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La paranza dei bambini

Good film, but Italian cinema is producing far too many Mafia-related films
LA PARANZA DEI BAMBINI, based on an eponymous book by Roberto Saviano, is a good film. It is credible, direction is competent and assured, acting is of the highest order - especially by young lead Francesco di Napoli - but ultimately it is yet another Mafia-related flick, like so many Italian cinema has produced since the start of the new millennium, including SUBURRA, GOMORRA, ANIME NERE, and TV series like GOMORRA.

Despite its obvious quality, we have seen it all before. It has a good message, too: the young criminal played by di Napoli ends the film knowing that he is in a straightjacket, that the death of his kid brother is just the start of his own end. It is as inevitable as fate dictated by the gods of ancient Greece. In fact, an old man tells di Napoli and his crew early on that they were heading for a tragic end.

I left the moviehouse feeling that a marvelous country like Italy, with its unique culture, cinema, music and incredible natural beauty is also in a straightjacket made by the Mafia, Camorra, Cosa Nostra, Ndrangheta, etc.

The greater mankind's loss.

Le cerveau

Uneven effort... but great cast and some very funny sequences!
There is a rather cartoonish side to the sense of comedy in LE CERVEAU, so no wonder that midway through the film there is a cartoon sequence depicting the Brain's plan to steal money from a NATO convoy.

Director Gerard Oury maintains the great form he had shown in LE CORNIAD and LA GRANDE VADROUILLE, but here he has an even better cast to work with (though I think that if a role could have been found for Louis de Funés, who was the lead in the other two films, it would have been a real delight).

Niven lives up to his usual impeccable standards as NATO Colonel Matthews, Belmondo was riding the crest of his wave at the time, Wallach delivers another profanity-driven super performance in three languages (French, English and Italian), Silvia is breath-takingly beautiful and sexy... and Bourvil, playing a well-meaning simpleton who doubles up as thief, is the funniest of the lot.

Very good special effects, super stunts, competent camera work, and script with some unusual punchlines, including outrageously funny sequences, especially involving Suzanne, Col Matthews' leopard.

Ultimately what I really enjoyed was that everyone seemed to have good fun participating in this flick, even if the ending is somewhat less than satisfactory.

Mystic River

Eastwood's best work after MILLION DOLLAR BABY
In MYSTIC RIVER, Eastwood brings a clinical eye to bear on the truth, regardless of how hard it might be to swallow. He examines with the same clinical eye the development of the characters of the main figures. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn post superlative performances, but Bacon also does well, albeit in a less eye-catching manner.

Interestingly, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their husbands.

Ultimately, Eastwood's clinical also bores clinically and inexorably into the many appearances that pass for reality in the minds of people, and his sober approach is, in my view, what adds real greatness to this work and to that end, it is helped by superlative cinematography, great action sequences, and, most of all, a lucid and highly intelligent script.

Eastwood's direction is sublime.

MYSTIC RIVER is a must-see masterpiece.

Finger Man

Very good B film noir
FINGER MAN is an interesting example of a well made B film noir. Photography is a particularly strong point, reminiscent at times of THE THIRD MAN, with its long shadows, and the protagonist wearing a long coat, among other coincidental points.

Director Harold Schuster does a good job of keeping the film fluid and interesting, even if the actors are all of limited talent. Frank Lovejoy is unable convey any particularly recognizable emotion; Forrest Tucker is supposed to be a cunning criminal kingpin, but there is something less than convincing about his alleged ruthlessness; and pretty but otherwise forgettable Peggie Castle thankfully does not take too long to leave the film.

The story/script is credible, and the soundtrack better than usual in a B movie.

