lee_eisenberg

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Reviews

La boulangère de Monceau
(1963)

relationships are complicated
Early in Éric Rohmer's career, he directed a movie series that he called Six Moral Tales. This series began with "La boulangère de Monceau" ("The Bakery Girl of Monceau" in English). On the one hand, it depicts the complexities of relationships. As to the issue of morality, Rohmer didn't mean this in the context of knowing right from wrong; rather, it was about analyzing the characters' feelings. The movie addresses the issue of guilt, with everyone being guilty in some way. There's also the issue of being in multiple relationships at once.

Whatever the case, it's one of the all-time classics. Anyone focusing on film theory definitely needs to take the time to watch it.

Lead actor Barbet Schroeder later became a director in his own right. He did "Barfly" and "Reversal of Fortune", and also made a brief appearance in "Mars Attacks!" as the president of France.

Seppuku
(1962)

representing hypocrisy across eras
One of the major players in Japanese cinema in the post-war era was Masaki Kobayashi. I should admit that "Seppuku" ("Harakiri" in English) is the first of his movies that I've seen. Basically, it's an indictment of feudal hypocrisy, and also a warning about over-idealizing history. Rather than simply a samurai movie, this is an anti-samurai movie. The protagonist is a ronin (a samurai without a leader) in a peacetime era in Japan's history. Coming to an estate, he hopes to take his own life, but this is merely the jumping-off point for a long, complex story.

In addition to the acting and directing, the viewer should pay attention to the sets. They're arranged so as to establish a mood. The Criterion DVD includes interviews with the director, screenwriter and star, all of whom talk about the challenges of making the movie. Kobayashi had anti-authoritarian tendencies, and these come out in the movie, with its challenge to militarism and entrenched power. Basically, to dislike this movie is to have no humanity.

All in all, it's no surprise that "Harakiri" often turns up on the lists of the greatest movies of all time. If you consider yourself a film buff, then you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Under the Banner of Heaven
(2022)

there are times when your faith won't help you
Full disclosure: I've never read the book on which the Emmy-nominated "Under the Banner of Heaven" is based. What I can say is that the miniseries is one of the most intense productions that I've ever watched. Basically, it's about what religious fundamentalism can lead to. I'm talking some nasty stuff.

Other reviews said that there were negative reviews, likely written by Mormons. I didn't see any of those, but several years ago, a Mormon emailed me criticizing my review of the documentary "The Mormon Proposition" (about the LDS's role in California's Prop 8, which outlawed marriage equality). I guess that hardcore religious people don't like hearing criticism of their beliefs. I should probably admit that most of what I know about Mormonism I learned from "The Book of Mormon" by the creators of "South Park".

Anyway, this is one fine miniseries. The acting, directing and cinematography combine to create one of the most hard-hitting productions that I've ever seen. Definitely watch it.

The Accursed
(2021)

Interesting, but can people please use correct grammar?
"The Accursed" is one of many movies about something evil haunting a family and getting released. In fact, 2021 also saw the release of a movie called "The Cursed", about a Roma woman who puts a curse on an estate after a sadistic land baron kills her people.

Anyway, this movie is nothing special. Jump scares and some CGI. One thing that irritated me was when a document showed the word "enemies" (plural of enemy) where it should've been "enemy's" (belonging to an enemy). Using those words interchangeably reinforces ignorance. I don't care if that makes me a prescriptivist, grammar exists for a reason.

Anyway, okay not great.

Eyimofe
(2020)

life in modern Nigeria
In the past few years, I've heard scattered things about Nigeria's film industry. I've only loosely heard about the sorts of movies getting made in Africa's most populous country, but I've finally seen one. "Eyimofe", directed by twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri, is a look at hardscrabble life in the ever hectic Lagos. The protagonists are two people looking to emigrate. Factory worker Mofe hopes to move to Spain, while hairdresser Rosa hopes to move to Italy. That's when things complicate their plans.

Watching the movie, one can see how life in Nigeria is a constant hustle. A college friend of mine did volunteer work there, and this movie matches what she described. People have to bribe their way through life, electricity is never guaranteed, and corruption is so rampant that people just accept it (hell, they practically expect it).

Basically, the movie shows how privileged we in the global north are. The fact that you have the means to read this should affirm that. Appreciate your life, because the Nigerians sure can't.

