in one's darkest moments, if one claims A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is Kazan's best work, most likely, it is not an overstatement.

Nine to Five (1980)

as delightful and jolly as one can get in a comedy that has something to say but consciously eschews any trace of indoctrination Three female company employees wage war against their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss in this prototype 80s sisterhood comedy, 9 TO 5 is the late Colin Higgins' second feature film and flexes the muscle of female star power which not only brings down the house, but also sets alight its box office, the runner-up top-grosser of its year, second only to STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

The Fonda-Tomlin-Parton trinity embodies three different types of career women, Fonda's Judy is a housewife grossly jilted by her ex-husband for his secretary, so she is the greenhorn in the workplace, prissy but not without wits and guts, her frilly entrance is remarkably incongruous with the rest, although her clash with the boss Frank (Coleman) is most tangential among the three, her personal victory climaxed when she blurts out to her feckless ex-husband that being dumped by him is the best thing ever happened to her.

Tomlin's Violet is a widow with a brood of four, the assertive senior office supervisor who has plodded for years in the company, yet the promotion she deserves proves to be unattainable because of Frank's sexism, and aggravated by being ordered about like a servant by him, she has every reason to get back at him; Parton's Doralee (her maiden picture, who also pens and belts out the Oscar-nominated title song), a corn-fed, bosomy secretary repulses the derogated stereotype as a boss-hunting schemer, who is indeed happily married and only humors Frank's advancement for the sake of the job, but in the face of Frank blabbering blackmail, she is the one who is not hesitant to pinion him like a steer.

Truly, the triad enjoys a real blast together, initiated by a joint-influenced brainstorm about how each envisions a scenario to vent their grievance on Frank - here Higgins makes a good fist of genre conventions, whether it is a black-white mob thriller, a lasso-tossing oater or a Snow White animation with a dark spin, all are given a reality simulacrum later in the plot - and hits the mark during their hilarious blunder with the wrong body, although the resultant kidnapping idea is less wholly engaging for its yawning implausibility, not least when the deus ex machina comes about in the form of Sterling Hayden's chairman of the board, publicly asks equal pay to be eliminated from the reform program, which is actually conceived by the triad and executed by forging Hank's signature.

Nonetheless, 9 TO 5 is as delightful and jolly as one can get in a comedy that has something to say but consciously eschews any trace of indoctrination, all three leading ladies are having a field day, but for my liking Tomlin is the one gets an upper hand for her steely nerve and comedic timing; as the antagonist, a versatile Coleman eloquently exhibits shameless wickedness to the hilt, and lastly, Elizabeth Wilson has her own moment as a brilliant tittle-tattler, who perfectly encapsulates the entire farce with a precisely uttered "Holy merde!" to bring down the curtain in the coda.

Przypadek (1987)

BLIND CHANCE has earned its name more for its political compliance and narrative gimmick than for its own worth BLIND CHANCE was shot in 1981, but its release had been mothballed by Poland's authoritative censorship for almost 6 years. Kieslowski's situationist outlook envisages three different routes for our protagonist Witek (Linda, blending his wide-eyed responsiveness with a patina of malleability), a young medical school student in Lodz, who shares the same birthday if not the same year with Kieslowski himself, which smacks of an meta-textual reference, and in the end of the day, Witek is saddled with the same disillusioned outcome, Paris is his Fata Morgana, no way out for him, whether going left, right or settling for the middle road.

The film starts with Witek's scream and Kieslowski's camera dives throat deep (which will be justified by the ending), followed by a grisly montage of some unspecified atrocity (which transpires as a dark turn of events bearing on a hospital sit-in), then a collage of snippets of Witek's earlier years, introducing his father, his first lover Czuszka (Pawelec), a fellow student Olga (Gozdzik) among others. Triggered by the death of his father, Witek decides to put his academic pursuit on hold and catches a train to Warsaw, and Kieslowski visualizes three scenarios predicated upon whether or not he catches the said train in the last minute.