Obviously no masterpiece but certainly no waste of time, either.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Cimino's finest movie, superlative Kennedy, Bridges performances
THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT is one of my all-time favorite action/heist/road movies. I see it as Michael Cimino's finest effort, even better than DEER HUNTER, with quirky sequences like the opening corn field chase interrupted by Lightfoot running over Thunderbolt's pursuer; the lift they hitch from a madman carrying rabbits in his vehicle, which he keeps spinning; the encounter with the prostitutes; Red Leary (played by Kennedy) interrupting a couple's ongoing intercourse and taking off his mask to see the woman's private parts; and many other scenes, which are helped by razor-sharp punchlines and dialogue.

The conflict between humorless, sexually frustrated and vengeful Leary and Lightfoot is at the heart of the movie, in every sense. It pits a completely callous man against a naif and hopeful youngster, in line with Thunderbolt's biblical quote about wolves and lambs, and leopards and kids. That conflict is heightened by two truly superlative performances by Kennedy and Bridges.

Lewis, in a smaller but very funny role, especially as he goes around selling ice cream, is also superb. Eastwood pales somewhat by comparison, in a rather restrained role, but I find it commendable that he allowed the plum parts to go to others - after all, he owned (and continues to own) Malpaso Company, which produced the movie.

Photography (landscapes are breath-taking) and action sequences are phenomenal.

This film also throws incisive and interesting light on friendships gone sour, accepting new friends, and generational conflict. Ultimately, it is a very wise film, and wisdom also includes the knowledge of loss through death.

Strongly recommended.


Superior bio for what generally looks like a B production
The general quality of production and photography is B, a kind of BONNIE AND CLYDE subproduct, but the script is arresting enough to keep you watching even though most of the characters in the film are thoroughly repellent and almost everybody knows that Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph Theater, after watching his favorite movie, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA in 1934.

Curiously, the movie is more revealing about the pursuer (and narrator), FBI's Melvin Purvis, than John Dillinger. Purvis is intent on making a name for himself by hunting down Dillinger & Co, and it is clear that he resents then FBIS head Edgar Hoover's eagerness to grab credit for the operations that he carries out.

By and large, the film tallies with historic fact, and it depicts police personnel as being on the other side of the fence, but as open to temptation and crime as Dillinger. It also has a vignette involving Purvis and a young boy who would rather be Dillinger than a G-man (government man), which is one of the film's highlights.

It opens with great stills of the Depression era, and an appropriate song of the time. It closes with footnotes disclosing that Anna Sage (played by Leachman), a Roumanian citizen who helped catch Dillinger on Purvis' promise that he would not be shot, but had to witness his execution, was deported two years later; and Purvis himself committed suicide in 1961 with the gun with which he had executed Dillinger.

Interestingly enough, Dillinger is not depicted as mindless out and out evil, as has happened in other productions.

To me, that basic historic accuracy and script quality are the film's main assets, with Director John Milius doing a competent job of reproducing the 1930s and extracting very strong performances from Johnson as Purvis, Geoffrey Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton, Michelle Phillips, Chloris Leachman, Steve Kanaly (who looks a lot like Brad Pitt) and Warren Oates, who inexplicably disappears from the film for a long time and resurfaces at the end only to be killed, which does not really enhance his performance.

Well worth watching, at least once.

The Reckless Moment

Unusual film noir; Bennett, Mason, Director Ophuls in good form
THE RECKLESS MOMENT (US 1949) is a film noir built on the unusual premise that the femme fatale (Lucia, played by Bennett) is driven by the purest motives: love for her daughter, and respect for her matrimonial vows despite her attraction for a criminal on the mend (Mason). She is fatale because it is her attempt to forbid her daughter seeing her lover that leads to the latter's death; she is fatale to Mason, who falls in love with her; and to the main blackmailer. Unusually for a film noir, too, this femme fatale survives.

Some reviewers feel that Mason's character does not develop to the extent that he should drop his original motive for action (blackmail) and help Bennett and her daughter. The fact is, Mason is immediately touched by the classy and honest woman that Bennett portrays. He does not show his love much, but before you know it he is loaning Bennett money and even purchasing Xmas gifts on her behalf, and other gestures suggest a gently growing love.

