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The Eagle 2011 Kevin Macdonald 3.0 Channing Tatum as muscular, heroic officer in Roman Britain bent on saving the honor of his father’s memory; Jamie Bell as his pouty, resentful Briton slave who accompanies Channing into the North; Mark Strong as a Scottish Celt chieftain. Rousing action-adventure story about the determination of a Roman officer to travel beyond Hadrian’s Wall into Scotland (New Caledonia) to recover the eagle standard that his father had lost when the Ninth Legion disappeared there 20 years before. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the narrative is the first 20 minutes in which Channing takes over command of a far northern garrison in Britain and defends his fortress against the attacks of the barbarians; after recovering from his wounds under the care of his uncle (Donald Sutherland), he and his slave cross the wall into the wilds of Scotland, where they encounter the barbaric Seal People (their faces painted in gray), find the eagle, escape, and then once they have reunited with members of the Ninth still alive, fight them to a standstill in the midst of a mountain stream. The film is based on a famous British young adult novel. There are no female characters. What the film lacks in psychological and cultural sophistication, it makes up for in beautiful scenery, military spectacle, and effective action scenes. The scenery – filmed in Hungary and Scotland – is spectacular and convincing: the rolling hills and wide vistas in the border regions (seems more like Hungary than England), the frozen uplands and forbidding seas of the scenes in the Seal People’s village, and the close-up shots of the pristine River and moss-laden cliffs and boulders in the final battle scene. The military imagery in the first part of the film is outstanding: especially in the scene in which an alert Tatum detects movement outside the fortress and defeats the attack by lighting the pitch in the ditches on fire; and even more when he leads a detachment of disciplined soldiers into the field and they form a kind of box with their large, rectangular shields to defend some of their own that they have rescued from the Britons. All the battle scenes – perhaps particularly the final one against the Seal People in the creek – are filmed dynamically and expertly with the shrieking Britons rushing wildly at the Romans who steadfastly hold their ground. The film depicts life in the wilds outside the wall as much inferior to the relative ease and civilized sophistication of the Roman world – no image of the noble savage here; we appreciate the benefits of the pax romana. The Seal People are dirty, painted, half-naked, cruel (they kill the chief’s son for taking a toy from Tatum), and live in the most barren and forbidding of terrains. The return to the Roman city at the end is a relief after exposure to the wet, the cold, and the ugliness and cruelty of the North. Good action movie, beautiful cinematography, convincing male action hero.

East of Eden 1954 Elia Kazan (Warners) 3.0 James Dean as the “bad” son Cal, John Davalos as the rather colorless “good” son, Aron, Raymond Massey a bit solemn and serious as the Bible-reading, demanding father, Adam; Julie Harris as Abra is good although a bit over-Methodesque at times to be a simple Salinas girl; Jo Van Fleet as the mother of the twins who ran away from the controlling and demanding ways of Massey, Burl Ives as the good hearted sheriff who tries to mend the broken relationships. Sometimes brutal 50s-style family conflict: Cal feels inferior compared to his father and brother and is driven to find his mother to dig his way out of his misery; Aron is in love with Abra, but since he is somehow distracted and doesn’t demonstrate to her that he loves her, she grows increasingly close to the “dangerous” Cal, and the two boys end up slugging it out (Cal is much the better fighter); Aron’s well-being depends on thinking his mother is a deceased angel, and he melts down and runs off to join the army (World War I) when he meets her drunk and slatternly in her (profitable) Monterey whore house. Beautiful Cinemascope cinematography that puts the viewer convincingly and ravishingly in the California lettuce fields; Kazan is perhaps overly fond of tilted camera shots during tense dialogue. Film of course rises and falls with the performance and dilemmas of James Dean. Dean is very handsome, coming across as a beautiful young man that women would love to mother. His acting is Methodesque slouched over and with head bowed, muttering lines so that they are sometimes difficult to hear, sudden outbursts of rage or pain, such as when he jumps on the neck of his father after the latter refuses to accept the money he offered him (was this scene really improvised by the “brilliant” actor Dean to the surprise of Kazan and the horror of Massey who disliked Dean?), turning his back to us in key emotional moments, such as holding on to the doorknob in the dramatic $5000 scene with his mother. Cal is a confused character – he resents his father, and yet he is enthusiastic about the lettuce idea; he then gives all his bean money to his father in perhaps a guilt offering; he appears to love his brother and yet he is attracted to his fiancée and then attacks Aron viciously, etc. Film ends with a certain redemption: on his deathbed father relents and asks Cal to take care of him in place of the annoying nurse; since Aron has gone off to war, Cal gives Abra a convincing kiss and the presumption is that they will live happily ever after. Film has mildly anti-war subtext: both boys, especially Aron, are skeptical about the war, a sympathetic German immigrant character objects strenuously to the lies of anti-German propaganda and he is almost beaten up by the very people that had lived with him for decades, etc.

