Films Worth Viewing

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"Andrei Rublev:-Andrei Tarkovsky-1966 or 1969

Mnn, you can't even settle on a release date; this does not bode well for a commentary. The 1966 date is the date when the film was completed and edited. There were one or more showings to party officials. Then the cuts began. The 205 minute version which I viewed was not seen until 1999. The 1969 date refers to its appearance at the 1969 Cannes Festival in a 186 minute version. This version was shown in Paris; later Tarkovsky accepted this version publically. The 205 minute version was supposedly hidden under a bed, or perhaps it was smuggled out by Martin Scorcese.

Who was Andrei Rublev? He was a very famous painter of icons and frescoes in the 15th century, Roughly a hundred years after his death, the Orthodox Church proclaimed his work as the standard for religious painting.
In 1988 he was sanctified by the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, there is only one single painting that has been identified as his and his alone.

Very little is known about his life. This is a bio-pic where one doesn't have to worry about being contradicted by facts. The film opens with an attempt by a peasant to construct and fly a balloon. It gets of the ground, and the peasant has a short flight. This has nothing to do with Rublev's life. It is supposed to be a metaphor for life and particularly the artist's life. Supposedly it is about taking chances and accepting failure.

The film is divided into seven episodes: the Jester, Theophanes, the Holiday, the Last Judgement, the Raid, the Charity, and the Bell. The political and social background is chaotic; we see battles, slaughter, torture, and the plague. Rublev is a monk and he is tempted in the Holiday by a pagan love cult. He dreams of a passion play and his meetings with Theophanes, his mentor and great painter, In the Raid he kills a man to save a life. He believes he must do penance; he gives up painting and refuses to speak. In the Bell the success of casting a bell and more importantly giving pleasure to people convinces him to speak and to begin painting again.

The film is a spiritual and artistic journey. Tarkowsky believes that you must experience things to know them and yourself. This of course begs the question what is he doing as a film maker. "Andrei Rublev" is an experience. Tarkowsky has created this using scenes from the life of an artist. Art can increase spititual capacities. It can provide a glimpse of perfection. He is also big on solitude; knowing yourself is key.
He is dismissive of popular success and merchandising, but he gleefully reports of 2.8 million tickets sold in
Russia with no advertising when the film was finally released in 1973. Bergman said: "Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream."

This one of those experiential films. It is technically proficient, and because of its subject matter timeless. I can see why critics and film historians rate it so highly, still it isn't really in my wheelhouse. This isn't easy to find.
 
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"The Ghost Writer"-Roman Polaanski-2010

Considering the legal difficulties Polanski had; it is surprising that this film was made. Despite being set in a thinly disguised Martha's Vineyard; it had to be filmed in Germany. It is based on a book "Ghost" by Robert Harris. Adam Lang is a thinly disguised Tony Blair, the former British PM. Harris and Polanski collaborated on the screen play. Lang is living in America writing his memoirs. The publisher paid Lang $15 million up front, and with the mysterious death of his longtime aide who was writing the memoir, a new ghost is urgently required. The job goes to Ewan McGregor identified only as the ghost. Leaving the meeting with a manuscript, not the memoir, Ghost is mugged and the manuscript is stolen.

Ghost arrives at the temporary home of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) and goes through a full security shakedown. The manuscript is secured, and Ghost has six hours to read it before meeting with Lang to begin work on revising the manuscript. Almost as soon as Lang returns, he becomes front page news when his former Foreign Secretary testifies before the International Court that Lang was involved in the rendition of
British citizens as part of the war on terror. The island is flooded with newspeople, and the Ghost leaves the inn to stay with the Lang entourage. The upheaval is so great that Ghost crafts a public statement; Lang flies to Washington where he meets with Congressional leaders and the Secretary of State. Lang's assistant (Kim Cattral) accompanies him. Left behind the Ghost beds the wife, and while hurriedly packing discovers incriminating pictures. They lead to questions about Lang's years at Cambridge. The Ghost becomes the outsider suddenly involved in a mystery; I'm hardly the first person to notice the Hitchcock lurking in the background.

