Friday, January 30, 2009

Top Ten Films Of 1993!

In my previous "top ten" entry I explained how I felt 1994 was a year which deserved to be celebrated. I don't quite have that same feeling about 1993. The early 90s, cinematically, were weak years. It had taken Hollywood a long time to recover from the disaster known as the 1980s. Still I wouldn't say 1993 was as big a disappointment as say 2008, 2006, 2000 and 1996.

Going over the films of the early 90s we notice some patterns and they are reflected in this list and in my other lists concerning the 90s. We notice Asian themed movies were quite popular, but a little more on that later. We also see lots of films dealing with lawyers and novels by John Grisham became popular. In 1993 Grisham had two of his novels turned into films; "The Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts and "The Firm" with Tom Cruise. Though neither one of them is on my list they were two of the most successful films of the year at the box-office. In the following year Grisham's "The Client" with Tommy Lee Jones was also turned into a film as was "The Rainmaker" (1997) directed by Francis Ford Coppola and "The Gingerbread Man" (1998) directed by Robert Altman. What accounted for such an interest in lawyers? And the kicker is one of them is the hero! Who ever heard of a lawyer ever being a hero?

The year also saw Steven Spielberg grow up. After making his "Jurassic Park", the most successful film at the box-office that year, Spielberg gave us "Schindler's List". Today we might think Spielberg and WW2 go hand and glove, especially with his "Saving Private Ryan", but, back in 1993 it wasn't such a sure thing. Remember this is the man who had just made a movie about dinosaurs coming back to life and gave us "Hook". A serious film about the Holocaust didn't seem likely coming from him. And he wasn't the first choice. Roman Polanski was offered it first and even Billy Wilder. Wilder directed the POW film "Stalag 17" and Polanski of course went on to direct his own Holocaust movie, "The Pianist". A film I think is more powerful than "Schindler's List".

There were other important events that year. Hollywood would deal with AIDS, Robert Altman made one of his best films ("Short Cuts") and we said goodbye to one of the all time great filmmakers Federico Fellini.

Here are my favorite films of 1993!

1. THE JOY LUCK CLUB (Dir. Wanye Wang; U.S.) - As I said the 90s saw a strong interest in Asian themed movies. Though Mr. Wang's film is centered around Asian-Americans, the film is about Chinese traditions and the way it disappears from generation to generation. Films about finding one's roots or holding on to them when leaving one's homeland always interest me. I'm able to relate to the idea. While this is surely not the popular choice to most movie fans, especially in a year with "Schindler's List" and "Short Cuts", "The Joy Luck Club" touched me on a more personal level. Mr. Wang, sadly, has not always made films of the same high quality as this (remember "Maid in Manhattan) but he has decided to go back to his roots. Last year's "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" was good but lacked the emotional impact I had when I first saw this.

2. A BRONX TALE (Dir. Robert De Niro; U.S.) - For some reason I love a good gangster film. De Niro, of course probably best known for the genre, directs a modern masterpiece. Based on a one man stage play by Chazz Palminteri (who also stars in the film) about his youth. The film creates a rich world in 1950s New York.

3. REMAINS OF THE DAY (Dir. James Ivory; U.K./U.S.) - A companion piece to the Ivory/Merchant production made the previous year, "Howard's End", "Remains of the Day" is a movie I prefer between the two, though that is not the popular reaction. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson return in this film which went on to earn 5 Academy Award nominations including "Best Picture" and "Best Director".

4. M. BUTTERFLY (Dir. David Cronenberg; U.S.) - Upon its release many considered this one of Cronenberg's weaker efforts if not his weakest. As time has passed this adaptation of David Henry Hwang's play is now considered a powerful film. Jeremy Irons and John Lone star in this story based on a true incident of a man who fell in love with an opera star for 20 years not realizing it was a man.

5. SHORT CUTS (Dir. Robert Altman; U.S.) - Made a year after Altman's "comeback" film "The Player", "Short Cuts" put him on a winning streak. In some ways I think this may be Altman's best film. It is typical of what we love about his work with the multiple characters and cross-cutting in the style of "Nashville". The film was nominated for only one Oscar, Altman for "Best Director" but shamefully no "Best Picture" nomination. I guess the academy had to make room for "The Fugitive" that year.

6. SCHINDLER'S LIST (Dir. Steven Spielberg; U.S.) - Here it is! The movie you must put on your top ten list or you'll be stoned to death. In all seriousness I do like this film. It marked the first film Spielberg made at the time which I enjoyed. This true story based on Oszkar Schindler's life was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning a total of 7 including "Best Picture". Siskel & Ebert both named it the best film of the year.

7. FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (Dir. Chen Kaige; China) - I said the 90s were a time of Asian themed movies here is the film which put Kaige on the cinematic map. The early 90s were very good to Kaige and Zhang Yimou who would make masterpiece after masterpiece. Some audiences are reluctant to give Mr. Kaige credit for any movie he has made since this one. That is too bad. This film was nominated for 2 Oscars, including "Best Foreign Language" film and won the palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival. Actually it tied with Jane Campion's "The Piano".

8. IN THE LINE OF FIRE (Dir. Wolfgang Petersen; U.S.) -Wolfgang "Das Boot" Petersen makes one of the best thriller's of the 90s as Clint Eastwood stars as a secret service agent and John Malkovich as a would-be assassin. It could also be not only one of Eastwood's best performances of the decade but maybe of all time. Nominated for 3 Oscars; "Best Supporting Actor" (Malkovich) and " Best Screenplay" among them.

9. INTERVISTA (Dir. Federico Fellini; Italy) - The last film released in America by the great Fellini. The film is really just for his most devoted fans as it is a love letter to his country and his love of movies, particularly his own. The film is probably best known for the sequence involving a reunion between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.

10. PHILADELPHIA (Dir. Johnathan Demme; U.S.) - One of, if not the first, major Hollywood film to deal with AIDS, which became a big issue during the early 90s. Tom Hanks won his first Oscar for his performance here as a young lawyer who may or may not have been fired for being gay. Denzel Washington plays a homophobic lawyer who defends him. If we really want to examine this film and the issues we see Hollywood had two use two devices in order to make this film work since gays and AIDS were a touchy subject at the time. First of all it disguises itself as a courtroom thriller and secondly tries to tie discrimination against gays with discrimination against blacks. Still, powerful for its time.

Film Review: The Maids



"The Maids" *** (out of ****)

Christopher Miles' adaption of Jean Genet's "Les Bonnes" is not a bad film but the movie does nothing special with the cinematic tools at its disposal. "The Maids" feels like theatre on film. This was performed on stage and I have a feeling I'd rather see this story told on the stage instead of on celluloid.

"The Maids" (1975) was part of the American Film Theatre's collection, which had a good run for a couple of years, mostly during 1973 -1975, adapting stage works on the screen. Some of their better known productions include Lindsay Anderson's "In Celebration", Harold Pinter's "Butley" and John Frankenheimer's "The Iceman Cometh".

Miles, a director I'm not familiar with, seems as if he didn't want to take any chances with this story. He simply wanted to take what was on stage and put it on film. Outside of a few over the head camera shots we don't see the film medium being used. Still, I don't want to sound too harsh, "The Maids" is worth seeing for the two lead performances and simply because the story is interesting enough to sit down and watch.

Glenda Jackson and Susannah York star as sisters working as maids. Solange (Jackson) is the oldest and has a mother hen quality to her when it comes to Claire (York). When we first meet the two we are not aware they are sisters. The film begins in the middle of action. As "Madame", their boss, is getting ready for a night out. Solange is helping her dress. The two women exchange barbs with one another. Mean spirited remarks are thrown back and forth as "Madame" and Solange are caught in a game of trying to deeply humiliate the other. As this proceeds for about 15 minutes or so we realize "Madame" is not really "Madame" at all, but is Claire role playing. Solange and Claire play this game every night, switching roles, as the end result is the maid kills Madame.

During this opening scene the viewer learns that Madame's (Vivien Merchant) lover, simply known as Monsieur (Mark Burns) has been arrested when incriminating letters are sent to the police involving Madame and Monsieur's relationship. Monsieur is being taken to jail. The letters we find out were written and sent by the maids. What exactly do they hope to accomplish? If they hate Madame so much, what stops them from leaving her? Fear of unemployment? The film, and I would guess the play as well, doesn't get bogged down in these details. Sometimes it is not important but you can't stop yourself from thinking and asking questions while watching a movie.

Though all of the performances feel staged, the characters speak loudly as if attempting to have their voices projected to the last roll of a theatre and at times seem stiff. They stand on their mark and don't move. Still I have to give credit to Jackson and York. They are able to make us care about these characters. This simply speaks to their talent as actresses. Even if the material is not up to the usual high quality they work with they can still bring an audience in. And both women are talented. Jackson is a two time Oscar winner. Her first Oscar came for Ken Russell's "Women in Love" (1970) and her second for the light comedy "A Touch of Class" (1973) with George Segal. Though it is not fair to compare both movies I do prefer "A Touch of Class" if only because it is light-hearted and makes for an easier viewing experience.

York on the other hand was also nominated for an Oscar in the supporting category for "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969). And gives one of her best performances in Robert Altman's under appreciated classic "Images" (1972).

The film is basically a two women show. And the two ladies play off each other nicely. One does wonder what exactly is this relationship like. Many layers seem hidden between them. Solange is the more dominate of the two and at times a sexual vibe is suggested between them though not much is made of this.