Bennett is not unaffected by Mason, either. By film's end, you can see that she has feelings for him. The fact that her husband is away the entire film does not help but only makes her long for him to return and restore normality to married life.

Thus, though the film contains homicide (inevitable in film noir), tampering with evidence, blackmail, and other crimes, its ending is more complex, and even happier, than most films noir.

Bennett and Mason top the billing and are great, but the whole cast is convincing.

Director Ophuls is in great form, making terrific use of dolly shots, and B&W photography to thicken the atmosphere. Mason actually wrote this short poem about that predilection: "A shot that does not call for tracks Is agony for poor old Max, Who, separated from his dolly, Is wrapped in deepest melancholy."

Well worth watching!


Thought-provoking film with superb Bale, Adams performances
VICE opens with the admission that it may not be historically accurate but that is a minor flaw. The ruminations that drive Cheney (superbly played by an almost unrecognizably fat Christian Bale) and the machinations inside the White House make this a riveting film.

What is more, Amy Adams is just as excellent in the role of Cheney's wife and partner in any move to vault her husband to power. It is interesting to note the attention which the film devotes to Cheney's poor heart condition and his resolve to survive and rule the roost - in a heartless way, thinking nothing of the impact that his actions might have on Iraqis or even US citizens.

Steve Carell is also impressive as Rumsfeld, initially Cheney's superior, but his not too accepting subordinate by movie's end.

Great direction, competent photography, and a quite interesting script keep VICE ticking over and make it must-see stuff.

Morning Departure

Honest, well acted film
This 1950 British film is still close enough to the Second World War that one feels its authenticity. Roy Baker's direction is steady and competent, John Mills is the epitome of the British stiff upper lip, and Richard Attenborough plays the none too flattering role of the cowardly stoker, reprising and expanding on the uncredited part he had played in IN WHICH WE SERVE (UK 1942), but the whole cast is great to watch.

Perhaps the film is overlong, but it made me feel what an eternity it must have seemed to those confined to the submarine, waiting to be rescued.

Of course it is a sad film, but it is honest and it depicts the difficulties that seamen in submarines had to endure in the 1940s.

Underwater and other photography is quite good, helping to render MORNING DEPARTURE a very convincing work.


Profoundly racist film by Spike Lee
Spike Lee has, from his earliest film, depicted whites as dumb, exploitative, manipulative, redneck, and uncivilized, among other negative traits.

In contrast, he portrays the black person as the victim, the enslaved soul of goodness trampled underfoot, and demeaned by whites. The only good souls among the latter come from the Jewish, a minority biblically known to include various races, including the Falasha, a black tribe hailing from Ethiopia. In other words, from Spike Lee's standpoint, the only good whites are those who are not completely white.

I am a white born in Mozambique, Africa, and am proud to have had, and to continue to have, blacks, Chinese, Asian Indians, and mulattoes among my friends.

While I find political correctness a destroyer of art, and welcome the fact that Spike Lee does not hesitate to blast it, I find BLACK K KLANSMAN a profoundly racist film. The highly intelligent black rookie quickly outsmarts all daft whites in the police force, launching an investigation into KKK with the very help of the white estabishment Lee so attacks.

Lee directed the excellent 25TH HOUR in 2002. In it he showed talent that he has sadly withheld from the public since. Which is a pity, because he could have been a director of the highest cut. Instead, he has elected to go on racist tirades of dubious moral authority.

Direction is heavy-handed and biased; acting is pedestrian; script is uneven and you have to suspend your desbelief to unbelievable lengths to believe the action (especially when the white woman is trying to plant a bomb in Laura Harrier's post box); and cinematography is mediocre, to put it mildly.

Best avoided, unless you are a diehard Spike Lee fan.

2/10. One star for the exquisitely beautiful Laura Harrier and the other for the superb recreation of Afro hair styles of the 1970s.