An outstanding movie.

Judge Dredd
(1995)

I knew you'd show that
On the one hand, Danny Cannon's "Judge Dredd" is one of the stupidest movies that I've ever sat through. Like most of the '90s action flicks, it consists mainly of things getting blown up, smashed through, crushed, and otherwise wrecked (i.e., the perfect movie for the ADHD generation). Oh, and Rob Schneider co-stars.

On the other hand, the idea of the planet becoming a barren wasteland now seems even more realistic. Too bad they combined that with a story about heroic cops having the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner (does that really look appropriate after George Floyd's murder?).

Basically, this movie - along with "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and "Under Siege 2"* - made summer 1995 the apex of asinine, brainless action flicks. That just made Wayne Wang's "Smoke" all the more enjoyable.

Danny Cannon later directed "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Geostorm".

*On the subject of that one, Katharine Heigl later revealed that Steven Seagal came on to her during production. Mind you, he was in his 40s and she was only a teenager.

La grande olimpiade
(1961)

the Olympics of old
This Academy Award-nominated documentary shows the 1960 Summer Olympics, held in Rome. "La grande olimpiade" ("The Grand Olympics" in English) shows both the athletes participating in the games, and also gives some fine shots of the eternal city. Among the notable athletes who stood out at those Olympics were Wilma Rudolph (representing the United States) and Abebe Bikila (representing Ethiopia). Although not shown in the documentary, a young Muhammad Ali - then known as Cassius Clay - won boxing's light-heavyweight gold medal.

One of the things that you might notice while watching the documentary is that they call Taiwan "China", while mainland China is nowhere to be seen. No doubt the US wasn't going to allow China's participation. Similarly, Vietnam gets represented only by South Vietnam (a country practically invented by the US). I doubt that anyone would've guessed that a few decades later, every country would get to participate, even those which the US defines as the enemy.

The only other thing that I really noticed was that the narrator often mispronounced Slavic names. No doubt the names got transliterated in certain languages, and the narrator simply pronounced them Italian-style. Sometimes I feel like all names should get written in the International Phonetic Alphabet, just so that everyone can pronounce them.

Anyway, a fine documentary. It must've been quite the experience to be there.

Tunes of Glory
(1960)

the army represents the hierarchy
Ronald Neame's Academy Award-nominated "Tunes of Glory" can be seen as allegory for both the social stratification inherent in British society, and for England's centuries-long domination of Scotland. Alec Guinness - some years before becoming widely known as a certain Jedi knight - plays Jock, a major commanding a platoon in Scotland. When a lieutenant colonel (John Mills) arrives to replace Jock, he finds the platoon undisciplined. It becomes clear that things are headed towards a point of no return.

The characters' speech inflection and body language do as much of the acting as the people themselves. Indeed, the wintry weather adds to the grim feeling. The difference between the enlisted men, the major and the lieutenant colonel evokes the institutionalized class system in the United Kingdom (which Queen Elizabeth's recent death made even clearer). All of it adds up to one of the finest movies that I've seen that focuses on the military. I don't know how accurately it depicts military life, but it still does a great job reflecting the tensions between the different strata in the UK. Watch for Susannah York in her debut.

Alba gu bràth!

PS: Ronald Neame had previously directed Alec Guinness in "The Horse's Mouth", and went on to direct "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "The Poseidon Adventure".

Mon oncle
(1958)

Hulot is back
A few weeks ago I watched Jacques Tati's "M. Hulot's Holiday", starring Tati as the socially awkward titular character. Naturally I had to watch his follow-up (and it's probably a good time to do so, with French cinema on people's minds due to Jean-Luc Godard's recent death).

The Academy Award-winning "Mon oncle" is a satire on the post-war lifestyle. Hulot goes to a party at his brother's house, which looks like the inspiration for the Jetsons' residence: it's automation beyond reason. Whether one interprets this as a warning about our excessive reliance on technology or simply a wry comedy, it's a classic in every way. Mind you, this is the subtle type of comedy, often based on the characters' interactions with each other. Not to say that there isn't room for some wacky stuff (especially in the factory).

Anyway, it's a comedy for the ages. You're sure to love it.