Eastern Promises 2007 David Cronenberg 4.0 Viggo Mortensen practically unrecognizable with gaunt features, slicked back hair, and model Russian accent as (apparently) driver for Russian mafia organization in London; Naomi Watts the innocent outsider as second generation Russian, who is present at the delivery of a baby and then makes it her mission to find the right home for her; Vincent Cassel as the psychopathic (and impotent) son of the crime boss; Armin Mueller-Stahl as the crime boss, who at first appears benevolent and sensible, but who is dangerously devious; Jerzy Skolimowsky (the Polish director) as the well-meaning Uncle Stepan. Wonderful film set in émigré crime underworld in London (written by Steven Knight of ‘Dirty Pretty Things’) about the international trade in sex slaves: a girl is drawn from her village in the Ukraine, she becomes a prostitute in London, and then pregnant dies in the beginning of the film, giving birth to a daughter. Film begins with a violent bang – a Russian hood has his throat cut by a straight razor in the barber’s chair (blood gushing forth in a stream), and then a young pregnant woman enters a pharmacy, begs for help, and promptly has a fatal hemorrhage on the floor. The latter is an active character through the film since Watts finds her diary and reads from it constantly. A lot of expertly presented plot issues keep the viewer engrossed: What will happen to the child? What kind of person really is Mortensen – just a hood or is there decency lurking beneath? Will he and Watts fall in love, and would they ever be able to get together? Riveting cinematography and editing – the dark, damp and reflective streets of London; the camera tracking behind Watts’ moving motorcycle or walking characters such as the girl walking into the pharmacy; holding the camera on a person’s face to extract a perfectly timed reaction. Characters are all interesting and presented in depth: Watts is the standard kind and gentle normal person, but we don’t tire of studying and learning more about Mortensen, Mueller-Stahl and Uncle Stepan. Terrific fight scene about three quarters of the way through the film: Mortensen, completely naked in a public bath, is attacked by Chechen hoods wielding knives and box cutters and Mortensen, whose genitalia are flapping in the fray, struggles, writhes, tumbles, and takes horrible gash wounds until the assassins are both bloody and dead. Two big surprises toward the end: knowing that he is obliged to sacrifice his only son to the Chechens, the crime boss plots to substitute Viggo for him (hence his false induction into the family and the fight in the baths); and a subsequent visit from a British police inspector informs us that Viggo is really a Russian undercover agent working with the British to infiltrate the local crime organizations. Film ends sensitively with Viggo and Watts saving the baby from being drowned by Kirill (the bastard father has ordered the baby killed because the baby’s DNA could be used to convict the father of rape), the two kissing briefly and then parting; the film ends with a scene showing the baby lovingly cared for in Watts’ family, and then another with Viggo sitting alone reading the diary next to an empty bottle of vodka. Wonderful in-depth characters, intricate yet believable plot, excellent direction, picturesque violence make this film an out-of-the-ordinary crime thriller.

East Side, West Side 1949 Mervyn Leroy 3.0 Bevy of Hollywood actors of the day: Barbara Stanwyck in for her unusual role of the rather dull, long-suffering and true wife; James Mason suave and urbane as her cad of a husband, who can’t help himself with girlfriend Gardner; Ava Gardner, statuesque and thin, but her clothes and haircut don’t do justice to her beauty; Cyd Charisse in non-dancing role as very pretty young model, who might have stolen the show from Gardner; Van Heflin pretty glamorous as young ex-cop, who falls for Stanwyck; William Conrad, Gale Sondergaard, William Frawley, and Nancy Davis in small roles. High quality soap opera that takes place in New York among four or five main characters looking for love: Stanwyck is married to “playboy” Mason, who has eyes only for the completely faithless Gardner; virtual teenager Charisse has a crush on Heflin, who in turn has a yen for Stanwyck. Everyone is frustrated. Gardner is murdered by a jealous rival; Heflin tells Charisse she is too young; Stanwyck rejects Heflin since she is still committed to her husband. Film ends with Stanwyck having had it with Mason’s infidelities and leaves him for parts unknown. Mason, who had previously carried on an innocent motivated flirtation with Sondergaard, Stanwyck’s mother, then calls her to say that he will no longer be attending their Thursday night dinners. The film has great star power, but the script seems often halting, inconsistent, and silly; it gives the impression that – like in TV soap operas – the writers were working while the film was being made, and that no one really knew what was going to happen next. Stanwyck comes across as uninteresting rather than moving and sympathetic; Gardner has little heft as the femme fatale; it doesn’t make much sense that Sondergaard would somehow manage to get along with son-in-law Mason so well for all those years despite despising him as she expresses it at the end. Mixed genre – mostly soap opera, but a weak murder mystery with Heflin investigating thrown in, and an ending where everyone is left standing alone. Entertaining to watch, however, with some dramatic moments.

The Edge of Heaven (Auf der Anderen Seite) 2007 Fatih Akin (Germany) 3.0 Nurgül Yesilcay as Ayten, the daughter of Yeter and a radical opponent of the Turkish government; Nursel Köse as her mother, a prostitute in the beginning of the movie who hooks up with…; Tuncel Kurtiz, an old fun-loving Turk living in Germany – he is the father of…; Baki Davrak, who is a professor of literature in a German university; Patrycia Ziolkowska as the childish, impulsive Lotte who becomes Ayten’s lover; Hanna Schygulla as Lotte’s ex-hippie, now-bourgeois mother who disapproves of her relationship with the Turkish girl. “Open-ended”, unpredictable, “decentered” film with several narrative lines that seem sometimes not to be connected – along the lines of “Babel”. It is about Turks and Germans, who move back and forth between their two countries. The narrative focuses at various times on the six main characters: Kurtiz at first in his courtship (?) of Kose, and then when he accidentally beats her to death; then on his son Davrak, who goes to Turkey in search of Kose’s lost daughter, but then decides to buy a bookstore and stay; then to Kose’s daughter Ayten, who is a violent anti-government activist (she has a pistol for a brief time); she flees to Germany to escape the Turkish police and is given shelter by Lotte, who then becomes her lover; Lotte is then killed by gun-happy kids in Istanbul, and the moment of absolution and reconciliation has set in – a glowing Schygulla learns to forgive Ayten, whom she has held responsible for the death of her daughter, and at the end seems to be drifting toward assuming Ayten as her daughter; and finally back to Davrak, who begins searching for his father, who has returned to Turkey after serving a prison term for the murder of his companion; although the two never meet, the film ends with Davrak waiting patiently on a beach on the Black Sea coast for his father to return from fishing (the shot is held for the whole end credits crawl). The film’s ending is partly mid-stream: Schygulla’s and Ayten’s story seems initially resolved, but the viewer never witnesses the reunion between Kurtiz and Davrak. Film sometimes packs a big emotional punch – e.g., the prediction through titles of the deaths of Yeter and Lotte and the viewer’s suspense awaiting them, the final meetings between Ayten and Schygulla – but because of its unpredictable plot turns it is sometimes difficult to empathize with events. Ultimately, the films’ theme seems to be about forgiveness and atonement: Davrak must forgive his father for the death of Kurtiz, and Schygulla must forgive Ayten for the death of her daughter Lotte. The viewer’s reaction to the film will depend on his appreciation of the “decentered” story.