The Upturned Glass

Atmospheric Brit film noir with James Mason in top form
World War II had ended only about 18 months before THE UPTURNED GLASS was made but the only connection with that historic marker is an US Army truck and its driver asking for directions, toward the film's end.

Given the known scarcity of goods and any luxuries at the time, it is remarkable that this film posts such sumptuous surroundings and well dressed persons, all contributing to a highly atmospheric effort. I find it particularly interesting that Michael Joyce, a name that the medical doctor/criminology lecturer played by James Mason gives himself at the start, doubles up as voiceover narrator for more than half of the movie, to the point where his spoken plans actually merge with temporal reality. It makes for an arresting array of viewpoints and narrative twists, which only add to the film's dark density.

Ann Stephens plays the little girl who he saves from blindness, and her mother, Emma, played by Rosamund John, in time becomes his love interest, but it is a forbidden relationship, as she is married. In a film where voice tones and glances tell more than any amount of words, one rapidly senses that falling in love disrupts Joyce's ordered life. The fact that he suggests to Emma that something needs to be done so that she and he can be together, can be interpreted in various ways: does he mean that elopement is the solution? Divorce for Emma? Or murdering her husband, perhaps? The answer is never obtained, because that is also the last they see of each other.

Clearly, from a moral standpoint the world of the 1940s was far more limiting than today's and any of those options would have carried a high cost for all involved, whether it be in emotional, professional, social, or status terms.

Thus, Joyce faces the upturned glass, a mirror to his rapidly changing circumstances and disintegrating soul.

Pamela Kellino, Mason's wife at the time, deserves plaudits for helping with a riveting script, and she plays the part of Kate Howard, Emma's sister in law, with eyes bordering on madness, eyes which make significant suggestions to her niece and overtures to Joyce. She is the main suspect in Emma's death, and she makes no apologies for her debt problems or her desire to place her niece in bordering school and away from her immediate responsibilities. (I would have liked to see Emma's husband, and know more about what he felt for his wife and his daughter but, alas, he never surfaces).

Backed by wonderful B&W photography, one watches Joyce lose his dispassionate approach to professional matters and take on the self-appointed responsibility of judging the person he blames for Emma's death. The scene in which he dispatches Kate in the same way that the latter had allegedly dealt with Emma is exceedingly well done, with a great touch provided by the key that she drops from the window, before falling, leaving Joyce locked in the place where he committed the crime.

Perhaps the film should have ended there. It might have been only just over 1 hour long, but it would have been a masterpiece of economy and quality in every department.

Unfortunately, as happens in real life, there is an option and Joyce forces his way out of the room, thereby launching a chain of events leading to his predictable demise, as in the 1940s crime had to be punished, if not by human justice then by divine or some other fate, including your own hand.

Crucially, Joyce drops the possibility of fleeing and possibly saving his skin when he decides to save another little girl, who was knocked down by a car. To that end, he operates on her and at the decisive moment he asks a fellow doctor to get an instrument from the vehicle where he is hiding Howard's body. He has the option of abandoning the operation and preventing his colleague finding the body, but he is too much of a professional for that.

Both one student and his fellow doctor rate him paranoiac, but my feeling is that Joyce has seen his soul in the upturned glass and he knows that he cannot live with it.

The ending seems a little bit pat but by then I had watched a very good film, reflecting highly competent direction, superlative acting by Mason and Kellino, exquisite photography and an arresting script.

I recommend it to anyone interested in British films in general, and British film noir in particular. It is a precursor to such landmark noirs as Carol Reed's THE ODD MAN OUT (UK 1948) and THE THIRD MAN (UK 1949).

Arch of Triumph

Meandering script undermines good direction, excellent photography, competent acting
Director Lewis Milestone tries - and succeeds, to some extent - to make ARCH OF TRIUMPH an interesting film. To that end, he is greatly helped by the cinematography, with beautiful chiaroscuros that heighten the oppressive atmosphere, but he is let down by a meandering script, a far cry from Remarque's original novel.