The first one sees him catch the train and fetch up in the abode of an old Communist Werner (Lomnicki), through whose influence, Witek joins the party and rises through the ranks under the aegis of Adam (Zapasiewicz), a senior party member, falls in with Czuszka, who is associated with some underground university movement that runs afoul of the regime, manifold disappointments ensue, and his mission to Paris eventually scraps after falling out with Adam because of Czuszka's arrest.

On both the second and third occasions, Witek fails to catch the train, in the former, he ends up partaking in an anti-Communist organization, still loses grip of his bearings and his loyalty is challenged in the end; whereas in the latter, he meets Olga on the platform and resumes his medical studies, the pair ties the knot and begets a son, politically Witek opts for the neutral stance, eventually he boards the airliner to Paris, however, Kieslowski rams home that irrelevant of political leanings, the destination (aka. a fairer society) is roundly beyond anybody's reach, an explosion links back to the silent scream in the film's opening, a pessimistic catharsis complies with the western monomania of sounding the death knell of any Communist regime.

In the main, to this reviewer's lights, BLIND CHANCE has earned its name more for its overtly political message of inescapable despondency and a gimmicky narrative approach, than the film's own virtue as an enthralling piece of wonderment, cinematic flourishes are in deficiency (barring several interesting metaphors) in this faintly listless personal agitprop.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

The franchise categorically lives and dies with Tom Cruise's star charisma and undimmed spirit of pushing the envelop Hail to the return of the death-defying IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt, and its ageism-defying star Tom Cruise in the sixth installment of this surprisingly long-running franchise, FALLOUT follows the aftermath of ROGUE NATION, both directed by Christopher McQuarrie, when three table-top plutonium cores are fallen into the evil hands of a terrorist group called the Apostles, reorganized by the remnants the Syndicate after their head Solomon Lane (Harris) is apprehended in the end of the fifth chapter, naturally, Hunt and co. must take it on to themselves to face their old nemesis and a mole shadowing Hunt at close range.

The plot is customarily self-complicated and elliptical in elucidating the cloak-and-dagger development, for one thing, it is rather elusive about how and when Lane and his mustachioed accomplice lay their hands on the plutonium cores, or does Lane have a death wish to stay behind when the nuclear bombs are activated? Reading its synopsis on Wikipedia doesn't help, a compulsive second viewing? nice try!

That said, FALLOUT unequivocally denotes the highest standard of the spy genre filmmaking, opposite to the limitless boundary of superhero fantasies, as the franchise has been pushing the envelope ever since its genesis. Here, starting with the much plugged HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) stunt performed by Cruise and the new recruit, Henry Cavill, man of steel himself (visibly relishes his not-so-well-kept villainous about-face and is equally mettlesome in tackling high-wire stunt work), FALLOUT cleverly downplays gizmo novelty and instead regales audience with invigorating physical fisticuffs, vehicle barreling thrills and chills, unthinkable airborne jeopardy and of course, Ethan running and leaping from building to building, a là James Bond, only more relentless and awe-inspiring. Indeed, FALLOUT does set up a formidable exemplar for the upcoming Bond 25, and throws down the heavy gauntlet to Daniel Craig, 6 years junior to Mr. Cruise, how can you top that Mr. Bond?

Nevertheless, if MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE intends to elongate this money spinner's life span like its more esteemed British counterpart, there is a catch, because up to this point, the franchise categorically lives and dies with Cruise, whose star charisma and undimmed spirit is audience's main attraction and to achieve that, no matter how much materialistic incentive is behind the motive, is a miracle per se in this day and age.