All the acting credit is usually aimed at York and Jackson but I'd like to say a word about Vivien Merchant as Madame. When she enters the film a whole new dimension is added. At this point in the film the maids have decided to kill her by putting pills in her tea. Besides aspects of dark humor, which causes a shift in tone, it is all Merchant's show. It is almost a soliloquy. The sister's dialogue is reduced greatly as Madame goes on and on about how sad she is Monsieur is in jail. But slowly Madame learns that object are out of place. The sisters never fully put the apartment back in order after their role playing. Is Madame aware of what was going on? She asks the sisters repeated who could have sent those letters? Some viewers may recognize Ms. Merchant from roles in Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and "Alfie". In her one scene she steals the show.

There have been other films about maids who murder or attempt to murder their employees. Two which I can think of were French. "Murderous Maids" based on a true story and Claude Chabrol's "La Ceremonie". "The Maids" at times seems to engage in the same class warfare that Chabrol's film did and has that same kind of bleak ending. It is hard to say what exactly happens at the end of "The Maids". It is however very dramatic and theatrical.

As I said I am not familiar with Christopher Miles' work. Of the films he directed not many are available on VHS or DVD. The only other one I know of is "Priest of Love" about how D.H. Lawrence came to write "Lady Chatterly's Lover". He also adapted a novel by Lawrence, "The Virgin and the Gypsy".

The cinematography was done by Douglas Slocombe who shot the original "The Italian Job" with Michael Caine and one of my favorites "Lion in Winter" as well as the original "Indiana Jones" trilogy.

"The Maids" may be a tough find for some viewers. It is not very well known today and your local Blockbuster probably won't carry it. But if you like film adaptations of stage plays or are a fan of Ms. York or Ms. Jackson "The Maids" will interest you. It is entertaining and fun to watch these two talented ladies dominate the screen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Film Review: Il Grido

"Il Grido" *** (out of ****)

After reviewing the Turkish film "Climates", which owed so much to the work of Mr. Michelangelo Antonioni, I suddenly wanted to revisit the cinematic world of the great Italian filmmaker.

Going over my reviews I see Antonioni is a director I have neglected to review. And since I have stated it is my intention to review more classics and the works of great directors it is a good time to discuss Antonioni.

Like many of his contemporaries Mr. Antonioni got his start in films during the neo-realist movement. Though his work is not identified as being part of the neo-realist movement. He was to become part of a more "modern" group of Italian directors who were looking past the movement.

In Peter Bondanella's valuable book "Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present" we learn Antonioni started out as a scriptwriter (much like Federico Fellini) working for directors such as Rossellini ("A Pilot Returns") and with Giuseppe De Santis ("Tragic Pursuit") . Antonioni's first works were actually documentaries. His first was made in 1942 "People of the Po Valley". He would make five documentary shorts before he released his first feature film, "Story of a Love Affair", which is a wonderful film.

"Il Grido" finds Antonioni just about in the middle of a turning point in his career. The film resembles the work of the neo-realist movement. We are dealing with the working class, it was shot on real locations, it seems to be using natural light in exterior scenes and the acting has a naturalistic quality to it. Yet at the same time Antonioni is presenting his usual theme of alienation which separated him from the proceeding Italian filmmakers. Mr. Bondanella sums it up best in his book when drawing a comparison between the new Italian cinema coming from Antonioni and Fellini stating that both were "concerned with the failure of communication between human beings and the resultant spiritual poverty in life."

After "Il Grido" (1957) Antonioni would go on to make the films most associated with him; "L'Avventura", "La Notte", "Red Desert", "The Passenger" and "Blow-Up". While I would argue those films are a bit more stylized the viewer is still able to see the seeds of what was to come. Again, going back to Mr. Bondanella's book, he considers "Il Grido (The Cry)" " a film which embodies in a pure form for the first time his characteristic method of narrative."

Still despite all this praise for Mr. Antonioni there are those who do not find him to be a brilliant filmmaker. I have found myself many times involved in heated discussions. Many viewers are put off by his slow pacing, long camera shots and to some, illogical, narrative structure. Stories are now legendary about the reception his "L'Avventura" received when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. It is said the audience booed the film. Several in attendance actually walked out. Antonioni has a way of dividing his audience to such extremes.

In "Il Grido" Irma (Alida Valli) finds out her husband has been officially pronounced dead during the war. This is both good and bad news. Bad for the obvious reasons but good because for the past seven years Irma has been living with Aldo (Steve Cochran). Now they can get married. But Irma tells him she loves another. At first the viewer isn't quite sure what is going on here. Is Irma serious? Has the news of her husband given her reason to pause and put her in a more self-reflective mood? Is she worried what the townspeople will say about her getting married so fast? Or does she actually have another lover? In one scene, after Aldo confronts her, she runs to a friend's house and says if she wouldn't have run away she may have married Aldo that minute.

As is usual in an Antonioni film, the movie seems to lead us down one path but takes us somewhere else. Think of the beginning scenes in "L' Eclisse" or "L' Avventura". In "Il Grido" perhaps the film will be about Aldo and Irma getting back together. Perhaps this is Irma's story. The film shifts its focus and is Aldo's story. He leaves the town with his daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi). At first he heads to an old friend, one he believes he could have married, Elvia (Betsy Blair) next he travels on and meets a gas station attendant, Virginia (Dorian Gray). While Aldo is on a physical journey he is also on an emotional one. He cannot forget the memory of Irma. Life has lost its meaning. There is no reason to go on. Aldo can't even find a job despite his talking about wanting to.

In some ways "Il Grido" reminded me of De Sica's "Umberto D" in the way the relationship between father and daughter is presented. Aldo actually sends Rosina back to Irma. He tells her it is only temporary. It was Virginia's idea as the child simply got in the way of their love making. But like the dog in "Umberto D", I believe Rosina was his backbone. With her around he has to find a job and succeed. But her presence is a double edged sword. She also reminds him as Irma. She keeps asking when will her mother join them. When Rosina leaves I think Aldo's problems get worst. Now he is all alone with his thoughts. This brings an added emptiness in his life. He is no longer capable to relate to anyone. Even when he returns to his home town he longer is able to identify with the townspeople. He exist merely within his own empty world.

Going over the plot readers should be able to see how this relates to Antonioni's future films. Many of his characters search for something they cannot find within the material world. They have lost their ability to connect with society. What makes "Il Grido" so unusual in my opinion is I have never seen another Antonioni film to have such an ending. It is perfect for this film but when you sit down and think about it, it is ultimately a depressing ending which tells us life is not worth living. You can debate whether or not the ending was intentional or not but the end result is we live in a meaningless world.

Of the actors in the film the only one I am aware of is Aldia Valli. How strange such a star should take on this character. There is little screen time and she is not exactly likable. She is after all, the cause for all of Aldo's problems. She appeared in Visconti's "Senso", a pair of Bertolucci films, "1900" and "The Spider's Stratagem" as well as "The Third Man" and Geroges Franju's masterpiece "Eyes Without A Face".

Because it is an Antonioni film it is hard to say how most movie goers will react. If you've enjoyed previous films you may enjoy this. But because this is made in such a different style than most are used to it could have a cross-over appeal to those who don't normally like his films but like neo-realist films.

Antonioni sadly passed away a few years ago, at the same time the great Ingmar Bergman did. In some ways it was fitting. Both men had made films of a personal nature and had asked the big questions concerning what is life really about. Antonioni though never quite got the acceptance Bergman did in certain film circles. His work was not as celebrated by the Academy for instance. Of all of his great films only one movie ever earned an Oscar nomination. His English language film, "Blow-Up" (1967), which was nominated for its screenplay and Antonioni for his directing. He also received an honorary award from the academy in 1995. "Blow-Up" also won the palme d'or at Cannes. "Il Grido" never received such recognition. But it should be viewed as a missing link into this great filmmakers body of work.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Film Review: Climates

"Climates" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

"Climates" is a 2007 Turkish film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose previous film was "Distance". This film is a thought-provoking film about alienation and characters unable to relate to their surrounds.

If I wouldn't have mentioned the film was Turkish and/or the director's name, you may have assumed the film was Italian and directed by Michelango Antonioni. Mr. Ceylan, an up and coming filmmaker in his homeland, owes a lot to Mr. Antonioni and the Italian master's trilogy of alienation films ("L'Avventura", "La Notte", "L' Eclisse").

The first time I saw "Climates" as is customary for me, I knew nothing about it. I heard of the movie, one of our Chicago critics named it the best film of the year, but I never read a review. In fact, I didn't even bother to read the back of it for a plot description. I walked into the movie cold.

After that first viewing, I was a little puzzled by the film. I thought it was a decent piece of work but not an emotionally connecting one. I could instantly see the parallel between this and Mr. Antonioni however and with that in mind was constantly comparing it to Antonioni's classic films. Comparing the two director's work only causes Mr. Ceylan to pale in comparison, assuming you like the films of Antonioni, which I do very much so. But I thought to myself I need to watch this again. Now that I know what it is about and the film's style and pace I'd be in a better position to watch it again and perhaps not be so critical.

During my second viewing I proved myself right. "Climates" had improved greatly. Naturally the film hadn't changed but because I knew what to expect I now knew how to approach a film such as this. "Climates" is what I call an intellectual film, much like the work of Antonioni or Tarkovsky. Films like this don't touch me on an emotional level. They are a thinking process. These filmmakers don't hold our hand and lead us down a path. These films require we do a lot of the work. We must connect the dots. We must fill in the plot holes.