This is well done classic suspense. The script and Polanski team to make the action credible. The acting is first rate, and the twists and turns keep everything moving right to the end. Well worth viewing; this is available on Amazon Prime.

Next up: "The Accountant" the Oscar winning short, and "Gold" our first Bollywood film.
 
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I'm breaking protocol and I'm reviewing "Dr. Zhivago"-David Lean-1965. It is of course based on Boris Pasternak's novel. Just some background on Pasternak, he was best known as a poet in Russia. Pasternak was a dissident/near dissident his poetry came under criticism from Soviet authorities throughout the Stalinist period and beyond. Pasternak came from a Jewish family with major cultural clout; he converted to Russian Orthodoxy as a young man. He had three wives and a mistress/collaborator for many years. Dr. Zhivago's personal life mirrors somewhat that of Pasternak. Pasternak's third wife knew of his mistress and received a promise not to divorce her. Many of Pasternak's friends were exiles, like Zhivago Pasternak refused to leave Russia. Pasternak's and Zhivago's funerals were both attended by masses of poetry lovers.

The CIA was involved in promoting the candidacy of Pasternak for a Noble Prize in Literature. The documents supporting this came out as a response from a FOIA. The Soviet government made Pasternak refuse the award. The novel was smuggled out of Russia and published abroad. It was a worldwide sensation. Pasternak died of cancer in 1960. He had not seen his mistress since 1954, again a parallel with Zhivago.

Carlo Ponti purchased the film rights and David Lean was tapped to be the director. Lean was a difficult and demanding man. He and Freddie Young didn't work together for 15 years; Young was the cinematographer for
"Lawrence of Arabia" and was an Oscar winner. Alec Guiness fought frequently with Lean, and Zhivago was his last film with Lean for almost 20 years. MGM needed this film to be a big moneymaker; the studio was badly mismanaged in the early sixties, and they depended too much upon the big epic to finance other productions.
Instead of being filmed in 70MM for financial reasons it was filmed in 35mm.

TBC
 
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Obviously "Zhivago" couldn't be filmed in the Soviet Union. Most of the film was shot in Spain; the winter railway sequences were shot in Finland and Canada. The basic sets were constructed in Spain. The film was budgeted at$5 million originally. The final cost was between $11 and $15 million; film cost figures are notoriously unreliable. The US box office was in excess of $111 million. The film was not reviewed well by the major critics, and early audiences were small, but the success of the score by Maurice Jarre, particularly the "Lara" theme drew audiences. This was a cinema event; 3+ hours not counting the overture and the intermission. I believe many critics disdained epics; they looked to the French New Wave and other modern treatments. The epics were conceived as an answer to TV; today we have action/ adventure/ superhero films running longer than two hours as the primary draws to the cinemas.

This is a stunning film visually; the historical set pieces are magnificent; even the most critical of the critics (see Bosley Crother's "Times" review) acknowledged this. They didn't like the adaptation of the novel; they wanted more history, they wanted to see/hear the poems; they thought watching a poet writing a poem was boring; they couldn't accept Sonia's (Geraldine Chaplin) acceptance of the affair; Zhivago (Omar Sharif) was too passive; this is a sampling of some of the most common criticisms. I think this is a great film. I think Robert Bolt did a superb job adapting the novel. It was almost 600 pages long; Bolt's screen play was under 250 pages. Lean was familiar with adapting long source works for the screen; I've discussed "Great Expectations", but this was nothing compared with T.S. Lawrence's auto biography which runs 800+ pages. We see the events
of historical consequence primarily through Zhivago's eyes, and Zhivago's is assessed by his General brother who also provides some historical commentary: "By the 2nd winter of the war, the boots were wearing out..."
Alec Guiness begins and ends the film as a narrator; The General is searching for the child of Lara (Julie Christie) and Doctor Zhivago. He tried to find her years before. Bolt won his second Oscar for a Lean screenplay.