Also notably, McQuarrie wisely amps up Ethan's own characterization arc, as if for the first time, a viewer can limpidly see through him among those action-packed commotions, saliently, sacrificing innocent individual for the greater good is not above him, and he does care for his teammates and those who are close to him, tries his best to keep them out of harm's way, an unpremeditated reconnection with ex-wife Julia (Monaghan) transpires harmoniously in tandem with the tacit rapport between Ethan and fellow ass-kicker agent Ilsa Faust (Ferguson, slightly underutilized here than her jaw-dropping entrance in ROGUE NATION), there is chemistry flickering, but both dare not to make it personal, a love triangle seems to be in the pipeline and both women are sensible enough to detect that in their casual interaction, oops, the plot thickens... and needless to say we will pony up for the next adventure when it comes, as long as Ethan and his team can continue upping the ante.

On Chesil Beach (2017)

A pleasurable period drama that analyzes an edifying mishap with commendable moderation and deliberation 10 years after ATONEMENT, Saoirse Roman reunites with author Ian McEwan in ON CHESIL BEACH, adapted by McEwan himself from his novella onto the silver screen, it is theater-hand Dominic Cooke's directorial debut feature.

The film begins in 1962, in medias res, two just-married honeymooners Edward Mayhew (Howle) and Florence Ponting (Roman) swan along the titular beach, heading to the hotel while waxing lyrical about music, they are supposed to enjoy a romantic dinner and consummate their wedding night, only, the ensuing clumsily conducted whoopee-making turns out disastrously for these two first-timers, and their 6-hour marriage will come to a precipitous halt on the same beach.

Woven felicitously into the diegesis are discrete flashbacks representing the pair's past, their familial backstory, the evolution of their romance, and their genuine communion up to the point, often cued by one specific emotion or reminiscences and chaperoned by lilting Bach-heavy classical pieces, which are definitely bespoke of the film's fluent if inauspicious mood all for one's ears' pleasure.

At first glance, Edward and Florence is a brace of natural match, although he is hailed from a less affluent background, saddled with a brain-damaged mother Marjorie (Duff, persuasively rotates between two disparate frequencies with utter aplomb), whereas she is endowed with a bourgeois upbringing, leading a quintet as the first violinist, their love story blossoms with sufficient fondness and alacrity which elicits a consensus that they do love each other, it is not a "she's not that into you" scenario.

So the sticking point eventually is leveled at Florence's ostensible frigidity (although a potential skeleton in the closet is implicitly hinted with a young Florence sniveling under the looming shadow of her father, which signifies it may be more traumatic than congenital), aggravated by a deficiency of sex education on both parties, statistically speaking, everyone's first sex experience is, more often than not, a disappointment, but what adds insult to injury is Florence's shocking reaction and a hearty but inopportune suggestion that provokes an embarrassed Edward to rage-quit, whose immaturity even overshadows his oceanic maladroitness, in hindsight, it is beggar-belief that true love could be thwarted by such a commonplace incident, but as always, it is no use crying over split milk, for a spur-of-the-moment decision, Edward is punished on the pain of ruing the day for the rest of his life, especially when decades later he gets the tidings and fulfills his promise to see the quintet's homecoming performance, what a price to pay and what hits home is the sharp contrast between a man's idée-fixe and a woman's malleability, which points up McEwan's incisiveness.

The two leads, being a bigger name and a thrice Oscar-nominee, Ronan continues her amazing career transition of seeking out more complex roles offered to actresses in our equality-demanding era, and her Florence boldly melds a girl-next-door affinity with a modicum of resolution and domination that defies easy categorization. However, for this reviewer's money, a tenderfoot Billy Howle outdoes Ronan here, completely sloughs off his loosey-goosey appearance (which looks rather old for his character prima facie), and sets in motion Edward's multiplex make-up with conviction, sympathy and finesse (including one of the most awkward sex scenes in recent cinema-scape) and elicits a delectable charm that reverberates hither and thither, absolutely a star-making performance that beckons more meaty roles.

A pleasurable period drama that analyzes an edifying mishap with moderation and deliberation, ON CHESIL BEACH might not possess ATONEMENT's epic grandeur or stellar opulence, but in its cottage-industry approach, effectually carries off its wisdom and discretion.

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