In "Climates" we are following a couple; Isa (Mr. Ceylan) and Bahar (played by the director's wife, Ebru Ceylan, herself a writer and director). Isa is a photographer. We see him from Bahar's point of view. He is taking pictures of ancient temples. Every time these characters are in a scene there is always distance between them. And in this particular scene Isa is a bit of a blur. He looks insignificant compared to the temples. It is all done in a long shot as both Isa and Behar are almost being swallowed up by their environment to the point they no longer exist.

In another scene Bahar has a dream by the sea shore. She is lying in the sand when Isa approaches her and kisses her. He tells her he loves her and playfully buries her in the sand. But then he tries to cover her face with it. Throughout the scene again Isa is a blur. We can assume this dream is about suffocating. How quickly the relationship goes from a tender one, Isa telling Bahar he loves her to him trying to bury her. It is in this scene Isa confronts Bahar and tells her they should break up. The film from this point on is how Isa deals with the end of their relationship.

I mentioned that Mr. Ceylan wants us to fill in blanks. Take a scene where the couple argues. He tells her she still hasn't gotten over the "meaningless" Serap incident. Serap we find out is another woman (played by Nazan Kirilmis) who is the girlfriend of one of Isa's friends. The dialogue ends it there. There is no blow out between them. She doesn't accuse him of anything and he doesn't clarify what he meant. The viewer is left on their own to fill in the blanks. Though it is not explicitly implied the viewer can assume perhaps Isa and Serap had an affair or at the very least a one night stand.

"Climates" is a movie where the viewer must be actively involved. You must pay attention to every word, every gesture and movement. This kind of film can be rewarding but you have to do some work to enjoy it. Others may say the film is too slow moving and doesn't really do anything. That is only the case if you chose not to participate. There is an audience for a film such as "Climates". It is for the movie art house crowd and the more intellectual viewer. It is not a mainstream piece of work.

The performances by the two actors are quite subtle. More screen time is given to the Isa character and Mr. Ceylan, while not using words, is able to always convey what his character is thinking. That is another reason why this is a "thinking person's film". All of the conflicts here are internal. They deal with the characters feelings. Nothing is external. There is no physical obstacle the character must over come it is all emotional. One good moment deals with Isa alone with Serap. They are talking and laughing. Serap at this point is unaware Isa and Bahar have broken up. She mentions how does Bahar like her new job. Isa had no idea what she is taking about. Bahar has moved to a new city. Serap tries to change the subject by using sex. Isa, with a solemn look on his face pretends to be more interested in the news on the TV. But we know what has really happened. The mention of Bahar's name has brought back memories. Is Isa over Bahar?

If these scenes or moments sound interesting to you "Climates" should do something for you. You have to know how to approach a movie like this. If you only want to judge movies purely on emotion "Climates" may not deserve the star rating I've given it. But if you want to have something to think about and challenge you when watching a movie "Climates" should succeed.

The film was nominated for a palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 where it lost to Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes The Barley".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Academy Award Nominations


Academy member are very curious about "Benjamin Button", as the film leads in Oscar nominations winning 13.

As film lovers know this morning the Academy Award nominees were announced. Much of it went as planned with favorites such as Heath Ledger scoring a nomination for his role as "The Joker" in "The Dark Knight". And Mickey Rourke, another favorite, won his Oscar nomination for "The Wrestler". Clint Eastwood however, whom many thought deserved a nomination for "Gran Torino" was shut out as was the film.

But as always there were some surprises. Fans of Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" will be happily surprised as their film won the second most Oscar nominations for a total of 10. It is no longer a dark horse entry but now a serious possibility to win the top award for "Best Picture".

Some nominees may have readers shaking their head. Richard Jenkins won a nomination for "Best Actor" for his work in "The Visitor". There was some buzz early in the year about him winning a nomination but the film never gained a big audience. It is a good movie (I reviewed it on here) and he is good in it, but I thought after he didn't score a nomination at the Golden Globes he might have been an after thought by now. Another surprise is Michael Shannon won an Oscar nomination for "Best Supporting Actor" for "Revolutionary Road". When audiences think of that movie they think of Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, neither of which were nominated and the film did not score a "Best Picture" nomination. It was pretty much a shut out for that film. The last surprise acting nomination went to Taraji P. Henson for "Best Supporting Actress" in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". This will also leave people shaking their heads. The academy always has some trick up its sleeve and pulls a surprise nomination. This year, you kinda wish they didn't.

After winning two Golden Globes Kate Winslet is only nominated for one performance this year, her work in "The Reader". She won the Globe for "Best Supporting Actress" for her performance but on here I complained that I didn't think that was a supporting role. Guess what? Her Oscar nomination is for "Best Actress".

Going over this year's Oscar nomination nearly everything went as scheduled. You had to nominated Ledger, imagine the backlash if he didn't get nominated? You had to nominate Rourke and as "Slumdog Millionaire" grows in popularity you had to nominate it as well. Still a few things upset me about this year's nominations. I knew Ben Kingsley would get snubbed for his work in "Elegy", probably my favorite performance of the year. The film came out too early and the academy voters forgot all about it (they were probably thinking about Obama too much). Too bad Woody Allen didn't get an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Screenplay" for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", instead he got edged out by Mike Leigh for "Happy-Go-Lucky" and Courtney Hunt for "Frozen River". When you think of Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" it is not the screenplay which instantly comes to mind but Sally Hawkins' performance which didn't even get nominated. Hawkins got snubbed either because Winslet was put into the "Best Actress" category instead of supporting or because they had to make room for Melissa Leo who got nominated for "Frozen River".

I'm happy a comedy is up for some awards. Robert Downey Jr. for "Tropic Thunder" and the screenplay for "In Bruges" and of course Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". Comedy is usually not represented at all when it comes Oscar time.

Here are the nominees for the major categories:
BEST PICTURE
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
FROST/NIXON
MILK
THE READER
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
BEST DIRECTOR
DANNY BOYLE - Slumdog Millionaire
STEPHEN DALDRY - The Reader
DAVID FINCHER - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
RON HOWARD - Frost/Nixon
GUS VAN SANT - Milk
BEST ACTOR
RICHARD JENKINS - The Visitor
FRANK LANGELLA - Frost/Nixon
SEAN PENN - Milk
BRAD PITT - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
MICKEY ROURKE - The Wrestler
BEST ACTRESS
ANNE HATHAWAY - Rachel Getting Married
ANGELINA JOLIE - Changeling
MELISSA LEO - Frozen River
MERYL STREEP - Doubt
KATE WINSLET - The Reader
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
JOSH BROLIN - Milk
ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - Tropic Thunder
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - Doubt
HEATH LEDGER - The Dark Knight
MICHAEL SHANNON - Revolutionary Road
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
AMY ADAMS - Doubt
PENELOPE CRUZ - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
VIOLA DAVIS - Doubt
TARAJI P. HENSON - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
MARISA TOMEI - The Wrestler
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
COURTNEY HUNT - Frozen River
MIKE LEIGH - Happy-Go-Lucky
MARTIN MCDONAGH - In Bruges
DUSTIN LANCE BLACK - Milk
ANDREW STANTON, PETER DOCTER - Wall. E
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
ERIC ROTH, ROBIN SWICORD - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY - Doubt
PETER MORGAN - Frost/Nixon
DAVID HARE - The Reader
SIMON BEAUFOY - Slumdog Millionaire

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film Review: Hollywood Dreams

"Hollywood Dreams"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

There are certain directors whom I admire very much but never speak about and I don't just mean on this blog. I mean there are directors whom I never even mention in conversations, they simply aren't very well known to the public for one reason but mostly my reasons are selfish. I don't want to share them. The director of "Hollywood Dreams" is one of those people, Henry Jaglom.

Henry Jaglom is a name that is going to mean very little to a majority of the movie going public. He is not a mainstream filmmaker. His name will mostly be known to serious film lovers. He makes small independent films very much in the tradition of a John Cassavetes. His style is at once naturalistic and feels slightly improvised. Not at the same level of a Cassavetes films, a little better in fact, but not quite at the caliber of Mike Leigh.

Jaglom got his start in films in 1971 with his debut "A Safe Place" which starred a young Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles. Welles and Jaglom would become very good friends, Welles would also appear in Jaglom's "Someone to Love" (1987). He quickly became a strong voice on the independent scene. Unlike most directors, whom sometimes the public feels as their career progresses they lose their talent, Jaglom has made some fine films in his later years. Some of his work in the 1990s and more recent titles rank among his best. "Last Summer at the Hamptons" (1996), "Deja Vu" (1998), perhaps his most mainstream title to date. This should not be confused with a Denzel Washington movie of the same title. And perhaps my favorite and one "Hollywood Dreams" resembles in some ways, "Festival in Cannes" (2002).

As good as some of Henry Jaglom's films are it saddens me to say his most recent film is not very good. "Hollywood Dreams" on paper sounds like a good idea. A young girl from Iowa, who dreams of becoming a famous actress, heads out to Hollywood when after taking a few tumbles runs into an agent and finds love all at once. Because it is Jaglom you would assume the film would be a satire on the industry and take a few shots at Hollywood. And Jaglom would probably know what he is talking about. But Jaglom has other ideas. "Hollywood Dreams" suddenly becomes two separate movies competing for on-screen time but the story lines don't blend well together at all.