Lead Me Home
(2021)

there IS a solution
The Academy Award-nominated "Lead Me Home" looks at homelessness in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. It features interviews with people who have experienced homelessness, as well as people who have tried to help them.

At the end, a city council is discussing the issue, and someone asks if there's a way to solve this problem. Of course there is! The government needs to give people residences, maybe get tough on landlords who overcharge the rent. An acquaintance of my mom recalled having gone to Sweden and not seen homeless people. See what happens when a society prioritizes the people's welfare over further enriching the already well-off?

Belly of the Beast
(2020)

one of many things wrong with our prison system
Erika Cohn's "Belly of the Beast" exposes a history of forced sterilizations of female prisoners in California's prisons, which continued into the 21st century. Throughout history, sterilization was a favored punishment for those considered "feeble-minded"; it was eugenics plain and simple.

It's a grim story, and one that reaffirms everything that's wrong with this country's prison system. The prison system focuses on punishment instead of rehabilitation. The US now has over two million people incarcerated, most of them black and Latino.

Anyway, the documentary does a great job focusing on the treatment of these women, and lawyer Cynthia Chandler's efforts to expose this treatment. Definitely see it.

Satanic Panic
(2019)

Rich people: they're just (not) like us
To the pantheon of movies about rich people up to no good (i.e. The People Under the Stairs and Ready or Not) we can add Chelsea Stardust's "Satanic Panic". The protagonist is a pizza delivery girl who, cheated out of a tip, stumbles upon a group of elites about to perform a satanic ritual...and she's just what they want.

It commonly got said that Hurricane Katrina exposed the wealth gap in the country, and the coronavirus did even more so. That's true, and we get a darkly comedic look at the difference between the one percent and the ninety-nine percent in this movie. It and John Waters's "Serial Mom" make me wonder what sort of questionable things the rich suburbanites are secretly up to. A shocking movie, but enjoyable. I suspect that people already into horror flicks are the only ones who'll be interested in it, though.

PS: From 2013 to 2015 I occasionally appeared as an extra in productions filmed in the Portland area while I still lived there. One was "The Librarians", wherein Rebecca Romijn had a supporting role. While getting ready for one of the takes, she and I briefly made eye contact.

Reborn
(2018)

I never expected to see Barbara Crampton co-star with Tommy Chong's daughter and Cher's son, least of all with references to Peter Bogdanovich
Barbara Crampton has been a scream queen for over three decades. I recently saw Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator", in which she co-starred (and had a particularly notorious scene). She has here a lead role as an actress who thinks that her daughter died, not knowing that the girl is alive and can manipulate electricity...and the girl is out to find her.

For the most part, Julian Richards's "Reborn" is what I expected. The scenes that I really liked were in the actress's living room. The room is decorated with a number of posters representing sci-fi and horror flicks. I noticed "Creature with the Atom Brain" (which I've seen) and "From Beyond" (which I haven't); I think that I even caught a glimpse of a "Re-Animator" poster!

Basically, it's your typical improbable but enjoyable horror flick. It was surprising to see Rae Dawn Chong (Tommy Chong's daughter) and Chaz Bono (Cher's transgender son) and hear references to Peter Bogdanovich (who died earlier this year; I recently saw "The Other Side of the Wind", on which he collaborated with Orson Welles).

Quite likeable, especially with a surprise appearance at the end.

Heroin(e)
(2017)

this was no accident
The recent Emmy-winning miniseries "Dopesick" looked at the opioid crisis in West Virginia and how Purdue Pharma (run by the Sackler family) pushed addictive medications on the people, causing large numbers of premature deaths. It turned out that there was another look at the opioid crisis. Elaine McMillion Sheldon's Academy Award-nominated "Heroin(e)" focused on a number of people in Huntington, West Virginia, a small town disproportionately affected by opioids. Part of the focus is how these desperate people turn to drugs, and another part is how other people in the town have tried to help them.

Basically, the things to understand are how big pharma preyed on hopelessness, and how the community has sought to lessen the epidemic's impacts. Everyone should see this documentary.

Go Fish
(1994)

the catch is acceptable
I would say that arthouse cinema reached its apex in the 1990s. Notable doyens were John Sayles, Jim Jarmusch and Wayne Wang. One about whom you might not have known is Rose Troche. Her directorial debut "Go Fish" focuses on a group of lesbians in Chicago. The main idea is how they relate to each other and the world at large.