Boyer, normally a middle of the road actor, does well enough here to overshadow even the great Ingrid Bergman (they had been paired together in GASLIGHT, 1944, and she had won an Oscar for that performance). I think that happened because by this point Bergman had already met, and fallen in love with, Roberto Rosselini, and that must have distracted her no end (her character even claims to be Italian, and she speaks Italian toward the end of the film). That emotional upheaval, which was about to have serious consequences for her career, pushing her out of Hollywood for about 8 years, definitely impacted on her acting in this film, and on the latter's quality.

In the end, it is the film's dark atmosphere that stays with you - and that's not much. Still, I am glad I watched it, it is better than many supposedly politically correct movies done today.

The Favourite

Disappointingly pretentious, pointless and psychotic film
THE FAVOURITE appears to be about Queen Anne (an illustrious unknown to me, even after reading about her) and her sexual and other vagaries while supposedly leading her kingdom -- though Lady Marlborough (Weisz) is the real power behind the throne, and the queen's firm favourite and sexual consort.

That is, until the character played by Emma Stone bursts upon the mud; She has fallen out of grace because of her family's misfortunes and she is a distant cousin to Lady Marlborough. She rapidly surmises that the queen is the only way out of menial service, and she jostles to become the queen's favourite, and in the process engages in personal war with her cousin, with bad consequences for both.

Overlong, very pretentious, pointless from a historic and didactic standpoint, this film is something of a psychotic foray, and its greatest attempts at shocking are the use of profanities and expletives. It is also a sexist film, in which males are portrayed as stupid, vain, irrelevant, powerless and risible.

Lanthimos' direction is disordered, as reflected in the credits that you cannot read, and in the over the top performances (Colman reminded me of Kathy Bates in MISERY (1990), but without the bite of that performance); it keeps repeating lugubrious scenes in the palace's corridors; dialogue is repetitive; and the annoying and anachronistic soundtrack, including what appears to be a most disagreeable and jarring beat of a pendulum, had me wanting to walk out early on.

Lanthimos also shamelessly borrows ideas from TOM JONES (UK 1963), which showed England's royal court as a place of carnal, Epicurean, and other excesses - but at least TOM JONES posted superb acting down to the smallest role; it had a crisp pace, running on zany comedy interspersed with shocking reality; and it did not need offensive language to make its point.

Ultimately, the caged rabbits are the queen's real favourites and they reflect the film's level of intelligence. The vague ending only emphasizes the pointlessness of the entire exercise.

Finally, I fail to see how this dud can get such a high overall IMDB rating when so many reviews award it 1 or 2 stars. Best avoided.

Les frères Sisters

Good psychological Western, bafflingly minor role by Gyllenhaal
I have to admit that I had scant expectations about THE SISTERS BROTHERS, in spite of the stellar cast and the excellent Jacques Audiard as director.

Well, I enjoyed it very much. Reilly and Phoenix post commanding performances, in contrast with Jake Gyllenhaal's minor and rather meaningless part, Audiard's direction is extremely competent, and even the musical soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful and strangely fitting, given its modernity.

The script is also quite gripping though, as indicated above, Gyllenhaal's role could have been removed and would not have been missed. Riz Ahmed's part is more substantial, but I could not help thinking that there must been very few Asian Indians in the old West of the 1850s, and his presence is rather distracting, especially a large number of close-ups of him, which seem irrelevant at best.

La fiancée du pirate

Curious film
LA FIANCÉE DU PIRATE 's greatest asset is the gorgeous Bernadette Lafont, and certainly the sexual favors she bestows (at a price) on her local "clients" as she avenges the killing of her pet goat, and breaks free of near-slave bondage, are easy on the viewer's eye.