The second part of Mr. Jaglom's film involves sexuality and gender identity. This story line could have worked on its own as a family drama but by taking these very serious ideas and situations which develop in this film and tossing them in with a story about a girl searching for a chance in Hollywood interferes with further plot development for both stories thus weakening them both and the movie as a whole.

The young girl is Margie Chizek (Tanna Frederick, Mr. Jaglom's discovery). She is young and ambitious. Young actors can probably see themselves in her. Having worked with some young actors in college for my own films I was definitely able to recognize certain traits.

When the film starts Margie is being filmed for an audition. She has an emotional breakdown and starts to cry. She says she is nervous. The casting director (voiced by Jaglom) tries to comfort her but when it becomes apparent she is not able to recite her lines they politely try to tell her the interview is over. But Margie won't hear of it. This is her chance. Despite what the casting director says she's going to get through this and deliver those lines. You'll find most people in the acting business have this kind of pushy mentality. Trying to succeed in the movie business one needs to be extremely determine and aggressive, to the point where others will find you annoying. Margie, at the very least, has that going for her.

There is always one problem I have with actors in Jaglom's films and Ms. Frederick displays it perfectly. While it does try to have a naturalistic feel it often feels phony to me. It is a style of acting I call "normal people trying to act normal in a way they perceive others think of as normal". Sound a little confusing? Frederick has moments where she is suppose to express disgust. What does she do. She grunts and moans and screams. Putting yourself in her shoes how many people would honestly react the same way? But Ms. Frederick believes so. You'd have to watch her delivery. But it shows she is still an amateur. She is too melodramatic. A certain amount of that was required in the script but she goes a little bit overboard with it to the point we no longer believe in her as a human being.

The agent she meets is Kaz (Zack Norman, who also appeared in "Festival in Cannes" as an agent). He takes a sudden interest in her and when he informs Margie he is an agent, after she tells him she's an actress, she faints. He takes her to a cafe where they talk and she tells him her fainting was just an act. She wanted some time with him. When he tells her he is impressed, she breaks down again. In a missed comedic moment Jaglom should have had the scene take place in a busy, expensive restaurant instead of a deserted outside cafe. Kaz makes Margie an offer to move in with him until she finds her own place and allow him to represent her.

Here's where the sexuality enters the film. Kaz is gay. He lives with his lover, a producer, Caesar (David Proval). They are preparing to groom one of their other finds, Robin (Justin Kirk of TV's "Weeds"). Robin is also gay and is trying to become the first openly gay leading male star.

SPOILER ALERT

We find out Robin is not gay after all but is pretending to be gay in order to advance his career. Many of the connections he has made have been gay men who find him attractive.

END SPOILER

Margie soon begins to have a crush on Robin and this would not be good for Robin since he is gay and trying to break out in the business.

Margie seems to have some gender issues. She talks about when she was younger she and her brother would dress up in women's clothes and wear make-up. In another scene she is with her aunt and expresses how sometimes she wishes men were more like women and how she would like to be the "male" in a relationship. And yet another scene involves her telling Robin they should hang out and go shopping together and try on lingerie. Margie and her brother had a very unusual childhood and it confused them of their proper gender roles in society.

This idea is actually kind of interesting. On it own I think, if handled correctly, could have made an interesting movie about a young girl, from a troubled family, who has become sexually confused and has issues with her brother. A major secret is revealed in this movie concerning him.

But this is a movie called "Hollywood Dreams". What does this have to do with Hollywood? What this film needed is a more critical look at the way Hollywood works. It has brief moments of this but the sexual gender aspect of the film keeps creeping its head in interrupting the story line's flow. These two ideas don't mix. Jaglom's "Festival in Cannes" dealt with the ugly nature of how movies get made but did so with more humor and focused just on that single story line. That is the movie to see. "Hollywood Dreams" would be nice to watch after you've seen that one so you can compare the two and see where Jaglom goes wrong here.

One wonders why Jaglom's wife Victoria Foyt is absent here. She appeared in "Last Summer at the Hamptons" and Jaglom's previous film "Going Shopping". Maybe she would have been better in the lead. She seems a little more comfortable in front of the camera compared to Tanna Frederick.

Look out for cameos by Eric Roberts and Seymour Cassel, who worked often with Cassavetes.

Even though this particular Henry Jaglom film doesn't always work he is still a director who should not go unnoticed. He doesn't have the reputation of Cassevetes, Scorsese or Altman but his work can be just as entertaining. To be fair to him I'll come back to his work and write a review for a film I appreciate a bit more.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Film Review: The Bridgeman

"The Bridgeman" *** (out of ****)
There are certain films which could be described as "important". They tell us about famous moments in world history. Stories which deserved to be told on the screen to reach a wide audience. And while the film may have very good intentions that doesn't always mean it translates well on-screen despite everything.

"The Bridgeman (A Hidember)", a 2002 Hungarian film directed by Geza Beremenyi, is on the border-line. It is a well made movie with, at times, powerful moments, nonetheless it never fully makes the viewer appreciate the historical significance of what they are watching. It paints history with too broad a brush and while it means well actually belittles its subjects.

The film tells the story of Count Istvan Szechenyi, considered to be "the greatest Hungarian". Count Szechenyi was part of the Hungarian aristocracy during the Hasburg Monarchy. He was born in Austria however and fought in the Napoleonic Wars for the Austrian army. He founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and till this day for his achievements a statue has been dedicated to him in both Budapest and the town of Sopron.

"The Bridgeman", while briefly covering some of these moments in Count Szechenyi's life (except for the Napoleonic Wars), is actually about his attempts to build a bridge which would connect east and west. The bridge would bring the two cities of buda and pest together. For those unaware Budapest was in fact two separate cities. The bridge stands today and is one of the major tourist sites in Budapest. It may be better known to you as Chain's Bridge. This is the story of how it came to be.

The film is important to Hungarian history though, not just because of Chain's bridge. It is the only film I can think of which tells of Count Szechenyi's life. The film shows us what life was like for Hungarians during the monarchy. Hungarians were treated as second-class citizens. It was the Austrians who ruled the Empire. The Hungarian nobility, which could have their voice heard on the behalf of the working class Hungarians, often sided with Austria. Not wanting to upset the Empire. Due to people like Count Szechenyi it would eventually become a duel monarchy leading to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

As the film starts Count Szechenyi (Karoly Eperjes) is now an older man. He has upset the Hungarian nobility and the Austrian monarchy. He is on his way into an asylum. From this point on the film is now told in flash back.

In real life Count Szechneyi was an extremely well bred man. He had travelled throughout Europe. On his trips back home he would become disappointed with his fellow Hungarian countrymen. Hungary was behind in the times in his opinion. It lacked the technology of say England. In one scene in the film the Count introduces a new device he saw used by England's royalty. A toilet. This world view is what prompted Count Szechenyi to do the things he did. In "The Bridgeman" I never quite got that feeling. The film almost suggest he did it all for the approval of a woman, Crescence (Irina Latchina, a Russian actress whose lines are dubbed into Hungarian). In order to win her love and show her he was a serious man he starts to speak up for the Hungarian working-class and his dreams of a bridge.

I can live with this and other slight differences. I'm reminded of the famous quote in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". Movies are not historical fact. Movies are made to entertain us. So these things are to be expected.

Count Szechenyi brought about a Hungarian nationalism which had been buried deep within the Hungarian people. Here was a man of wealth fighting for the little guy. A man who claimed to understand what everyday people were feeling. He wanted Hungary to be a respected country. He wanted the world to see what it was made of.

One of the people who starts to champion the Count's cause is Lajos Kossuth (Ervin Nagy), another very important figure in Hungarian history. The two, while seemingly, fighting for the same cause become adversaries. Their ways of achieving their goals differ. Kossuth wants to start a revolution. Szechenyi wants to work within the system. He is afraid if a revolution breaks out it may lead to Hungarians fighting each other. I find this aspect of the film most appealing. The struggle of power between these men. Kossuth is presented as almost being an ignorant fool with an ego problem. I found this portrayal very surprising. As I say Kossuth is an important figure in Hungarian history. You normally do not see such a negative view of him.

"The Bridgeman" is considered the most expensive Hungarian film of all time. It was made on a budget of two billion forints or $7.5 million. It was financed by the government, which went all out in its support, causing some controversy among other Hungarian directors. But even with this budget "The Bridgeman" reminded me of a BBC mini-series. I suppose the production designs and costumes are good and add to establish the period but everything feels slightly staged.

The director, Geza Beremenyi does not have many credits to his name. In fact he started off as a playwright and a theatre director. This was his fourth feature film. He did direct a TV mini-series and two TV movies. He lacks the visionary eye of say Miklos Jancso, who made a film which took place in the same time period about Kossuth, "The Round-Up (Szegenylegenyek)".

As I say though the biggest problem is Beremenyi's inability to fully make us care about the events on-screen. We feel we aren't getting a full and accurate account of the man. The movie never really shows us the 1848 revolt against Austria led by Kossuth. It mentions a revolt could take place and mentions the aftermath of it, but never shows the revolt itself and what Szechenyi was doing during this time. I found this to be a strange decision by the director. I would have preferred Beremenyi show us Count Szechenyi's scope as a man and the far reaching impact of his life. Some viewers might view this all as a "forgotten moment in history". But it isn't. And it is the fault of the film not to fully explain why it isn't.