An Education 2009 Lone Scherfig (Britain) 3.0 Carey Mulligan thin, simply and modestly dressed, cute, beaming, and wise for her age as 16-year-old bored stiff in 1962 London; Peter Sarsgaard a bit paunchy, but charming and apparently worldly wise as a 30-year-old who picks her up to show her the ways of the world; Alfred Molina comic as Carey’s father, not too protective since his fondest ambition is for Carey to move up in life; Olivia Williams as plain teacher in girls’ school who takes an interest in Carey; Dominic Cooper as good-looking friend of Sarsgaard; Emma Thompson in Margaret Thatcher hairdo acting forbidding as the headmistress of the school. Entertaining and sometimes moving little film about a suburban English girl living in a middle-class family in swinging London and wanting desperately to join in the excitement; Sarsgaard distracts her from her preparation for Oxford, shows her around the town, deflowers her after she turns 17 (her condition), and even asks her to marry him; but the sudden surprise is that he is married and lives just down the street from Carey’s parents; Carey, who has quit school, is devastated, but she recovers, and moves on to Oxford with the support of her parents and her teacher (Thompson is extremely reluctant to let her back in the school); she is older but wiser and she realizes that you can’t skip any steps on the way up. Sarsgaard’s personality is difficult to decipher: for most of the film he seems sincere and devoted to his teenage friend, and the revelation that he is a rank adulterer and seducer comes across as a bit extreme. The parents are amusing, especially when they themselves are seduced by Sarsgaard’s charm into believing that he is the best thing for the future of their daughter (but is it credible that they would not object to her marrying a man twice her age and about whose family they knew nothing?). The film plays with potential tragedy – Carey could have gotten pregnant, married the wrong person, and ended up living a life of desperation – but it has a happy ending with her luck holding out and not having to pay for her mistakes – the last shots of the film have her riding bicycles down the halcyon streets of Oxford and making plans for her next rip to her beloved Paris. The film works primarily because of the charm, simple beauty, and credible maturity of the teenage Mulligan; one cannot help but sympathize with her and shout at the screen that her future is the university, not that grinning jerk!

Election 1999 Alexander Payne 3.5 Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell as Tammy, Mark Harelik as the unfortunate Dave. “Wicked” and sardonic satire on high school culture and on the American electoral process; film deals with a campaign for student body president in affluent George Washington Carver High School (there are very few Blacks!). The usual high school types are depicted with great wit (Reese as the overachiever, Klein as the dumb but well meaning jock, Jessica as the counter-culture, cynical lesbian who gets herself kicked out and sent to Catholic school so she can be with girls). The electoral process is skewered by double-speak (Reese very good at that in her speeches and in her face-to-face showdown with Broderick), by campaigning strategy, by photo ops of Witherspoon photographer dropping her ballot into the ballot box. Film has equal opportunity sarcasm, since it also skewers foolish aberrant sexual behavior of adults; the funniest is Harelik as the 30s teacher who loses his job because of his sexual affair with Witherspoon – when confronted in principal’s office, tears are welling out of his eyes. Witherspoon is girl on the make, ambitious, manipulative, obsessive vixen, who turns to rage when thwarted; she is an expert comedienne. Broderick as the History and Civics teacher gives most of the voice-over (although all the main characters get their chances to talk); he is confused, good-intentioned, but stumbling over his own feet contradicting his own principles and getting into serious trouble, such as (almost) cheating on his wife, getting kicked out of the house, and getting caught falsifying the results of the student president election; and this after announcing in an early scene that he is much concerned with morals and ethics. Comic style is impeccable. Funny juxtapositions: Broderick says he is in love with Linda’s character, and camera shows him looking at her butt and her cleavage; Broderick explaining to Klein about fruit on the blackboard (a teacher!), and then cut to a bowl of fruit at his parent’s house; Broderick’s Linda-induced fantasy about being in a cool Italian sports car instead of his aging dirty sub-compact; when Broderick is down and out and everything is going wrong, even the vending machine in the cheap motel where he is staying steals his money. Music is also sardonic, e.g., some Arab-sounding wailing when there are serious passages in the film. This man has a great satirical sense of humor.

Lonely Are the Brave 1962 David Miller 3.0 Kirk Douglas as Edward Abbey latter-day cowboy trying despairingly to maintain his freedom and individuality amid the busy highways of the modern West; Walter Matthau droll and sympathetic as the sheriff who has to hunt down Douglas; William Schallert as Matthau’s competent but rather clueless deputy who operates his radio; George Kennedy as mean-as-a-snake deputy intent on doing harm to Douglas; Carroll O’Connor as big rig truck driver who runs Douglas down in the last scene. Rather predictable, black and white Kirk-Douglas-inspired film about a rootless cowboy who refuses to give in to the demands of the 1962 West (film takes place in New Mexico) and is ultimately destroyed by the modern world. Douglas, whose only real friend appears to be his often recalcitrant horse, goes to a saloon, gets himself drunk and in a nasty fight in order to be thrown in jail to see his good friend, who has been condemned for smuggling illegals across the border (draft-dodging in the Abbey book); he escapes from jail and is pursued by the authorities in the high mountains outside of town; he escapes his pursuers, but while mounted on his horse, he is hit by O’Connor’s truck on a busy highway; the viewer assumes he dies in the hospital. The film is serious and heartfelt; it seeks the sympathy of the viewer for the tragedy of an individual – the free cowboy on the open range – who refuses to knuckle under to the requirements of the modern world – permanent residence, steady job, automobiles, no fences (he cuts through them when he rides across country), marrying and settling down (he had encouraged the woman he loves to marry his friend, since he could not give her what she wanted). The cinematographer takes wonderful advantage of the mountain terrain where Douglas makes his escape: rough country, interspersed trees, cliffs, sudden drop-offs, beautiful views into the distant valley – all photographed in crisp black and white. The film, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Walsh’s ‘High Sierra’, perhaps suffers from easy predictability, and some of the sequences are hardly credible – e.g., that Douglas’ friend would still be in the drunk tank of the local jail after he had already been condemned to two years in prison (and for breaking a federal law!). The film follows the progress of O’Connor’s truck in several scenes starting in the Midwest until he hits Douglas, suggesting perhaps that the cowboy’s demise is inevitable. Performances are good, provided the viewer doesn’t object to Douglas’ take-no-prisoners acting style; Matthau is particularly entertaining in his avuncular, off-hand humor combined with a grudging admiration for the man he is chasing. Elegiac tribute to the vanished West.