Rather dark humor runs right through the film, but that has always been one of Lafont's trademarks, and she is most comfortable in the nude in all her films. Her mother's death and burial is odd in the extreme, adding to the film's general screwball approach. The script is rather loose - to put it mildly -, the characters all seem to be on the verge of madness, photography is rather shabby, and direction... well, Director Nelly Kaplan seems quite satisfied to just let Lafont do what she likes, and it is plain to see that Lafont had a wonderful time doing the shoot.

Only the French, and perhaps the Italians, could have come up with such a rambling oddity of a sexual story... nothing memorable about it, apart from curvaceous, daring, brazen Lafont. How I love watching her!

Young and Innocent

Superb early work by Hitchcock
There is much to enjoy in YOUNG AND INNOCENT, entitled THE GIRL WAS YOUNG in the USA. The film opens with a great sequence on a beach, with a wave turning up the body of an actress who was involved with the male lead, Tisdall (played by de Marney). Despite the tragic find, there is a humorous undercurrent even as a couple of nerdy girls find the body, and Tisdall runs to assist them only to be deemed the main suspect.

That comic undercurrent runs right through the film and, in my opinion, raises it to masterpiece levels.

The brief sequence in which Tisdall is scammed by his defense lawyer is as succint as it is deft, but three sequences have stayed with me for all time: the bar brawl, the one in which the car taking the female lead falls into a mine shaft, and the famous long tracking shot in which the murderer is identified.

Cinematography is superlative in its simplicity, dialogue is dated in parts but saved by wonderful comic touches, and only the leads left me feeling that if Robert Donat and Madeleine Carrol were in this film, it would be rated at least as good as THE 39 STEPS. Pillbeam and de Marney make a charming couple, but both come across as somewhat weak.

Hitchcock's direction is flawless, and this to me is his best British period film, after THE LADY VANISHES and THE 39 STEPS.

The Night Strangler

Average horror flick with weak leading actor
Frankly, I had never heard of the Night Stalker series, or the Night Strangler film, but it is all B material. Direction by Ian Curtis is pedestrian, acting by Darren McGavin wearing a laughable little straw hat and running on tiptoe with bandy legs, plus the preposterous plot all combine to make this an average horror flick and an immediately forgettable experience.

The Mule

Clint portrays endearing old man in superbly directed film
I have just watched THE MULE and enjoyed it very much. I would rate this Eastwood's third best directorial effort, after MILLION DOLLAR BABY and MYSTIC RIVER. His control over his own performance, the rest of the cast's performances, photography, and cinematic fluidity is a case study, not least because Clint was 88 years old when he started this project.

I honestly think this is Clint's most rounded, sensitive and perceptive acting role to date, and to think that he was directing himself only increases my admiration and respect for his immense skills. He makes his character an endearing old man, and I suspect that Earl Stone is a more than slightly autobiographical portrait, which adds to the movie's interest.

Another great aspect about THE MULE is that it never takes a moralistic view, but gently reminds everyone that time with your family is the single most important thing in one's life.

Other great facets to THE MULE include the self-deprecating humor, the dry delivery, the soundtrack (the scene where the two drug dealers begin by despising Earl's outdated musical taste, to which they listen through a tapping device) only to start singing along after a while, is a hoot!

Strongly recommended.


Beautifully directed, shot and acted film about pointlessness of love and life
Joseph Losey was a talented director and in ACCIDENT (UK 1967) he was at the top of his game. Born in the US and forced to move to the UK because of Senator McCarthy's persecution of communists in Hollywood, Losey managed to acquire a very insightful perception of life in England, its class distinctions, and the looseness of such supposedly firm commitments as marriage, job, and friendship.

I cannot recall a single weak performance in any Dirk Bogarde's films, and in ACCIDENT he is as solid and intuitive as ever, his eyes alone conveying myriad feelings, sometimes contradictory ones. In his role as university lecturer, he is ably seconded by the gifted Vivien Merchant, as his wife. The reliable Stanley Baker, who plays a multi-skilled and more successful fellow lecturer, mirrors Bogarde's own life, to the point of having three children, too, and engaging in affairs with students - in this case with Anna, played by the beautiful Julie Sassard. The difference is that Baker is far more egotistical than Bogarde - but both men are vulnerable to temptation and have selfish moments.