Still, I can't condemn the performances in the film. Karoly Eperjes does his best as the Count. You may recognize him from the work he has done with Istvan Szabo in his latest film "Rokonok" (2006), "Hanussen" and "Colonel Redl". He does go through a wide emotional range and does his best to present the many different facets of the man. While the Count may have wanted to do good did he have a bit of an ego problem himself?

After watching this film I would strongly advise others to find out more about Kossuth and his positive impact on Hungary. He is a much better known historical figure who has even been celebrated in America. A statue of him is in Washington, D.C. where he is seen as a freedom fighter. There is also one of him in New York City near Columbia University. Streets and towns in Ohio, NY, New Jersey and Indiana are named after him. Statues were even kept of him in Romania and Bulgaria. Plus you should watch "The Round-Up".

I appreciate the story "The Bridgeman" is telling and the obvious craft which the actors brings and the director and the screenwriters good intentions but a man like Count Szechenyi deserves a better more thought provoking film. This is not a disaster by any means but sadly a minor attempt on a great man's life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Masterpiece Film Series: Day for Night


"Day for Night" **** (out of ****)

The first time I saw Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" was on VHS, we didn't have DVD's back then. While the film was always considered a classic, the only available print was a dubbed version. The dubbing was so bad it actually became infamous. Film lovers demanded the subtitled version be released. After viewing the dubbed version, I thought this was a good movie but had to admit, the dubbing distracted me so much, I wasn't able to fully appreciate the film.

Years later when the film was released on DVD, it was subtitled. When I watched the movie again, it was as though I had seen it for the first time. Hearing the actors speak French was a major improvement. Now you could hear the passion in which the actors had said their lines. After that viewing, I considered the film a masterpiece, one of Truffaut's very best films.

And now I have seen it a third time, just before writing this. The magic was still there. I still consider this one of Truffaut's great achievements.

Francois Truffaut is one of my favorite directors. I can't tell you why it has taken me so long to finally review one of his films on this blog, but if you read my reviews on amazon, you'll find I wrote about his work often. Of the 27 films he directed (including his short films) I have seen 20. I find many of his films deserve to be ranked among the greatest cinema has ever known. Titles such as "400 Blows", my personal favorite, "The Green Room", "The Soft Skin" and even some of his later works such as "The Last Metro".

Truffaut's childhood was much like what you saw in "400 Blows". He dropped out of school at 14, was arrested several times. He was considered damaged goods. The only hope he saw in life was in the movies. He started a film club and eventually started writing as a film critic for the now famous, "Les Cahiers du Cinema", along with Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer. Some of his reviews can be found. I remember reading a negative review he gave to George Stevens' "Giant".

He was also known for his admiration of Alfred Hitchcock. He even published a book on the British director. For years, some viewers just couldn't understand how someone like Truffaut could admire a man like Hitchcock. They have two very distinct styles of film making. But Trauffaut would pay homage to the master of suspense in his films such as "The Soft Skin" and his final film, "Confidentially Yours" with Fanny Ardent.

Of all the filmmakers of the French New Wave, perhaps Godard and Truffaut had the greatest cross-over appeal. Godard was more political, sometimes I feel too political. Truffaut was more romantic. His earliest films "Shoot the Piano Player" and "Jules & Jim" set a standard for the New Wave movement and are considered among film buffs as his greatest works. Never mind what I think.

The tagline for "Day for Night" was "a movie for people who love movies". And that basically is what this film is. There is some flimsy story-line going on here, about a production for a movie called "Meet Pamela", but the film is about people who love movies. People who are willing to give their life for cinema. Nothing is more important than what we see on the screen.

Some might argue that Truffaut's film is not realistic. It is too sentimental. It doesn't accurately show the hardships of directing. But, why would it? Why would Truffaut make a movie about films and tell his audience how terrible it is? How every production is pure misery. If that were the case, why bother to make movies if you get no joy out of it. "Day for Night" is much more playful. It shows the constant decisions a director must make and what can go wrong on production but it does it in a cheerful way. It's all just another crazy day at the office.

In our behind the scenes look at the production of the movie we see young lovers, one of the movie's stars, Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud, one of Truffaut's most trusted actors and his alter-ego in the Antoine Doinel series) as he brings his girlfriend, Liliane (Dani) to work as a script-girl. He wants to marry her, she seems indifferent. Then we have the older leading man, Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Amont) who plays the husband of Severine (Valentina Cortese). The two once made movies in Hollywood and were romantically linked. After a very bad break-up the two never worked together again. What will happen now? An American actress is brought in to play Pamela, Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset, a beauty among beauties, in probably her best performance). But she suffered a nervous breakdown and walked out of her last picture. The insurance company won't cover her feeling she needs more time to rest.

With these events going on, we see life happening before our eyes but everything must come second to the movie. The show must go on.

In some ways "Day for Night" is episodic. Truffaut shows us brief moments of shooting and we see everything that could go wrong, go wrong. From an actor forgetting their lines and missing their cue to the problems working with animals, when a cat refuses to drink from a saucer of milk. Truffaut creates tension. These are dramatic moments. But when everything works out we are over-come with joy.

Another thing I admire about the movie is the way it shows these people are like family. When one actors says their lines wrong, everyone doesn't get angry. They work with that person, provide encouragement. Everyone is looking out for each other. It is the only way production will run smoothly.

Some things about the film I don't think are quite realistic. The way various people walk up to the director, played by Truffaut, and ask his advice. Yes, it is true a director must make constant decisions but on a movie set there is a hierarchy. A grip will never speak to the director. The director of photography yes. Everyone must go through channels. This person speaks to this person who relates the message to this person which eventually reaches the director. In this movie everyone approaches him. But this isn't a complaint. Just an observance of how things really work.

The film won the Academy Award for "Best Foreign Language Film" in 1974 and the following year was nominated for "Best Director", "Best Screenplay" and "Best Supporting Actress (Cortese)". Due to the Academy's rules a movie must in New York and L.A. in order to be considered for an award. "Day for Night" did not and wasn't eligible.

Truffaut was never again nominated for "Best Director". But did receive a previous "screenplay" nomination for his first film "400 Blows". "400 Blows" was also nominated for the palme d'or at Cannes and Truffaut won the "Best Director" award.

"Day for Night" is a movie for people who love movies. It is the greatest film made about the movies. And it is will be one of the masterpieces of cinema.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Film Review: The Strong Man




"The Strong Man" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

Boy did I have a debate with myself about whether or not to include this film in my "Masterpiece Film Series". It is just about time for another entry. But the "Masterpiece Film Series" is suppose to be a collection of films which I admire most. Films which have inspired me. It is not a national consensus on which films are considered classics. Look at my last entry, Istvan Szabo's "Szerelmesfilm (Love Film)". It is not a popular film, perhaps best known to film historians and those who study Hungarian cinema. But it is a movie which has meant a lot to me. I'm able to relate to many aspects of the film. It is meaningful to me. Other titles in the series such as "The Round-Up (Szegenylegenyek)" by Miklos Jancso and Zoltan Fabri's "Korhinta" are further examples of lesser known titles I've included. Of course I have also written about favorites like "The Godfather", "Casablanca", "Citizen Kane" and "Singin' in the Rain", films which surely rank among the greatest films American cinema has to offer. But "The Strong Man" doesn't inspire me. It is a good film but not one I immediately demand you see right away, though you should see it eventually.

"The Strong Man" (1926) was directed by Frank Capra. It was his second film as a director. When we think of Frank Capra, titles such as "It's A Wonderful Life", "It Happened One Night", "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" and "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" pop into our heads. What some readers may not know is Capra started off as a gag writer working for comedy producers Hal Roach and Mack Sennett. With Roach he wrote a Will Rogers comedy, "Jubilo, Jr." and with Sennett he worked with the star of "The Strong Man", Harry Langdon.

It is said, by Capra himself, that the two men did not get along. In Capra's autobiography, which many have refuted as reliable, Capra insist that Langdon didn't understand his character. He wanted to add character traits which didn't belong. It has been suggested Langdon wanted his character, the man-child, to be more like Chaplin. Though there are examples that Langdon also wanted to add dark humor, watch "Long Pants", also directed by Capra and "The Chaser". These elements don't belong in a Langdon movie. If the Langdon character was an innocent man-child, having murder on his mind (he wants to kill his bride-to-be on their wedding day in "Long Pants") doesn't gel with the character. Langdon must have thought the contradiction was funny but it becomes unsettling at best.

Capra worked with Langdon on some of his two reelers as a writer. Their work together includes "All Night Long", "Boobs in the Wood", "Plain Clothes", "Saturday Afternoon", "Soldier Man" and "Fiddlesticks", all of which can be seen on the Facets DVD collection called "Lost & Found: The Harry Langdon Collection". By the time Capra started writing for Langdon his character had been established. This, Langdon devotees, suggest is reason enough to refute Capra's claims that he helped mold the character. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of the shorts Capra worked on. "All Night Long" and "Saturday Afternoon" may be the best of the pack.

In "The Strong Man", considered to be Langdon's best film, he plays a Belgian soldier during World War 1, Paul Bergot. He has been corresponding with an American girl, Mary Brown (Priscilla Bonner, who also appeared in "Long Pants" and with Clara Bow in "It"). In one of her letters she writes to Paul of her love for him. This inspires Langdon as he dreams one day of meeting her, but first, he has to make it through the war.