I understand that Troche shot the movie in black and white not for artistic purposes, but due to the limited budget. Either way, the cinematography adds to the movie's un-Hollywood feel as much as the dialogue does. This group of friends does what they can to look for romance in an era when it wasn't totally safe to be openly LGBT (it was still widely associated with AIDS at the time). While not the greatest movie of all time, "Go Fish" is a cerebral, thought-provoking piece of work.

Barbarian
(2022)

every place has something to reveal
Having not seen any trailers, I went into Zach Cregger's "Barbarian" knowing only that it was about a woman who books a house, only to discover that a man also booked the house, leading to questions of what happened. It turns out that's only the starting point. This is one movie that really plays with the audience. Even after the most shocking scenes - of which there are many - you still have no idea what's coming.

My point is that this is one of the most innovative horror movies in years. Maybe not like "Psycho" or "The Shining", but this is still one for the ages. Definitely check it out.

So yes, Rikki Tikki Tavi, won't you be my baby?

The World to Come
(2020)

there are stories to tell
In 2020, there were twin movies focusing on relationships between women in the 1800s. The notable one was "Ammonite", starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. The lesser known one was "The World to Come", starring Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby. Like the more famous movie, this one shows the protagonists' misery in their status as wives. Quite frankly, I wonder how many women back then secretly wanted to get together just to avoid the era's social strictures. Aside from the aforementioned movies, 2015's "Carol" depicted a pair of women in the 1950s starting up a relationship.

Anyway, it's a fine piece of work. Not a masterpiece, but the performances and cinematography make it one that people should see. A lot more interesting than the umpteenth movie where Tom Cruise narrowly escapes all danger.

Killing Zoe
(1993)

as with "Pulp Fiction", Avary and Tarantino pull no punches
Around the time that Roger Avary was helping Quentin Tarantino write the screenplay for "Pulp Fiction", he directed the gritty crime drama "Killing Zoe". Like Tarantino's movie, this one goes all in on the graphic violence and in-your-face profanity (it even features a fine shot of Julie Delpy).

The two movies in question show why the '90s were the golden age of arthouse cinema. Far from the dumbed-down Hollywood fare - with its cliched dialogue, nonstop explosions and predictable outcomes - these movies let you have it head-on. While not the masterpiece that "Pulp Fiction" was, this movie still deserves a viewing. It's a prime example of what cinema can be when real effort gets put into it. Definitely check it out.

No Way Out
(1950)

Sidney Poitier, RIP
Sidney Poitier died earlier this year, so I decided to watch his feature film debut. Joseph Mankiewicz's Academy Award-nominated "No Way Out" must've been the first Hollywood movie to address racism head-on. The gritty, pulse-pounding movie casts Poitier as a physician-in-training who has to tend to a racist hoodlum (Richard Widmark). As tense as the movie is nowadays, imagine how it looked way back when. The whole movie is set up so that it feels as if it's building to something.

While it's not the best movie about racial issues, it's nonetheless an intense piece of work, showing what happens when no one trusts anyone. In addition to Poitier and Widmark, Linda Darnell and Stephen McNally give good support. Other cast members include Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in their first co-starring, and Eda Reiss Merin (later known as the babysitter in "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead", and as Louis's neighbor in "Ghostbusters").

I Can Get It for You Wholesale
(1951)

Barbara Graham meets Addison DeWitt meets Dr. Zorba (and even the dead babysitter)
I should note that I haven't read the book on which Michael Gordon's "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" is based, or seen the stage adaptation. This look at the high-pressure world of designing clothes casts Susan Hayward as a dress designer not about to let anything stand in her way. A possible snag arises in the form of some men with whom she's been in relationships.

Undeniably, a lot of the material is dated. I guess that's bound to happen with any movie released way back when. It's not even really a good movie or a bad one; it simply it what it is. A time capsule, if you will. Worth seeing as a look at how things were back then. The rest of the cast includes Dan Dailey, Sam Jaffe, George Sanders and Marvin Kaplan (apparently best known for "Alice", but I mainly know him as a garage owner in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World").

PS: Michael Gordon was the grandfather of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Also, Eda Reiss Marin (Ms. Marks) played the babysitter in "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead", and also appeared in "Ghostbusters" as Louis's neighbor who opens her door and briefly sees the monster.