Michael York and Sassard play the aristocrats in the film, and you can tell immediately that that sets them apart and, regardless of sexual ties, they will always remain separate from the rest of society. Contact with commoners is as inevitable as it is accidental - and it can be fatal.

Thought-provoking script and film, beautifully shot, leaves you wondering whether the accident at the end claimed the family dog. Well worth watching, if you are an introspective mood.

Green Book

Superb first half; unnecessarily long, moralistic and schmaltzy second half
There is much to enjoy in the first half of GREEN BOOK, solidly anchored in the performances of the two leads, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, in a competent direction, good script, excellent photography, and excellent recreation of the 1960s.

Sadly, the second half becomes increasingly moralistic and schmaltzy, and Ali's performance increasingly manneristic. GREEN BOOK also boasts a happy ending, which is bound to help its box office but which struck me as downright dishonest in light of what was actually happening in the US at the time.

Mortensen's performance is the only consistent quality item in the film.

Werk ohne Autor

Pitifully pretentious apology for Germany's painful past
Unlike Volker Schlondorf's THE TIN DRUM (Germany 1979), which takes an unmitigating and visceral look at Germany's plunge into WW2, and how it stunted the country's growth, NEVER LOOK AWAY takes a far dreamier look at the same problem and, for good measure, the central character hails from Dresden, in the former GDR, so he also suffers the vicissitudes of the Cold War.

The evil of Nazi Germany is represented by a doctor who had sterilized and even gased people deemed unnecessary by the regime, and this doctor is so evil that he even kills Aryans like the central character's beautiful young aunt, who likes to flaunt her nudity in the presence of her six year old nephew. Incestuous and pedophile-like as that might seem, Director von Donnersmarck seems to think that beateous naked female beauty can just lay those negative impressions to rest.

Just as Gunther Grass had linked Germany's growth stagnation to the Nazi regime and WW2, so this film - scripted by Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - sees the central character and his wife unable to have a child because the above mentioned doctor, the wife's father, actually forced her to have an abortion and fiddled with her uterus and other parturition parts to prevent her having children with a man he deemed inferior. That is not all: that evil doctor had already sent the aunt to the gas chamber... and she was not even Jewish, she was German. Capital and unforgivable sin.

There is a truly pathetic sequence in which that ill-fated aunt asks bus drivers to toot their horns simultaneously, which gives her something akin to a spiritual orgasm, and of course toward the end the nephew seizes a similar opportunity. In between, the movie rambles on for an excrutiatingly pointless 188 minutes.

That is not all. The central character comes up with a most innovative improvement on unpainted canvases: he makes paintings out of photographs, and somehow those "masterpieces" bring together doctor, aunt, central character, and the Nazi regime's human elimination mastermind.

Overlong, pretentious and an insult to any average IQ. Best avoided.

The Parallax View

Pretentious paranoia serves self-absorbed Beatty best
In "STAR," the biography of Warren Beatty, biographer Peter Biskind explains how Beatty had just been involved in assisting Senator McGovern's campaign to become the Democratic Party candidate against then President Richard Nixon, who re-elected in 1972 on a landslide.

According to Biskind, Beatty was at that point in his life an incurably self-centered and self-absorbed philanderer and tight-fisted would-be politician who realized that acting and producing was far easier, but who learned enough from the 1971/2 election campaigns to see that a movie could profitably be made out of all those hysterical and dramatic times, set against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam. Perhaps PARALLAX's greatest triumph is that it came out at about the same time as the Watergate case loomed large in the news, which certainly bolstered its box office performance.