I will introduce two important characters without detailing the whole plot. Komerovski (Rod Steiger) seduces and rapes Lara as a 17 year old. There is the memorable red dress scene, and the scene of dining and dancing of the privileged while outside is the demonstration/protest of the poor and the workers. The carriage containing Komerovski and Lara passing a group of Cossacks who then attack the demonstrators.
We don't actually see the attack; we are focused on Dr. Zhivago's reaction. When Zhivago attempts to come to the aid of the wounded. He first sees bloodstained snow; this blood represents both the carnage in the square, and the loss of virginity of a 17 year old girl. Komerovski (a great Performance) represents the ultimate man of no or shifting principles. He knows how to make himself useful to whatever the ruling group needs.

Pasha/Strelnikov is the young revolutionary in love with Lara. He is not a Bolshevik, but he is still a revolutionary. He is wounded in the attack on the marchers. He no longer believes in peaceful protest; the coming revolution will be violent. He disappears during the war. The movie provides no explanation, the book provides an explanation. He was captured by the Germans and released to cause chaos and to get Russia out of the war. The Germans got Lenin back in to Russia as a part of the same policy. Pasha, who married Lara, is dead and Strelnikov is born. The film doesn't discuss his ideology, but it is likely that he is a Trotskite. Pasha is Tom Courtenay in another outstanding performance.

It is not that Dr. Zhivago has no ideals/beliefs; He is both a poet and a doctor; like Pasternak; he is an intellectual and a humanist. Pasternak's family was close to Leo Tolstoy. General Zhivago respects and honors his brother, and he is a survivor. He wants to help his niece survive. She walks away with a young engineer, balaika over her shoulder. She has taught herself to play, as the General puts it she has the gift, just as Dr. Zhivago's mother did. I like to think that the General will continue to keep a watchful eye on his niece.

My highest recommendation. Films like this are no longer even considered as potential projects.
 
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"Blade Runner- The Final Cut"-Ridley Scott-2007

This came out originally in 1982. Unlike most of the films I preview here, I haven't seen this in a theater. There is a virtual industry trying to decide if Deckard(Harrison Ford) is/is not a replicant. What is a replicant? R's are androids with the ability to learn and form relationships. The newer models have internal programming which will cause massive system breakdowns and death in four years. Androids is probably an incorrect term, as they are flesh and blood. They are virtually indistinguishable from humans; they do have a weird eye turning red thing. Generally they can be detected using a mental test. The newest models are unaware that they are not human. They can be given false memories.

Deckard is called back into service in the police force. He has a very specialized job; he hunts down and kills wayward replicants. He left the force, no reason is given. He is called back to deal with a particular problem;
six waywards have escaped seized a spaceship, killing many, and they have returned to earth. It is not generally known that replicants can become wayward. Two of the group have already been killed by an electric field inside Tyrell industries. It is up to Deckard to hunt and kill the remaining. The remaining four are trying to find a way to avoid their death sentences.

Deckard is a Blade Runner; that is the designation for cops whose job is replicant termination. A Blade Runner was killed by a wayward during an evaluation/questioning. This incident was the immediate predicate necessitating Deckards recall. Deckard traces one of the four to a sleezy nightclub where the replicant performs as a snake dancer. Deckard chases her and kills her. Deckard is called to see the genius founder of Tyrell Industries, Dr. Edmund Tyrell. Tyrell wants to observe Deckard's technique in mentally testing for replicant status. Deckard is led to believe that his initial interviewee was human. Phyllis, Sean Young, is supposedly Tyrell's niece. Deckard discovers after prolonged questioning that she is a replicant. Phyllis is not aware of this; false memories have been implanted so that she believes herself to be a particular human.

This preview is growing like topsy. The film is based on a Philip K. Dick story. Ridley Scott assembled a great technical team, and the film was very well cast. It is set in 2019 Los Angeles; this is a very distopian setting. It is overcrowded and decaying. The population is very diverse; It seems to have a majority of what we call minorities. Scott believed that "Blade Runner" was a neo-film noir. It is worth noting that this film set standards for much of SciFi film and television over the past 35+years. What is human is one common thread; giant corporations dominating the economy and government is another. Over population and technology are other referents.