The WW1 set-up is similar to the 3 reeler Langon and Capra also worked on "The Soldier Man" (1926). In that short Langdon plays a soldier who doesn't realize the war is over and still guards the trenches. But in "The Strong Man" events are taken a bit further, Paul is taken prisoner by, what I suppose is a German soldier (Arthur Thalasso), after trying to fight him off with a slingshot full of graham crackers and onions. But when the war ends, the two become friends and they both travel to America. The German soldier goes by the name "Zandow the Great" he is a travelling strong man and Paul is his assistant. While in America, Paul hopes to meet Mary Brown.

Many people simply do not like the Langdon character. Several viewers complain that the character is either creepy, a grown man who acts like a child, or that he doesn't do anything. He merely stands there with a blank expression on his face. I disagree with these remarks. In "The Strong Man" we get a typical Langdon moment.

As Paul searches for Mary, he has a photo of her, he goes up to random women who resemble the photo and asks them if they are Mary Brown. One woman takes great offense to Paul approaching her and starts to verbally assault him. A crowd of women gather. As the woman walks away the crowd remains. Paul just stands there with an embarrassed expression on his face. He waves hello to the ladies trying to brush the incident aside. It doesn't work. Like a child he is helpless. He doesn't know what the correct response is after such an incident. Does he merely walk away and pretend nothing happen or does he worry about saving face and explain to the crowd what transpired?

In the hands of another comedian they may have gone for a wild gesture. Perhaps do a double-take and run away. If it was Chaplin, he may have done a small balletic dance and scattered off. But while most people feel Langdon is doing nothing he is actually creating tension. Surely others must have, at one time in their life, been placed in a situation where you didn't know how to respond. What do you do? Most likely you just stood there and hoped everyone would forget what just happened.

As the plot goes on a crook (Gertrude Astor) is being tailed by a policeman for some stolen money. Without Paul realizing it, she sticks the money in his pocket before the cop grabs her. Now the trick is to get the money out of Paul's pocket. She was one of the women in the crowd and knows Paul is looking for Mary Brown, she pretends to be Mary. After several attempts to get the money out of his pocket she suggest they go to her apartment. She becomes fed up trying to be subtle and starts to attack Paul, going for his jacket. This scene reminds me of a moment in the Laurel & Hardy comedy "Way Out West" where the boys mistakenly give a deed to a gold mine to the wrong woman (whose name also happens to be Mary). Once they realize what they have done they try to get it back, and they do briefly. Laurel sticks it down his shirt but that doesn't stop the woman from trying to get it out causing Laurel to go into fits of laughter as it tickles him.

"The Strong Man" soon moves on to another situation. We now find ourselves in a small town which was once peaceful but gangsters, headed by Mike Devitt (Robert McKim) have taken over the town bringing risque nightclub acts and liquor to the town. Some of the citizens gather behind the preacher Joe Brown (William V. Mong) and his daughter Mary. It just so happens Mike has booked Zandow for his club.

We learn Mary is the girl that wrote to Paul but stopped writing to him when she found out he was coming to America. There was something Mary never told Paul about herself. She is blind. I'm willing to bet a shiny new nickle Chaplin saw this movie and saw the possibilities of such a situation and used it for his masterpiece "City Lights". "The Strong Man" doesn't go into all the dramatic possibilities the situation could provoke. It keeps things as a comedy. No room for pathos here.

As the film goes on it now becomes a matter of will the town turn around and go back to its old ways. Will the preacher or someone else force out the gangsters.

Harry Langdon appeared in, I believe eight movies. Seven of them were silent and he directed four of them. I have not seen all eight. One of his comedies "Heart Trouble" (1928) is considered lost. His sole talking feature film, which he directed "Wise Guys" (1936) is out of print and extremely rare. I have seen six of his movies; "His First Flame", "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", "Long Pants", "Three's A Crowd", "The Chaser" and of course this film. The problem I see with these movies is many times Langdon strays away from the plot for a comedic sequence which adds nothing to the plot. In small doses I could handle this. But Langdon keeps these gags running way past their expiration date. We see this in "The Chaser" and "Long Pants" as well. Here the situation involves Paul travelling to the town in the back of a wagon with other passengers. He has a cold and is starting to annoy the others. This goes on for over five minutes. What this does is break the flow of the picture. As I say in small doses this would be fine. Chaplin does this in "The Gold Rush" as well. Lots of silent comedians did this. I understand. But Langdon does it so often and for such a long length of time.

There is another thing I find distracting about the movie. And this just very well may be the oddest complaint I've ever written. The film has been put on DVD by Kino with a new musical score by Eric Beheim and the Palace Hall Music Orchestra. The score is so beautiful at times I paid more attention to it than to Harry. Songs include old time standards such as "Mary" (used as the film's theme song), "Sheik of Araby", "Aint We Got Fun" and "Second Hand Rose". Because this is a movie blog I don't get the chance to discuss my love of music. Besides enjoying the films of this era I'm also a big fan of the music too, people like Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Ruth Etting, Paul Whiteman and Bix Beiderbecke.

"The Strong Man" is probably Langdon's best film. As I said Capra and Langdon would work together again on "Long Pants", which would be their final film before Harry fired him. Whatever their creative differences were things gel together nicely here. The film has its flaws but it is probably the most pure pleasure I've had watching a Langdon movie. It is a shame he is forgotten now, he has earned the nickname, "the forgotten clown". As I said in my review for his "Three's A Crowd" while he is no Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd he doesn't deserve to be dismissed by audiences.

I'd also like to say something about Kino. I've been paying a lot of attention to them recently. I have become very impressed with their catalogue. I never gave them much thought before but they put out a good line. "The Strong Man" is beautifully restored, no scratches or anything

Golden Globe Winners


The Golden Globes were announced yesterday and is considered by some to be a pretty good indication of what to expect at the Oscars. If that is true, it very well may turn out to be yet another disappointing award show with the usual poor choice winners.

I've found it difficult trying to think of a single film which emerged as a front-runner going into the show last night for best picture. All the nominees, except for "Slumdog Millionaire" were good movies which I enjoyed.

For me at least, the show was full of surprising, most of them disappointing surprises, here's my take on what happened.

BEST PICTURE (DRAMA): the nominees were "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "Frost/Nixon", "The Reader", "Revolutionary Road" & "Slumdog Millionaire". WINNER: Slumdog Millionaire

As I said you had four good choices and one strong audience favorite. "The Curious of Benjamin Button" was my "favorite" movie of the year on my meaningless "top ten list" but not exactly what I would have given the award to. I still think Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" stands a good chance at the Oscars and is what I would have preferred won. "Slumdog Millionaire" has apparently picked up a lot of steam sadly and probably now is in a good position to, at the very least, get an Oscar nomination for best picture.

BEST PICTURE (COMEDY): the nominees were "Burn After Reading", "Happy-Go-Lucky", "In Bruges", "Mamma Mia!" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". WINNER: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Of these nominees I haven't seen "Mamma Mia!" yet. But I think the Associated Press made a good choice here. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" was the best film of the nominees. It has received a majority of good press and is surpassing the box-office of Allen's "Match Point" grossing an estimated $24 million, becoming Allen's highest grossing film since "Hannah & Her Sisters". It is a much, much better film than "Slumdog Millionaire"

BEST DIRECTOR: the nominees, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) and Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road). WINNER: Danny Boyle

The best director nominees represented the same five films which were nominated for best picture and having mistakenly given the award to "Slumdog Millionaire" the AP gave Boyle the award. Again, I would say any other choice would have been respectable. I might have sided with Fincher for "Benjamin Button".

BEST ACTOR (DRAMA): MICKEY ROURKE - This was perhaps the strongest category. Of the nominees I have not seen "Milk" though I have heard good things about Sean Penn's performance. But Rourke has been praised repeatedly for his performance here as many are calling it his comeback. Though Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon" and Pitt in "Benjamin Button" were both at the top of their game.

BEST ACTOR (COMEDY): COLIN FARRELL - Not as strong as the drama category and I haven't seen all the nominees. "Last Chance Harvey" with Dustin Hoffman has not opened in Chicago yet and I haven't seen "Pineapple Express" for which James Franco was nominated. But I did like "In Bruges" and Farrell was funny it in.

BEST ACTRESS (DRAMA): KATE WINSLET - "Revolutionary Road" is a good movie but I wouldn't have given Winslet the award for this movie. She had some good competition in Meryl Streep for "Doubt" and Angelina Jolie for "Changeling". And Anne Hathaway has turned into quite a good actress with her most powerful performance in "Rachel Getting Married". I have not seen "I've Loved You So Long" for which Kristen Scott Thomas was nominated. I would have preferred Streep or Jolie win the award, maybe Jolie a bit more. "Changeling" was one of my favorite movies of the year.

BEST ACTRESS (COMEDY): SALLY HAWKINS - Shouldn't have come as a surprised but strangely did. Mike Leigh's disappointing "Happy-Go-Lucky" is seen as Hawkins breakthrough role into the mainstream. She is good in the movie, I just wish the movie would have been better. Rebecca Hall in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" may have been a better choice. She was very good in that movie and really surprised me with her nomination. I haven't seen "Last Chance Harvey", as I said, it hasn't opened here yet, Emma Thompson was nominated for it and Meryl Streep for "Mamma Mia!".