Yet, according to Biskind, PARALLAX only went ahead because Beatty was in a "play-or-play" position and, true to his character, he did not want to pay. So production began without a script and in the midst of a writers' strike in Hollywood, but Pakula liked chaos and cunningly judged it an opportunity, in light of ongoing political developments in the US.

As a film, PARALLAX has an interesting premise, with reporters who watched an assassination being steadily assassinated themselves, leaving only Frady (Beatty) on the run, and he just survives the whole nefarious and sinister affair but the film ends on an unconnected compilation of stills which are meant to be significant but which just highlight the gargantuan ambitiousness of a film that simply does not have the script, the direction or the actors, to make a cogent statement.

At his own imposition, Beatty was always shot in a manner that enhanced his good looks, from angles that he would personally endorse, regardless of Pakula's vision, and that caused some friction between the two men . but nothing that Beatty couldn't bend to his gain.

In "STAR," Biskind recalls that "in one scene, Beatty does nothing more complicated than sit at a table stirring soup. He did take after take to just get the right amount of steam coming off the soup." The working team labelled that take "Warren Stirs Soup - Take 98."

Photography is probably the least bad thing about PARALLAX, which I have now watched twice, and have found jarring, annoying, and - to me, the capital sin in any bad movie - pretentious. Three stars for the stirring small part played by Paula Prentiss, the photography and the attempt to reflect the paranoia of the day.


One of the great modern film noirs; commanding Fonda performance
Jane Fonda holds your attention from beginning to end with a mesmerizing naturalistic performance but Donald Sutherland is equally good. Fonda deservedly won her Oscar, in what I rate her career best, but certainly Sutherland matches her throughout, if in a quieter way. Cioffi is a memorable villain.

Dialogue is quite credible, with Fonda using prostitute's jargon, and it helps build a dark and at times oppressive atmosphere, which adds to the tension.

Director Pakula is in top form in Klute, which might well be his best film.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Frank Capra's most accomplished effort
For a 1932 film, THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN has the mental acuity and moral looseness of the 1990s. But for glitchy and occasionally hazy B&W photography it has the feel of a modern film and in fact it must have raised many eyebrows in its day: the thought of a white woman having sexual fantasies about a Chinese man cannot have gone down easily with Western audiences in the 30s. Asther has a commanding performance as Gen. Yen even if his makeup is unconvincing; and in spite of her dark desires Stanwyck has the moral fortitude that any man would fall for, even if she is not your conventional beauty.

Direction is superb and photography first class. Strongly recommended.


Kitchen sink with high moral values; superb Caine performance
I have now watched ALFIE some four times, and every time it has been a better experience than before. Lewis Gilbert's direction is assured and inspired; dialogue (Caine's monologue about 60% of the time) is sharp and intelligent; photography is excellent and it not only reflects the London of the 1960s, it builds a very credible atmosphere, all centered on the extremely selfish central character and on how life will teach you valuable lessons if you are willing to learn.

Acting is of the highest order by all who appear in the film, even minor parts, but Vivient Merchant as the faithful wife who falls for Caine's charms; Denholm Eliott as the abortionist; and, above all, Caine, as Alfie, are superlative. Shelley Winters is also highly effective as the mature woman seeking ever younger lovers.

Ultimately, it is the value of human life, and the visceral and yet sensitive manner in which it is conveyed, that stays with you. ALFIE is honest enough that by movie's end Alfie is ready to go on other conquests of married women. He has learned from his errors, he has felt the pain of the consequences, but he is human. Human - and perceptive - enough to realize that time is passing him by, too.

ALFIE was shot toward the end of the British cinema's "kitchen sink" period, which produced such memorable films as SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, ROOM AT THE TOP, THE VICTIM, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, and BILLY LIAR, among others. The immediate difference is that ALFIE is shot in color and that it has a more humorous approach to the very serious aspect of life that is man-woman relations, the thing called love when you fool about with people's emotions - and abortion.

Great closing song composed by Burt Bacharach and masterfully sung by Cher.

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