There were many problems with the 1982 version of this film. It was taken from Scot's control during editing. The film shown in previews was confusing, so a voice over narrative by Harrison Ford was added.
The film has had several debuts; the latest one coinciding with the version I am previewing. It was cleaned up, and certain scenes were restored, most notably the unicorn sequence. Sound was upgraded, and the entire picture was brighter. There was no CGI used. The work done on this film is more akin to a restoration, supervised by the director, than a new film. The critics generally found this version much more satisfying than the 1982 version.

I am not going to go into more detail about the plot except to say that many commentators believe that Rutger Hauer as Roy, the specialized replicant warrior steals the picture. Ford gives a very solid performance as Deckard, He is an excellent detective; he isn't overly emotional, and he is a loner. That isn't unusual for noir protagonists. Writing this preview has forced me to become aware of plot questions/problems. While watching the film I wasnt aware of them. I consider this a very good film, but not a great one. Still this is a film well worth viewing.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best Sci Fi's ever made IMO, the original was great too
 
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"The Accountant"-Ray McKinnon-2001

This film won the Oscar in 2001. It is short, less than 40 minutes, and it has only 3 characters. A family farm in Georgia is in deep trouble financially. The Accountant (McKinnon) comes to go over the book sand to find a way to save the farm for future generations. McKinnon drives up in a beyond vintage truck. He meets with two brothers O'Dell, David (Eddie King) who runs the farm, and Tommy (Walton Goggins) his more modern thinking brother. The accountant drinks a lot of beer, eats some pickled eggs and determines that the debt is well over $200,000. He does this without using even a calculator. It is his remedies which involve burning down structures, destroying equipment, and even losing various limbs which are unusual. Tommy is sent off for a beer refill while the really serious solutions are considered.

An accidental death is the only way to really settle the debt. The Accountant offers up the wife who is having an affair. The other alternative not directly spoken about is the husband. The husband does the right thing and commits suicide staged to look like an accidental death. It turns out that Tommy has been having an affair
with his brother's wife. The accountant leaves asking only nominal payment, an amount exactly equal to an expenditure related to the affair.

This is a very funny film, and it is filled with social commentary on the plight of the Southern Family Farm. You can find this on several streaming services. This is definitely worth viewing.
 
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"Gold"-Reema Kagti-2018


India produces more films than any other country. The center of much of the production is Mumbai (Bombay), and the films are in Hindi. Many popular films are dubbed in one or very occasionally more of the more than 200 languages spoken in India. These films feature singing and dancing whatever the basic plot. There is a worldwide distribution network for Bollywood films. There are tens of millions of overseas Indians throughout South and Southeast Asia, and of course in Great Britain, Canada, and the US. In addition to Bollywood there are films industries producing films in Bengali, Tamil, and Telegu among others.

This film tells the story of the first gold medal for independent India at the Olympics. In 1948 after a 12 year break due to WWII the Olympics were held in London. In addition to the long hiatus; India faced the problem of Partition. India was divided into two independent nations, India and Pakistan. In three Olympics a field hockey team representing British India won gold medals. The film opens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Many Americans are aware of these Olympics because of Jesse Owens probably the greatest track and field athlete of all time. For India the Berlin Olympics involved protests with a national flag.

The film is basically accurate about the 1936 Olympics, but the team members were fictionalized. The lead up to the 1948 Olympics participation of the Indian field hockey grows further and further from the truth. I won't even try to enumerate the many examples of deviation from historical fact. The actors were schooled in field hockey for months much like American actors were schooled to play baseball in films like "8 Men Out." The film was shot primarily in England. A rugby stadium stood in for Wembley, the classic venue for soccer (football) in the UK. The partition riots and the forming of two teams India and Pakistan where there had been one pre-partition are covered. For film purposes the 1948 final between India and England was changed from a 4-0 beat down to a 5-4 come from behind Indian victory. What mystified me was that the Indian National Anthem played in the film during the medal ceremony bore no relation to the national anthem I know. I spent more than two years in India in the Peace Corps, and I literally sang the National Anthem on dozens of occasions.