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: HEATH LEDGER - No need to even have the category really. Since his death Ledger has been a lock for anything he is nominated. Not to belittle him, his performance or "The Dark Knight" but I think a lot of sentimentality went into this win. I feel the public is really over doing it with this movie to the point where I sometimes become a slightly bit nauseous having people tell me how good he was. Whatever! He's sure to win an Oscar.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: KATE WINSLET - Boy the AP must really like Winslet giving her another award this time for her performance in "The Reader". This was a tough race for the actresses, probably a stronger category than lead performance. You have three really good nominees here, Marisa Tomei for "The Wrestler" and Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". These three ladies may get in a rematch come Oscar time. But Winslet was good here. I think better than in "Revolutionary Road". Though I wasn't sure I would consider her a "supporting" character in this movie. She has lots of screen time and is a pretty big part of the plot. But good choice.

BEST SCREENPLAY: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE - Now, if you want to give this thing best picture, maybe someday I'll be able to understand that but an award for its "screenplay"? The movie is so predictable! Why honor the screenplay and single it out? I know what someone is going to say, but all the other nominees were based on previous written material ("Benjamin Button", "Doubt", "The Reader" and "Frost/Nixon"). We knew what was going to happen there too. Maybe, though I never saw "Doubt" on the stage and never read the books "Button" or "The Reader" was based on. So it was all a surprise to me. But none of those films were as manipulative as "Slumdog". Though before I get too angry I must remember, it is only an award show and in the end is meaningless.

So there you have the Globe winners, as far as movies were concern. Television shows were also honored but my blog deals with movies. In the end I think we can say the Golden Globes went to the "dogs" this year. Actually, that is a pretty good description.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

200 Reviews & Counting



Can you believe another 100 blog entries, 100 reviews has passed?

When I reached the 100 review mark I considered this blog a failure. I was unhappy because there were so many movies I hadn't written about at the time. So many celebrated directors and movie stars I had yet to discuss. It upset me. One of the reasons I stopped writing on amazon.com was because I wanted to write about what I wanted to write about and not worry if amazon had it as part of their catalogue or not.

After that I had made a decision about the direction I was going to take this blog. Up until that point 90% of the reviews on here concerned modern movies. I only reviewed older titles as part of my "Masterpiece Film Series". But this wasn't satisfactory to me. I get the most pleasure writing about movies I love. I enjoy discussing older films and great directors, not the latest comic book movie or the latest movie to feature a singer turned actor. I decided I was going to devote more time to reviewing films made by director I admire and focus more on older titles. Sure I've reviewed some new releases, I never meant to stop, just limit the amount. As a result, I'm no longer discouraged.

Within my last 100 reviews I've discussed the work of Istvan Szabo, Federico Fellini, Robert Bresson and Werner Herzog. I'm also pleased to say I've reviewed more silent films. I've written about a pair of Greta Garbo movies and wrote a review for D.W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms". I have also included the great silent comedies. Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last" was added to my "Masterpiece Film Series". I've written about Laurel & Hardy and even Harry Langdon. And expect more on the way! Lots more in fact.

This doesn't mean the blog is perfect. Of course not. But I'm in a better position than I was before. At that time I hadn't even written reviews for "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane". There is still a lot of work to do. I'm aware of that. I still need to write reviews for Akira Kurosawa, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Buster Keaton and Yasujiro Ozu. By the time this blog reaches 300 reviews I hope to accomplish that goal. Because I have decided to spend even more time on the classics. Don't worry, for my readers who only like to watch modern movies, every once in a while I'll throw something your way or I'll continue to do what I've been doing. If it is a modern movie it will be the work of a great director. The more classic movies I write about, the happier I am.

I'd now like to address some issues readers have brought to my attention. One of the main concerns readers have is, why don't I allow comments on my reviews. You see, the reason I stopped writing reviews on amazon and started this blog was because I didn't like the competition. Amazon started given reviewers a ranking number, then people could vote if they thought a review was helpful or not and finally they started to allow comments. I don't write reviews to compete with other people. I write for the most selfish of reasons; to please myself. I hope to share whatever limited knowledge I have about movies with others. Introduce you to new stars and titles you may not have previously heard of or got around to watching. I wasn't after people's votes. Though, I did become a "top reviewer" on amazon.

As for the comments, the reason I don't allow them is because I have rarely heard from someone that had something constructive to say. Usually it is the people who hate me who take the time to write to me. People who take the time out of their day to write to me mostly always had something negative to say. Usually their comments were filled with obscenities. I didn't like a Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler movie and as a result, naturally I know nothing about movies and should get cancer and die. I've offered some samples of comments people left me on amazon. I won't include their names, just their comments.

This one was for my review of Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth", which I liked but complained the movie gets a bit confusing and could have used some rewrites. Someone wrote to me "you sound easily confused". A personal attack against and nothing constructive to say about the movie or what I wrote specifically.

This one was for "Goodbye Dragon Inn" which I didn't like but explained it wasn't because it was an experimental film. I offered some examples of experimental films I like. The commentor took my quote and added their own brief comment: "I know what some of you are thinking. I just don't like "experimental" films, but, you're wrong. Yes, it is true I prefer more "classical" structured films although I have no problem with such movies as "Blue Velvet", "Mulholland Dr.", "Persona", "Partner" or films by Yasujiro Ozu or Theo Angelopoulos." This is always such a sad defense." Again a personal attack. But what exactly is my sad defense? Was I wrong about those films being experimental? Why didn't the person offer a more intelligent response? How can I discuss something with you when your sole aim is to belittle me?

But the thing that really annoys me is when people ask me why did I give a movie the amount of stars I did. That drives me up the wall. On amazon they worked with a five star system. This, I admit, confused me. I wasn't sure how to rate a movie. It was too many stars for me. I prefer the four star system which I use on here. Here are some comments people had for me:

"Au Hasard Balthazar" (I gave it *** 1\2) - "How do you give this 3 stars, with what you've written? You've written a five star review and give it three stars? Makes absolutely no sense. And you're a "top" reviewer????"

"Lemon Drop Kid" (I gave it ***) - "If it's one of Hope's best films, why only three stars? Or don't you like Hope? In which case even one of his better films is worth only three stars to you."

"All About Eve" (***) - "With that glowing review you posted, I'm having a hard time figuring out why you rewarded it with only 3 stars?!"

No one disagrees with what I've written (at least they didn't express it) just the stars I gave something. Who cares! Was I right about the movie? Was it good or bad? These type of comments don't start a discussion they just start a headache for me.

The other example is when I gave something a rating and someone wants to know why. Did you read the review? That was my justification. My reviews aren't as simple as "I like this". I explain what it is I like. I'm telling you why I gave something a high or low rating. Anything else I add will just be an extension of what I've already written.

So, while some of you may like the idea of being able to give my reviews comments, I think it is a very, very, very bad idea. After I write about something what more can I say? What more can you ask me? And as I've shown, I didn't get comments which could start as discussion. I just get personal insults and people wondering why I gave something a certain amount of stars. And the simple, hard, blunt truth is, because of the comments I normally get, I'm not interested to hear what people have to say. I have a very quick temper. If I get a bunch of asinine remarks my blood pressure will start to go up.

I personally like the arrangement I have now. You can e-mail me with comments. I like my reviews to stand alone.

As for what to expect what these next 100 reviews, watch out for more reviews of silent films, international films and classic b&w Hollywood movies. Modern movies have their place, just not on my blog.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog and finds it helpful. Please don't let my remarks about comments discourage you. As long as you keep it civil feel free to e-mail me. I won't bite. But if it is negative and filled with four letter words, how do you expect me to respond?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Top Ten Films Of 1994!

If ever a year deserved to be celebrated it was 1994. What an amazing year in a lackluster decade. No doubt it was a major improvement over the 80s, but, given the quality of films which came out then, that is not saying much. But 1994 was an important year. I can't tell you what caused it but it was the 1939 of my generation. A year which changed contemporary cinema. So many fresh and exciting films came out than that have influenced so many movies since.

Lets take a look at the five nominees that year for the "Best Picture" Oscar. They were; "Forrest Gump", "Pulp Fiction", "Quiz Show", "Shawshank Redemption" and "Four Weddings & A Funeral". With the exception of "Four Weddings" any of those films would have been deserving and a respectable choice.

While of course 1994 had its share of bad movies, surprisingly the top grossing film of the year was "Forrest Gump". The mass public proved that aren't always against good movies. The remaining top grossing films included "True Lies", "The Flintstones", "The Santa Clause" and "Dumb & Dumber". Thus proving the public has very odd taste.

But why harp on the bad? It was so difficult to limit my list to only ten movies. I have sadly left out some truly wonderful films. I'll have to give them honorable mention. Here are my top ten favorite movies of 1994!

1. TO LIVE (Dir. Zhang Yimou; China) - Zhang Yimou is perhaps my favorite contemporary filmmaker working today. "To Live" is one of his many crowning achievements. His lover, at the the time, Gong Li, and perhaps his greatest muse, stars in this epic film expanding the history of Communist China. So powerful and critical of the government was this film that to this day it has been banned in China. In fact, a ban was placed on Yimou from making films for two years.

Most movie goers may associate Yimou's name with the high flying martial arts movies such as "House of Flying Daggers" and "Hero" but "To Live" is nothing like that. This movie was made at the time he was making much more personal, heartfelt stories concerning the history of his country. His beginning films with Gong Li, "Raise the Red Lantern", "Jou Dou" and his debut film "Red Sorghum" set a new standard for Chinese filmmaking. "To Live" is epic in its scope. It is a sad yet uplifting story. This may be considered an odd choice by some of you to top my list. But watch it and tell me you weren't swept away. It was nominated for a palme d'or at Cannes.