Elegy 2008 Isabel Coixet 3.0 Ben Kingsley in starring role as an aging and erudite Columbia professor who has never liked relationships longer than one-night stands, but who is captivated/ obsessed by the vision of Cruz sitting in his classroom while he lectures on literary critcism; Penelope Cruz doing us the favor of disrobing twice so that we can see her breasts, but who is basically a psychological mask that we labor (in vain) to understand; Dennis Hopper excellent as wise-cracking and pretty wise handball and drinking buddy, whose premature death drives Kingsley closer to self-understanding; Patricia Clarkson effective as Kingsley’s very independent and focused fuckbuddy who is not above jealousy; Peter Sarsgaard as Kingsley’s son, who cannot forgive his father for abandoning his family when Peter was a little boy. Slow-paced rumination about love and death, about the acceptance of aging, and about eventually moving toward personal commitment and permanency. Kingsley may be allergic to romantic commitments (the sex is where it’s at), but he is sexually obsessed by his very beautiful student Cruz (very dark long hair, dark eyes, very white bleached teeth, a swelling chest under her blouse); so Amor surprisingly puts him in motion to deal with aging and lack of commitment; he resists getting to know Cruz’s family even after being together for a year and a half; she breaks off with him; but when after a couple of years she returns faced with the prospect of losing one of her breasts to cancer surgery, he is greatly affected and comes around, embracing her in the end saying “I am here”. He finds it very difficult to get past the exterior shell of beauty worn by Cruz (Hopper’s phrase) and fully to appreciate Cruz’s character and soul. In the meantime he has other small epiphanies: when his faithful friend Dennis Hopper (Kingsley’s only enduring relationship before the end of the film) has a fatal stroke, he kisses Kingsley on the lips (Ben is very embarrassed) just before he dies; and when Clarkson finds tampons in Kingsley’s bathroom (he of course lies through his teeth about their origin), she becomes furious and terminates their decades-long relationship. No doubt that Kingsley does an excellent job inhabiting Philip Roth’s character, but this reader sometimes gets tired of contemplating his craggy face and shaved head; the goateed Hopper more or less steals the scenes he had with Kingsley; Cruz often looks vacant and desirable in keeping with her role in the film as Kingsley sexual muse and the underwritten character in the screenplay. The film often movies at a glacial pace with not much happening in the frame and the viewer wondering whether he can stand another intense close-up of Kingsley’s face. The mise-en-scène is exquisite – perhaps too much so: dark stony and metallic textures, lovely balancing of volumes and shapes, semi-deep focus when useful; but one cannot escape the sense that the beauty is for its own sake and does not enhance the human qualities of the film. A score consisting mostly of Satie and Bach helps maintain a meditative, slightly depressive mood.

The Elephant Man 1980 David Lynch 3.0 John Hurt evoking pity and admiration as John Merrick although hidden inside his hideous disguise; Anthony Hopkins very young and playing it straight and a bit dull as the doctor who sponsors Merrick’s emergence; Anne Bancroft as a kindly actress who lends her support to Merrick and Hopkins; John Gielgud as the crusty hospital administrator who supports Hopkins; Wendy Hiller as the head nurse, also supportive; Freddie Jones well played as the cruel and evil original “owner” of Merrick. Sentimental, beautifully produced and directed adaptation of the best-selling book (although the film denies that it is based on anything but the historical record). Merrick is rescued by Hopkins from exploitation in the virtual sewers of London, placed in a safe room (well, more or less) in his hospital, where he develops as an intelligent man and Victorian gentleman until his death at the end of the film. The art direction, make-up, and costuming are flawless – from the cockney denizens of the basements and slums of London to the gas lit hallways and rooms of the hospital and the rooms of Hopkins and his wife neatly overloaded with Victorian bric-a-brac; the cinematography evokes the era expertly. The film is essentially about Victorian conformity and kindness. Hopkins seems to be a decent and kind gentleman, who is at first prejudiced against Merrick because of his shocking deformities but then becomes his defender when he discovers that he is intelligent, not violent, and respectful of Victorian proprieties: once acclimatized, Merrick speaks to all his visitors politely, he takes tea like a proper English gentleman, he enjoys a cult of female beauty without expecting any beastly sexual connection, he recites psalms with spiritual fervor and romantic quotations from Shakespeare (it appears that he somehow has already learned how to read). One often gets the impression that the upper class Victorian folk that support and applaud him when he attends a play in the theater (at the invitation of Bancroft) are really applauding themselves for their enlightened willingness to treat him like a human being and not a freak. The film comes across as quite prejudiced against lower class people, since they are the ones that exploit Merrick, display him in freak shows, and mock him for his appearance. The film sometimes uses horror film gimmicks (the camera descending into the depths of the cellar, photographing Merrick’s face with a fish-eye lens, etc.), but generally the story flows peacefully in the direction of right behavior. The ending is appropriately sentimental – Merrick lies down to die on his bed, and the camera pans out the window, travels through the night sky, and fixes on a vague, celestial image of a beautiful woman, presumably his mother whom he has left the earth to join. What more could one ask for than to be a proper Victorian gentleman?