Still this is well shot, well acted, and well directed in the Bollywood tradition. It has the requisite song and dance numbers and stylized performances. It was hugely popular. I went through a Bollywood period more than a decade ago, but this was the first Bollywood film I've watched in at least five years. It is definitely worth viewing if you have any interest Indian films. It is available to stream on Amazon Prime for free if you are a member.
 
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"Ninotchka"-Ernst Lubitsch-1939

Based on a script by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch directed a classic comedy in a year which many consider the best year ever for films in the classic Hollywood studio era 1939. The posters proclaimed "Garbo Laughs' a play upon the posters for her first talkie "Anna Christie" which proclaimed Garbo Speaks.
The story begins with a three person delegation from the Soviet Union sent to Paris to sell the jewels of Grand Duchess Swanna (Ina Claire) which were legally confiscated by the state. There is truth to the basic premise in the mid to late 30's the Soviets were desperate for western currency. So delegations were sent abroad to sell a variety of goodies. The Grand Duchess was informed that her jewels were in Paris, in order to get them back; she would have to sue in court. On of the many problems that presented was that France recognized the Soviet Union as the legal government of what was once Russian. Her lover, Count Leon D'Algout (Melvin Douglas) has a plan to negotiate with the Russian trade delegation to gain a split of the sale value. Leon charms the Soviet delegation Ivanoff (Sig Ruman), Lepinski, and Kopalski and they are only too delighted to continue living the high life in Paris while they await instructions from their government.

The Commissar sends Garbo (Ninotchka) with full powers to Paris to get all the money from the sale of the Jewels. Garbo is wonderful in her early scenes. She shows proper proletarian disdain for the high life of Paris, including women's fashions , particularly hats. She doesn't crack a smile, and her interest in the Eiffel Tower is in its engineering. Count Leon is immediately smitten, and he buys a guide book which gives him the abilty to answer her many detailed questions. Thus begins an unlikely courtship, Ninotchka becomes a woman; her surrender is marked by the purchase of the same frivolous hat she first disdained. This hat was designed to Garbo's specifications.

A disaster occurs, Ninotchka gets drunk and the jewels are stolen from her room. The Grand Duchess Swana offers to let the Soviet Government have to jewels to sell, but Ninotchka has to give up Count Leon. She agrees, and we see her next marching in a May Day parade. Meanwhile the three fools have become friends with Ninotchka, they batch together so that they can have an omelette for dinner in her room. They are sent to Istanbul to sell Soviet furs. They naturally foul up; the Commissar (Bela Lugosi) insists that Ninotchka go to Turkey and make things right. A funny happy ending follows.

Lubitsch was a great director of comedies; this is one. The dialogue is snappy and quick, the staging and movement from scene to scene is done with clockwork precision. Most of the humor isn't dated because it is character driven. If you relax and give in this is still a super engaging comedy. Highly recommended.
 
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"Ninotchka"-Ernst Lubitsch-1939

Based on a script by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch directed a classic comedy in a year which many consider the best year ever for films in the classic Hollywood studio era 1939. The posters proclaimed "Garbo Laughs' a play upon the posters for her first talkie "Anna Christie" which proclaimed Garbo Speaks.
The story begins with a three person delegation from the Soviet Union sent to Paris to sell the jewels of Grand Duchess Swanna (Ina Claire) which were legally confiscated by the state. There is truth to the basic premise in the mid to late 30's the Soviets were desperate for western currency. So delegations were sent abroad to sell a variety of goodies. The Grand Duchess was informed that her jewels were in Paris, in order to get them back; she would have to sue in court. On of the many problems that presented was that France recognized the Soviet Union as the legal government of what was once Russian. Her lover, Count Leon D'Algout (Melvin Douglas) has a plan to negotiate with the Russian trade delegation to gain a split of the sale value. Leon charms the Soviet delegation Ivanoff (Sig Ruman), Lepinski, and Kopalski and they are only too delighted to continue living the high life in Paris while they await instructions from their government.