2. FORREST GUMP (Dir. Robert Zemeckis; U.S.) - Nominated for 13 Oscars, winning a total of six, including "Best Picture", Tom Hanks breaks our hearts in this semi comical bittersweet movie about a mentally challenged man who goes on to achieve great things. Robin Wright Penn co-stars as the love of his wife, Jenny. And is the complete opposite of him. She represents the changing times, a symbol of the counter culture during the 60s and 70s. History passes Gump by without him even knowing it, but his impact is felt by the world. Some have felt the film is too sentimental. Too much of a gimmick movie. These are the type of people I like to refer to as snobs, don't listen to them.

3. QUIZ SHOW (Dir. Robert Redford; U.S.) - Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" takes us behind the scenes for what may have been the first ever quiz show scandal concerning how a show was fixed to boost ratings. Seems fresh and topically nowadays with reality television and stations competing for viewership. The film won four Oscar nominations including "Best Picture" and a "Best Director" nomination for Redford.

4. SUNDAY'S CHILDREN (Dir. Daniel Bergman; Sweden) - Written by the master, Ingmar Bergman and directed by his son. The film was made during the period in which Ingmar was becoming more reflective, perhaps afraid death was around the corner. He wrote a trilogy of films concerning his childhood and his parent's relationship. The other films were "The Best Intentions" (1992) and "Private Confessions" (1999). While the idea may sound similar to Bergman's "Fanny & Alexander" it has none of the cheerful moments during the film's beginning Christmas celebration. This is the kind of somber, so-called "depressing" work Bergman has be known for. You can almost feel Bergman's pain watching this.

5. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (Dir. Neil Jordan; U.S.) - This movie had a lot of hype surrounding it, but for very sad reasons. Young actor River Phoenix was suppose to star in the film but passed away before production started. Still this is an exciting movie filled with lots of gore. But it has lavish productions and two entertaining performances given by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Neil Jordan, rarely lets me down.

6. PULP FICTION (Dir. Quentin Tarantino; U.S.) - The movie that changed everything! How many films made since have been imitations of this? With their twisted view of violence mixed with dark comedy and social commentaries. Arguably the most influential film of the 90s. Put Tarantino on the map as a directing force to be dealt with. As with Jordan, these are two filmmakers who rarely disappoint. The film won an Oscar for its screenplay and earned six other nominations.

7. SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (Dir. Frank Darabont; U.S.) - Maybe the best collaboration between Darabont and Stephen King ("The Green Mile", "The Mist"). Voted number one on imdb, actually beating "The Godfather" the film has become an audience favorite. When it was first released it did poorly at the box-office but steadily the film gained an audience. A lot of people would have preferred if this won the "Best Picture" Oscar. It is a heartbreaker of a movie. Nominated for seven Oscars, it walked away with none.

8. THREE COLOR TRILOGY (Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski; Poland/France) - "Blue", "White" & "Red" are the individual titles representing the colors of the French flag symbolizing "liberty", "equality" and "fraternity". Most people prefer "Red" as the best in the series. My favorite is "White" a charming comedy starring Julie Delpy. Juliette Binoche stars in "Blue" but makes cameos in the other two while Irene Jacob stars in "Red". After this series Kieslowski retired from filmmaking. Two years later he died. A major lost for cinema.

9. A TALE OF WINTER (Dir. Eric Rohmer; France) - The first movie I ever saw by renowed French filmmaker Eric Rohmer and I've been a fan ever since. This may be my favorite of all his films, though "My Night At Maud's" gives it some stiff competition. This was part of Rohmer's "Tale of Four Seasons" series and to me the best. An enduring romance told with Rohmer's usual joyous eye. You fall in love with these characters.

10. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Dir. Woody Allen; U.S.) - Allen's valentine to 1920s America and gangster films remains one of his best films. Chazz Palminteri, John Cusack, Jennifer Tilly and Diane Wiest are just some of the standout performances in the film. Really the whole ensemble is amazing. Maybe representing Allen's best cast. Wiest won a well deserved Oscar as a falling theatre star who hasn't quiet realized it yet and Cusack as the playwright who admires her, but hasn't any talent. Don't speak, just watch!

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Because it was such a great year I had to mention these titles; Mike Leigh's "Naked", Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street", Tim Burton's "Ed Wood", Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Blue Kite" and "The Madness of King George".

Friday, January 9, 2009

Film Review: Cassandra's Dream


"Cassandra's Dream" **** (out of ****)

In 2005 after Woody Allen released "Match Point" many thought Woody Allen was back on a winning streak. "Match Point" marked the first time in perhaps a decade that the great filmmaker received a majority of good press. As many readers may know the film was his first to be shot in London. The American critics felt the change in location was a welcomed source of inspiration. But, oh how quickly things change. With all of the good will thrown at Allen for that film it seemed to have vanished with his next film "Scoop" and was practically invisible when "Cassandra's Dream" was released in 2007. It became one of Allen lowest grossing movies of all time. And for a Woody Allen movie that is saying something.

But I didn't follow the band wagon (I rarely do). I celebrated the release of a new Woody Allen film. In fact I thought "Cassandra's Dream" was one of the best films of the year. I have recently watched the movie a second time and it holds up just as well if not better in some instances after a second viewing.

"Cassandra's Dream" deals with two lower-class brothers; Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell). Terry has a gambling problem but luckily has been on a winning streak. During one poker game he actually walks away winning 30 thousand pounds. Ian works at their father's restaurant but waits for the day he can leave to explore some business opportunities involving an investment in hotels in America. But fate plays strange tricks on the brothers. Terry's luck runs out on him as he owes loan sharks 90 thousand pounds. Neither he or Ian have enough money to get him out of debt. In addition to which Ian meets a women, Angela (Hayley Atwell) a struggling actress. Ian has pretended to lead a lifestyle beyond his means in order to impress her. Both are now strapped for cash.

With no hope in sight, their luck turns around again when their wealthy uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) pays a surprise visit to celebrate their mother's birthday. The brothers see this as their chance to ask their uncle for some financial help. But Howard is in a problem of his own. He is in trouble for some shady business moves and needs to hush up a former employee who is going to testify against him. Howard will help his nephews if they will "eliminate" the employee.

With this moral dilemma we get to the heart of Allen's film. What lies in men's soul. Are good people capable of doing bad things. Allen has been very interested in this question throughout his career. His "Crimes & Misdemeanors" was about brothers also plotting a murder and the moral responsibility it brings. His "Match Point" continued upon that theme, but I felt Allen found a better metaphor to express his cynical world view in that film. In "Cassandra's Dream" he doesn't quite find the same powerful metaphor but the movie is interesting nonetheless. Allen plays up the unpredictable nature of luck in this movie as we see through Terry's gambling streak.

When I first saw "Cassandra's Dream" I thought McGregor gave the better performance between the brothers. McGregor, I thought, had more star appeal. I also found I could relate to his character more. His thirst for ambition and "do anything" mentality to achieve it. But after a second viewing Farrell performance wasn't as bad as I originally thought it was. While I acknowledged the Terry character goes through a much broader transformation than the Ian character, Farrell, I thought always kept the performance at the page level. Meaning I didn't feel he fleshed out the character. He simply did what was on the page. Now I don't think so. There are moments when if you just watch Farrell in a scene you'll see his eyes constantly moving. It is as if you are watching him go through a thinking process. His mind is always on the go.

The performance I am the most taken with however belonged to the newcomer, Hayley Atwell. When I first saw the movie I called her a treasure. I'll stand by that though sadly I haven't seen her in anything since then which I felt used her as effectively as this film did. She was wasted in "Brideshead Revisited" though does, at times, shine in "The Duchess". Here though she is extremely seductive and sexy while carrying on in the Allen tradition of having his females be a tad bit neurotic and unstable. She pulls the role off nicely.

My only problem, as far as the Angela character goes, was Allen's and his cinematographer, the famed Hungarian Vilmos Zsigmond's decision not to have the camera follow her more aggressively. I would have liked the camera to linger on her figure. Treat her the way you would a femme fatale in a noir film. Zsigmond, an excellent cinematographer does create a nice mood overall though. He worked with Allen on another film "Melinda & Melinda". He also worked with Robert Altman on numerous films including "The Long Goodbye" and with directors such as Brian De Palma ("The Black Dahlia" and "Blow Out").

"Cassandra's Dream" also marked the first time in years Allen hired a composer to write a score instead of using jazz recordings. Here we get the minimalist style of Philip Glass, whose previous scores have been the films "The Hours" and "The Illusionist". At the beginning of the movie I felt his score was too forceful but by the end of the picture, when the intensity starts to pick up his music matches with the scenes.

A lot of viewers will complain about the movie's ending. Roger Ebert, normally an Allen fan, disliked the movie feeling the ending was "too realistic". The ending didn't bother me. Cinematically it felt correct to me. I didn't feel as if Allen had cheated us. It is difficult to think of another way the movie could have ended while still staying true to Allen's vision.

I fear "Cassandra's Dream" has earned an undeserved bad reputation. I admit it is not better than "Match Point", which some viewers may be tempted to compare it too, since both films are set in London and involve murder, but to compare these two movies is unfair. "Cassandra's Dream" asks some interesting questions, has good performances (look for Sally Hawkins as Farrell's wife) and retains Allen's typical world view. Sure it has some flaws but this is one of Allen's best films. The public should have paid more attention to this movie.