E.T., the Extraterrestrial 1983 Steven Spielberg 4.0 Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore. Superior children’s fantasy movie about encountering a visitor from another world, and deciding not to destroy, dissect, study, etc., but to love, support, and help it return to its own parents. Very endearing throughout; sentimental, but saved from excess by Spielberg’s genuineness and good taste. Much glowing supernatural mystery with the hazy atmosphere and crane shots of the city’s street, the bluish night sky with the new moon (appearing emblematically in first part of movie) and the sparkling stars suggesting the intriguing mysteries of other worlds. Set firmly in American suburbia in Southern California; the family lives in a typical tract home, the kids swarm into the streets like locusts on Halloween, the final exciting extended chase takes place through graded lots and houses under construction. The family is ‘typical,’ always tugging on the heartstrings; the mother, Mary, is pretty, competent and divorced and is teary eyed when she thinks of her husband off with another woman in Mexico; the kids bicker, but hang in there together when the going gets tough; they care about their mother’s feelings; Gertie (Drew Barrymore) misses her dad and generally is cute and adorable throughout. Movie is definitely kid’s eye with few adult characters, aside from the mother, who finds out about E.T. pretty early on. Kids hope and believe and are not realistic; they have the privilege of living in a world of make-believe, where they are not suspicious and accept creatures different from themselves. E.T., despite his bizarre appearance, is pretty much like any other kid: same desires, he misses his parents, he can learn a foreign language quickly, etc. An extra-sensory parallel of powers between E.T. and Elliott, whereby E.T. heals Elliot’s finger, and then Elliott raises E.T. from the dead. The federal agents are faceless and threatening in the beginning; then they metamorphose into rather sterile medical personnel as they perform endless tests on E.T. and pursue the kids as they try to cycle the extraterrestrial back to the clearing to meet his parents; there is one good guy, Peter Coyote, who understands what childhood wonder and faith are like. Great emblematic moments: E.T. undiscovered by Mary because he looks like a stuffed animal in the closet; E.T. leaving the Reese’s Pieces on Elliott’s blanket; the kids on their bicycles levitating and peddling in front of the large yellow full moon; the sensitive close-ups of E.T.’s face. All performances good, particularly Thomas, who shows real emotion. Values are ultimate in family values: tolerance and understanding across all frontiers, the sacredness of life, the healing power of love; the value of a close family; always stay loyal to your friends.

En la Cama 2005 Matías Bize (Chile) 2.5 Blanca Lewin; Gonzalo Valenzuela. Claustrophobic film about a couple getting to know one another after meeting at a party and going to a motel for some recreational sex; the two actors are the only players and they never leave the motel room. The film starts off with the sexual event depicted by a lot of huffing, grunting, and crying out and only indistinct images of sheets and flesh very close up that slowly become more distinct when they finish. It turns out that neither partner knows the first (or last) name of the other; and they warily yield their identity and then begin to reveal important things about their own lives. They make love two more times, once beginning in the bathtub; the third one is interrupted suddenly by Lewin when Valenzuela cries out the name of his former girlfriend in the heat of passion. The film seems like it must have received an NC-17 rating. It is reminiscent of ‘Before Sunrise’ in its easy-going, natural talkiness, and sometimes playfulness that gradually leads to significant revelations about the principals. Both of course are wounded by previous failed relationships; Valenzuela reveals that he is soon to leave for Europe to study for a Ph.D. When Valenzuela’s condom tears, Lewin reflects on intimacy by imagining that the sperm of this man that she barely knows are swimming around inside of her. They guardedly approach aspects of an intimate relationship, and when they part, the viewer is left with the open question of whether there is any possibility of pursuing the connection. The strength of the film is the natural, insightful dialogue that explores the frontiers of intimacy and its relationship with sex. The static, claustrophobic visual atmosphere, however, make it hard to watch all the way through.

The End of the Affair 1999 Neil Jordan (Britain) 3.0 Ralph Fiennes as London writer who has had an affair with Sarah and who now must come to terms with it; Julianne Moore as Sarah, the wife of a London bureaucrat, who looks for love outside of her affectionless marriage; Stephen Rea as colorless but earnest upper bureaucrat who suffers from his wife's infidelity; Ian Hart as earnest Dickensian private detective who shadows Moore for lover and husband. Searching adaptation of Graham Greene novel, set in London during the war and right after; film emphasizes equally the romantic, sexual aspect of the film (the sex scenes use tasteful nudity to make them convincing)and Green's probing Catholic-tinged theology of good and evil. Film is beautifully photographed and edited -- close-ups are elegant and appropriate; colors and hues are dark and rich; although we may wonder why almost every outdoor scene has to be in the rain. Film has modernist plot structure, beginning with Fiennes at his typewriter announcing that he is writing the story of his affair on the theme of hate; and then alternating between flashbacks to show us the progress of the affair and the present where he develops a kind of friendship with the husband as the two of them try to come to terms with what has happened. Sarah has a fatal disease and Rea invites Fiennes to live in his house to attend to Sarah until she dies. The affair had been stormy, very romantic, and very sexual. Fiennes suffers from jealousy mainly of the husband, and the script announces that as a sin. The affair comes to an end when a German bomb explodes next to the building where the two lovers are in bed, apparently killing Fiennes; when Sarah discovers that he is not dead, she makes a pledge to God on her knees that she will never see her lover again and the two part. When we come to the present, the theme has become the tension between God's rules about sexuality and love (or perhaps just of Sarah's understanding of them, since Fiennes continues to insist that he does not believe in God) and the demands of the human heart and body. Sarah shows that she cannot remain true to her pledge, since her need to be with Fiennes is so great; she agrees to go off with him. Fiennes is increasingly frustrated and angry that God has taken his beloved from him -- first because she "got religion" in her supposed vision in the explosion, and then because she gets sick and dies. Film ends in a kind of depressed resignation, when Fiennes finishes his work and asks God just to leave him alone. Film is noble effort to translate Greene's themes to the screen; it suffers from an overly complicated thematic development; more simplicity would have increased its impact.

Les enfants du paradis 1946 Marcel Carné (France) 4.0 Arletty as Garance, iconically beautiful and incrutable unattached woman for whom only love matters, Jean-Louis Barrault as the inspired mime Baptiste, in the middle of the many love stories, Pierre Brasseur as Frederick, the bullshitter actor always playing a flamboyant part in his life and for whom only being a success on the stage (he hates mimes) matters, Louis Salou as an also iconic Count de Montray, stiff, formal, formidable, dangerous, impeccably turned out, Marcel Herrand as the criminal leader Lacenaire, who is also irresistibly drawn to Garance. Two part movie – the first rather optimistic and happy, the second fatalistic and tragic – about complex love relationships in the world of the theater in Paris of the 1820s and 1830s. Pace of movie is quite slow as all the ins and outs of the love stories are developed: focuses on Baptiste’s love for Garance – with serious rivals from Frederick and Lacenaire; the love finally has its fulfillment at the end when Baptiste and Garance spend the night togther. Garance is elusive and refuses to settle down, marry, etc.; the only thing that matters to her is love – and she truly loves Baptiste at the end – but for her it is soon over – the wheel of life continues to move – and she must move on. Baptiste loves her with a pure romantic ideal, to the point that he dare not touch her when he first has her in private; Lacenaire is no love, but tells her he “desires” her (sex); Frederick just likes to sweet talk her – since there is apparently no character behind the actor’s mask, it is difficult to know what he wants. Ends dramatically and tragically. Garance returns to disturb the happy marriage that Baptiste has with Nathalie (Maria Casarès), and when his wife tries to reclaim him after the affair, Baptiste leaves the room and runs hopelessly through the street screaming his lover’s name. Meanwhile, de Montray, who is trying to fight duels with most men, is murdered by Lacenaire in his Turkish bath; the latter waits to be arrested. All the other characters are again set free and are lonely individuals in the world; the love connection has not remained stable for anyone. Marvelous copy of the film restored by Criterion. The environment is popular celebration in the streets (e.g., Mardi Gras in the last scene), and the lower class folk (“enfants du paradis”) who sit in the cheap, higher seats in the theater, and cheer lustily the mime of Baptiste and the acting of Frederick. Hard to know where the allegory of Nazi occupation lies. Plays with images of illusion – the acting profession and how it affects one’s real-life behavior, the role of dreams and idealism in one’s love (Baptiste), etc. A film that needs to be seen many times.