The Commissar sends Garbo (Ninotchka) with full powers to Paris to get all the money from the sale of the Jewels. Garbo is wonderful in her early scenes. She shows proper proletarian disdain for the high life of Paris, including women's fashions , particularly hats. She doesn't crack a smile, and her interest in the Eiffel Tower is in its engineering. Count Leon is immediately smitten, and he buys a guide book which gives him the abilty to answer her many detailed questions. Thus begins an unlikely courtship, Ninotchka becomes a woman; her surrender is marked by the purchase of the same frivolous hat she first disdained. This hat was designed to Garbo's specifications.

A disaster occurs, Ninotchka gets drunk and the jewels are stolen from her room. The Grand Duchess Swana offers to let the Soviet Government have to jewels to sell, but Ninotchka has to give up Count Leon. She agrees, and we see her next marching in a May Day parade. Meanwhile the three fools have become friends with Ninotchka, they batch together so that they can have an omelette for dinner in her room. They are sent to Istanbul to sell Soviet furs. They naturally foul up; the Commissar (Bela Lugosi) insists that Ninotchka go to Turkey and make things right. A funny happy ending follows.

Lubitsch was a great director of comedies; this is one. The dialogue is snappy and quick, the staging and movement from scene to scene is done with clockwork precision. Most of the humor isn't dated because it is character driven. If you relax and give in this is still a super engaging comedy. Highly recommended.
I saw Ninotchka for the first time a couple of years ago. Amazing it took me so long to get around to this one. Great stuff, and well worth seeing, but that is the way it is with a bunch of Lubitsch movies. Yes, Ninotchka is one that I can probably see over and over again, as is being discussed in another thread. By the way, at this point my favorite Lubitsch comedy is "To Be Or Not To Be".
 
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"Denial"-Mick Jackson-2016

This is a film which was largely ignored when it came out. I think it is quite well done, but many critics felt it lacked heart or soul. It is based on the published account by Deborah Lipstadt, a Jewish Holocaust historian teaching at Emory, of her libel trial with David Irving a British Holocaust denier. In British law if you are accused of libel you must show not only that your statements are true, but that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith. It is basically the opposite of how libel cases proceed in the US. Irving brought the case in England against Lipstadt and her Publisher, Penguin Books. These cases in England are most often settled in favor of the plaintiff without a trial.

The film opens at a lecture book signing by Lipstadt where Irving appears offering $1000 to anyone who can show that Hitler ordered the final solution. Lipstadt had previously refused to debate deniers; the Holocaust is a fact. Irving sues Lipstadt for libel in 1996. The trial doesn't happen until 2000. It takes place in front of a judge and not a jury. Lipstadt's defense team decide to keep her silent and not to call any Holocaust survivors.
She strongly objects, and early during the trial she meets with an Auschwitz survivor and promises that the voices of those who died and those still living will be heard.

Well known British playwright adapted Lipstadt's book for the screen. He used the discussions of the Lipstadt legal team and the court transcript to structure the screenplay. In other words the movie is about a libel trial and not about the Holocaust per se. Critics have commented unfavorably on this choice. In the film Tom Wilkinson who plays Richard Rampton, the lead barrister in the case, discusses the role of conscience in the case. He posits that conscience sometimes is not a valid guide. A public display of her views might make her feel better, but it wouldn't help the case. The case is going to be decided on the facts and the law, not on beliefs. Lipstadt agrees to allow the defense to be her conscience. So instead of the Holocaust as truth being front and center; Irving's falsifying of history, and his racism and anti-Semitism is front and center.

Somehow the critics thought this was an easy court case to win; it wasn't, and today on the internet it is relatively easy to circulate lies and deception, and difficult to combat them. I should mention the principal
actors: Rachael Weisz as Lipstadt, Timothy Spall as David Irving, Wilkinson as Richard Rampton, and Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius the lead solicitor; they are uniformly excellent. This is a fine and underrated film. I'm not surprised that it didn't make money, the subject and the treatment aren't showy. I haven't dislosed much of the plot, but I have given away the ending;this is a case where the journey is more important than the ending. Although, I must leave you with a cautionary note David Irving is better known and more successful than ever.
 

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