The Member of the Wedding
(1952)

a state of mind
"The Member of the Wedding" strikes me as the sort of movie that you could only truly understand if you were a southerner in the early '50s. Julie Harris in an Academy Award-nominated role plays a tomboyish girl upset by her brother's approaching wedding. The movie feels like a play, with most of the action taking place in a single room. It makes you feel as if something is building up.

As to Frankie's interaction with Berenice, I understand that it requires an understanding of the south in that era. Despite the Jim Crow Laws, white folks and black folks had direct exposure to each other whether they liked it or not. Overall, the movie is worth seeing, although I should admit that I've never read the book or seen a stage production. Brandon DeWilde (John Henry) later co-starred in "Shane" and "Hud" before getting killed in a car wreck in 1972.

Razzberries
(1931)

still the early days of animation
While Disney was ascendant in its animation prowess, Terrytoons was making a series of shorts. To my knowledge, none of Terrytoons' productions achieved the lasting impact of any animated work from Disney or Warner Bros. Their "Razzberries" is a simplistic, tolerable short featuring animals putting on shows until a farmer starts hunting them (sure enough, the animals have some tricks in store).

I understand that Paul Terry said "Let Walt Disney by the Tiffany's of the business. I want to be the Woolworth's!" I guess that explains the unsophisticated look of these cartoons. Basically, it's a harmless way to spend a few minutes. I wonder if Terrytoons would've developed an equivalent of Bugs Bunny had they stayed around longer.

Gaia
(2021)

the forest knows
One of the many additions to the eco-horror genre features a forest ranger who comes across a pair of survivalists deep in the jungle...but that's not all. Spoken in both English and Afrikaans, Jaco Bouwer's "Gaia" addresses environmental issues, although much of the plot is undeniably improbable and even silly. The idea of living off the grid reminded me of "Captain Fantastic", although that one was more serious.

I guess that the movie could have been a little better had it addressed racial issues, taking place as it does in South Africa and focusing on Afrikaner characters. As it stands, the movie is an enjoyable if mediocre product. A South African movie that I highly recommend is the Academy Award-winning "Tsotsi".

His House
(2020)

immigrate to fear
Remi Weekes's "His House" is one of those movies that reminds you how privileged you are. The plot involves a pair of refugees from war-torn South Sudan who move into an apartment in England, only to discover that something followed them.

Admittedly, a lot of the suspense involves jump scares. Nonetheless, one could make the argument that the horror experienced by the audience is nothing compared to the horror that the characters have experienced in their lives. The point is that if you consider yourself a horror fan, then you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Co-star Matt Smith played Prince Philip on seasons 1-2 of "The Crown" and the eleventh doctor on "Doctor Who".

Newsies
(1992)

everything works best when we say "union, yes!"
Okay, so it turns out that Kenny Ortega's "Newsies" takes a lot of creative liberties. I have no doubt that Joseph Pulitzer resorted to sheer brutality in his hostility to organized labor. The movie itself is pretty enjoyable. Obviously, it's sort of funny seeing Christian Bale play the newsboys' leader, since we now mainly know him as Batman.

Like many movies that were initially critical and commercial failures, this one gained a cult following in later years, even spawning a stage adaptation on Broadway. I should probably note that despite Ann-Margret's prominent billing, she has more of a secondary role; Bill Pullman is in the movie more than she is.

Basically, if you understand the historical inaccuracy, then "Newsies" is a pretty fun romp. It's surprising to see a Disney movie take a pro-labor stance, considering how anti-union Walt Disney himself was (a more recent Disney movie to take a pro-labor stance was "Mary Poppins Returns", which depicted Jane organizing unions).

Okay, if not great. Among the other cast members, Aaron Lohr (Mush) is now married to Idina Menzel (Elsa in "Frozen"), Jeffrey DeMunn (Mr. Jacobs) later played Dale on "The Walking Dead", and Michael Lerner has been a recognizable character actor for decades (appearing in "The Candidate", "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Barton Fink" and some episodes of "Glee"). Ortega went on to direct the overrated "Hocus Pocus" and the perceptive "Descendants".

"We've got millions working for nothing/You better give 'em what they're really owed" - a line in John Lennon's "Power to the People"

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