Entre les murs 2008 François Bégaudeau (France) 3.0 François Bégaudeau playing himself as a teacher struggling with his pupils in a junior high in the low-income 20eme arrondissement in Paris; the children are played more or less by themselves. Highly praised semi-documentary film about trying to teach a multi-ethnic gaggle of early adolescent kids on the other side of the generation gap in contemporary France. The film feels like a documentary: no music on the soundtrack, more or less flat narrative curve as we follow Bégaudeau’s daily struggle. The narrative focuses on a Black girl who defies and mouths off at the teacher continuously, but who after a confrontation with him cools down; on an aggressively mouthy Arab girl Esmeralda who at the end of the film tries her best to get Bégaudeau into trouble; on a hard-working and cooperative Chinese kid, Wei, and his beaming parents; on an engaging heartbreaker of a kid from Mali, Suleyman, who refuses to do any work and finally explodes in the classroom and is then expelled from school. Bégaudeau is engagingly well-intentioned; he thinks the best way to get the kids to learn French is to go down to their level, put up with their interruptions and disrespectful interjections, so to speak become their friend and associate so as to motivate them to care about their education and future. He uses sarcasm, talks back to the kids in class, and as the school year wears on, he often gets angry – to the point of calling two girls “skanks” (French original?) in class. The overall impression is that the rewards of teaching to this group are minimal at best; at the end of the year very few of the students are motivated to make something of themselves. Teaching in this environment is basically waging a war against resisters on the other side of the cultural divide. The kids are separated from the school system by their youth culture that prizes baggy jeans, rap music, video games, and being cool and also by their ethnic differences, which appear to be much deeper than in the USA, where immigrant children seem to have accepted basically that they are Americans. The immigrant kids in France seem to identify with their place of origin and express resentment against being “French”, which to them evokes snobby white people in suits and ties; the school is an institution trying to brainwash them into joining the club, although they don’t think they will ever be accepted anyhow. The impact of the film on the viewer is that teaching in such an environment is mostly a hopeless task, and this despite the director being clearly on the side of the kids – for example, he has firebrand Esmeralda put down Bégaudeau in the end by announcing in front of the class that she has read Plato’s ‘Republic’ (Huh? That’s what kids read in their spare time?). Often engaging film that is sometimes dull and manipulative.

Erin Brockovich 2000 Stephen Soderbergh 3.0 Julia Roberts credible and entertaining as ill-tempered, potty mouthed housewife (three children) who suddenly launches into a crusade against big industry; Albert Finney also entertaining as the equally combative and excitable lawyer who works with her; Aaron Eckhart as thin, hirsute motorcyclist layabout who spends most of the movie submissively taking care of Roberts’ children. Entertaining Hollywood-style film about an alienated housewife who finds redemption in her campaign to get compensation from PG&E for the horrible health damage they have caused in people living near one of their Southern California plants. The film marks time when it lingers on the absurd romance between leather bedecked dropout Eckart and the shrill and in-your-face Roberts – it is difficult to believe that a Hells Angel admirer loves to change diapers and feed the baby, and Eckart’s acting skills seem in any case to be in remission; it also marks time when Soderbergh pulls our heartstrings as we watch and listen to pale copies of Ma and the Judd family (‘Grapes of Wrath’) whine weakly about their physical and familial ills. The pace picks up a lot, however, when the blustering Finney and the mouthy Roberts are in the same frame; against our better judgment, we enjoy how despite their conflicts and outbursts of temper they grow together to accept and even admire one another. Roberts’ performance is reinforced by her revealing wardrobe – the viewer has long looks at sizable parts of her breasts and of the bras that have them barely under control. The depiction of the legal progress toward sufficient damages (the plaintiffs were awarded $333 million) is also entertaining: in high Hollywood style, we chuckle at the discomfiture of arrogant and up-tight lawyers and at the defeat of the heartless big corporation. The film ends of course in triumph: with a twinkle in his eye Finney gives the (for once) dumbfounded Roberts a check for $2 million, he walks away with a merry spring in his step, and the credits tells us how everyone lives (more or less) happily ever after.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004 Michel Gondry 3.0 Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet (speaking in flawless American accent), Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson. Very inventive, unpredictable screenplay. Film about two lovers, who take advantage of new medical technology to erase painful memories of their ill-fated romance. You put a sort of helmet on your head, and then computer has you relive and then erase your past, beginning with the most recent (and therefore painful) memories and regressing to the most distant (and romantic) ones. Film a kind of attention-teaser: you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is going on – Is this really happening? Is it in the mind of one of the characters? Are both Winslet and Carrey there, or is this the memory of only one of the characters? Begins with Carrey meeting Winslet on Montauk Beach, he being very shy and she coming on to him; and then confusing cut to hard-to-follow actions, which turn out to be a prequel to the first scene. Point: this is a sweet romantic story about two ne’er do wells, who love one another, can’t get along, despair (thus deciding to erase the memories), and then in process of reliving their memories, decide to give it another go: Winslet says to Carrey at end, “Meet me in Montauk,” thereby telling us that the versions of the meeting at beginning of movie is the second try. An inventive romantic comedy, kind of like a good Woody Allen one. Winslet particularly good as unpredictable, emotional, and demanding young woman with blue or orange hair; Carrey completely buries his bigger-than-life comic persona. Demands that movie makes on one’s attention and interpretation undercuts somewhat one’s involvement in the drama, but still sweet and romantic.

Ethan Frome 1993 John Madden 2.5 Liam Neeson strong and suitably agonizing as the husband of Joan Allen and lover of the younger Arquette, Joan Allen as shrewish, contemptible hypochondriac wife of Neeson, Patricia Arquette as the destitute, coquettish, somewhat desperate poor relative in the household. Based on Wharton’s famous novella, the drama takes place in wintry New England (actually filmed in Peacham, Vermont); narrated in a flashback to inform the new preacher who arrives several years after the incident. The landscapes dominate and are very pretty, but also cold, forbidding, little sign of life. The plot is claustrophobic – concerned with the fate of a ménage a trois in a small New England town. Illicit romance between the homeless Arquette and the romantically deprived Neeson is consummated twice. Allen of course objects, and the two agree painfully to send Arquette away; but they decide on one more sleigh ride, which ends in a crippling accident. The viewer does not know immediately what the outcome is, but after we return to the present and the minister visits the Frome household, we find out that all three are still alive, but with Arquette now an invalid in bed being cared for by the two spouses. The story is hard to swallow: Wharton is not happy with simple tragedy, but racks ups the punishment for adultery – the two lovers are not allowed to die, but must live out their days handicapped and sharing their household with the shrewish Allen! All performances are good, especially Allen, who depicts the ill-tempered hypochondriac very convincingly. The film is a competent adaptation of a literary work, but the story is a serious handicap.

The Evil Dead 1982 Sam Raimi 2.5 Bruce Campbell looking constantly petrified, covered with blood and gore and fighting for his life; several unknown actors who turn into ghouls and then go after Campbell. Blood- and gore-fest about a bunch of college kids who for some reason rent a shack in the backwoods of Tennessee (?) for a little fun, and who get more than they bargained for. The best part of the film is the beginning that is filled with menace as the kids prowl around the house and in the threatening outdoors; they find a skin-covered book in the cellar, and the reading out loud of the contents awakens some bloodthirsty force buried in the ground that attacks the kids (one girl appears to have been raped by tendrils from bushes outside) and turns them into ghouls, who in turn attack one another and Campbell, who for some unexplained reason is able to resist without turning into a ghoul himself. The last half of the film is a blood-fest: the girls, for example, turn into screaming harpies with whites of their eyes protruding and various sorts of goo sometimes dribbling, sometimes projecting, out of their facial orifices; the favorite is the scene in which Campbell attempts to bury his transformed girlfriend, but she seizes his arm through the earth from the grave, rakes bloody gashes in his legs, leaps upon his body, and when he hits her with a shovel, he detaches her head that flies off, planting itself right side up in the ground, still crowing, while her headless body struggles on top of her former boyfriend. The ending has Campbell with his blood-soaked face exiting peacefully from the house – he has survived! But the force again generates momentum from behind the house, the steadycam bobs and weaves through the house and toward the back of the protagonist, who turns to face his pursuer – he screams knowing that he will join his friends. The film is low-budget – basically one set, unknown and low-paid actors; but it is well filmed with lots of angles, tilts, and shots well-chosen for suspense. The famous Raimi sense of humor is not apparent, aside from a few moments, e.g., the flying head. One tires awfully of gory images, blood splashing in all directions, extremely ugly visages shrieking and cackling in ghoulish glee. It must have made quite an impact in 1981, but it hasn’t aged well.

Executive Suite 1954 Robert Wise (wr. Ernest Lehman) 3.0 William Holden as honest, idealistic researcher who ends up running for president of the company vacated by the sudden death of the president (Bullard); June Allyson in typical 50s role as the pleasant, husky-voiced, supportive wife (vide ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ and ‘Strategic Air Command’); Barbara Stanwyck in cameo-style role as one of the company’s principal stockholders; Fredric March as scheming, back-stabbing accounting mastermind of the company who wants to be president; Walter Pidgeon as the old number two and heir apparent, who however decides he is too tired to compete for the top job; Paul Douglas as weak-willed milquetoast vice-president who waffles about who to support (his mistress is Shelley Winters); Louis Calhern as sleazy, dishonest board member who is concerned only with making a buck; Nina Foch as old faithful executive secretary and one of the few actually concerned with the welfare of the company (AA nomination!?); Dean Jagger in minor role as one of the board members. Often interesting part soap opera, part (timid) critique of American business meant to be a companion to ‘All About Eve’ (the theater) and ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ (Hollywood). It has a stunning all-star cast recalling ‘Grand Hotel’, etc.; it plays something like a stage play with most of the scenes shot inside board rooms, offices, or the stunning 50s international-style house of Holden and Allyson. Bullard, whom we never see or hear, dies suddenly of a heart attack or stroke in front of his office (remarkable first person camera for about a minute); therein ensues a struggle for succession among all the vice presidents; March, playing against type a ruthless and presumptuous operator, plots and maneuvers to get the four votes on the Board necessary to be elected president; the unassuming Pidgeon and the idealistic and dashing Holden team up to stop him; to do so, Holden has to (reluctantly) agree let go of his research interests and to run for the office and of course his spirited wife has to come around to support him; the vote is a cliffhanger, since Douglas waffles back and forth and Stanwyck has to let go of her affection for Bullard(!) and begin to think about the good of the company; Holden finally wins them over in a rousingly idealistic speech, and to the discomfiture of Calhern and March, the board agrees to elect Holden by acclamation. The film is filled with good performances, but it would seem March deserved an AA nomination rather than the low-key and sad-eyed Foch. It is gracefully and effectively directed by Robert Wise, although one rather tires of the inexpensive indoor sets reused from other films. The film is fairly informed by corporate goings-one – the maneuvers within the Board of Directors, the importance of profits and loyalty to the stockholders (more or less themselves?). Although critical of some aspects of corporate culture (the egos, the maneuvers), it lacks the satirical bite of ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and ‘All About Eve’. In any case, the virtuous Holden wins the day with his on-screen speech about the importance of responsibility to the whole community, workers included, and his commitment to high-quality products rather than cheap ones intended only to make a buck and keep the stockholders happy with high dividends (March represents the cold corporate profit culture). Interesting film, a tad predictable, and with a great all-star cast.

The Exorcist 1973 William Friedkin 3.5 Ellen Burstyn as actress mom living in toney Georgetown townhouse who fights to save her daughter from the clutches of the devil; Jason Miller as Fr. Karras, who although a scientifically trained psychiatrist and chagrined by the death of his lonely immigrant mother, agrees to perform an exorcism; Linda Blair as cute and innocent pre-pubescent 12-year-old Regan, who is possessed by the devil; Lee J. Cobb as conscientious and kind police inspector is an outside observer of the lurid proceedings; Max von Sydow as elderly priest, who is a Middle Eastern archeologist and is called in to perform the exorcism with Fr. Karras' assistance; Arthur Storch as psychiatrist who is attacked in a delicate place of his body when he tries to help Regan. Very scary and well-made film (AA for best adapted screenplay) about a possession of a young girl, the horrifying effects of the experience on her, and the self-sacrificing heroics required to cast out the devil. After a more-or-less irrelevant introductory sequence of Van Sydow discovering disturbing satanic images in Iraq, the remainder of the film takes place in the "normal", elegant upper middle class surroundings of Georgetown on the shore of the Potomac River. The direction is effective in establishing a convincingly normal time and place in the USA. Regan's progressively worsening condition is portrayed through the usual tricks of Satan – opening windows to her room, freezing temperatures, banging furniture around and opening and slamming doors, turning the child into an unrecognizable caricature of herself with white skin, bleached eyes, dry, parched lips, monstrous, growling voices emitted from her mouth, projectile vomiting of pea-soup-like, gooey substances from her mouth; when challenged by priests or sprinkled with holy water, she/he shrieks obscene insults. The film depicts modern medical science – neurologists, psychiatrists, etc. – as incompetent, blinded, and unwilling to accept that Regan's problem may be something other than medical. It becomes quickly obvious to the audience that the possession is real and not some rare psychiatric issue; not taking the possession seriously almost costs Regan her life. The two priests team up heroically to confront Satan amidst ice cold air, shrieking, growling, furniture banging, levitation of Regan's body, and the devil trying every trick in his book to defend himself against the supernatural powers at the Church's disposal. Armageddon between the forces of good and evil is dramatic and moving; Von Sydow, whose weak heart has been established, dies of a heart attack, and in the final confrontation, Karras calls Satan to possess him instead; his eyes are blanched, he struggles, and the throws himself out the window and falls to his death down the fated stairway outside. The paladin of modern psychiatric science has performed the exorcism and sacrificed himself to give life back to the girl. In Armageddon good has not won a clear victory over evil: the girl is saved, but two good men are dead, the devil still roams the world. Film is first-rate spectacle and drama: the special effects are mustered effectively to show the violation of the girl; and her salvation is dramatic and moving.

The Eye 2002 Pang Brothers (Hong Kong) 3.0 Anjelica Lee as cute, placid, but periodically emotive young woman with troubling visions seen through her new eyes; Lawrence Chow as impossibly cute and young psychotherapist to Lee – he falls in love with her and becomes her protector. Sometimes scary Hong Kong film about blind young woman who begins to have frightening visions when she receives a cornea transplant and is able to see. When she returns home to her mother, she has visions that alternate between views of rooms and of people that we assume are related to her previous life and encounters with unknown characters who had unfinished business when they died (e.g., the boy who keeps asking her if she has seen his report card) or who have just died or are about to (she is able to see the shadowy figures that escort the souls of the people who die to some unknown destination, e.g., the little girl she made friends with in the hospital). Chow awkwardly announces that he has fallen in love with his patient, and he accompanies her to Thailand to find out what they can about the Thai girl that donated the eyes; it turns out that she committed suicide and naturally there is much scary unfinished business to take care of until Lee believes that she will finally have peace; she has a big surprise in store, however on the way home in a large city, where Lee intuits a huge disaster about to happen when she sees shadowy figures drifting between the cars caught in the traffic jam; the ensuing explosion destroys Lee’s new eyes; the postscript shows her walking blind with a stick down a Hong Kong street, where she implies that she is better off without sight. The film has some rough aspects: the male actors, all of whom are young and cute, seem to have been chosen to appeal to teenage girls; the middle part of the film is weak on plot and character developments and sometimes seems just a succession of scary shots; and the final shocking disaster in Thailand is out of keeping with the quiet, more subtle ethic of the rest of the film. However, the Pang Brothers show a cinematic flare that keeps the viewer engrossed. They play expertly with point of view throughout the film, especially in the first and middle parts where out-of-focus shots are used to mimic Lee’s imperfect eyesight and to suggest the ghosts that are haunting her in the distance. Also hard-hitting visual sequences, e.g., during the lead-up to the street disaster very vivid visuals (e.g., of gasoline leaking out of the overturned tank truck and of an electrical impulse traveling down a wire to the spark plug producing a spark in the firing gap) combined with rapid-fire editing to produce suspense that leads to the catastrophe. Film is fun to watch.

Fahrenheit 9/11 2004 Michael Moore 3.0. A supposed documentary, but really a polemic against Bush and his administration. Voice over often sarcastic and makes sure you get the point. Fairly entertaining, although fewer gotcha interviews than in ‘Roger and Me;’ the attempted interviews with the congressmen in the street were anticlimactic. Focuses on making Bush look like a nonentity and an idiot, which it succeeds in doing – doing nothing in the reading class in Florida waiting for instructions from his staff! (Cheney?); missing his punch line at the end of the movie; telling reporters to ‘watch this drive’ after he finishes denouncing terrorists. Basic idea = U.S. run by an oligarchy; Bush and Co. has intimate connections to the Saudi oil interests; Cheney (who is often photographed leering and sneering and talking out of the corner of his mouth) is right in the middle with his Haliburton interests; Bushies maintain the appearance of democracy by instilling fear in the American public, and thus inducing many of us to rally behind our savior president; the Bush presidency was a dismal failure until 9/11 happened, which was exploited ruthlessly to raise the prestige of the president. Will probably convince few Bush supporters to vote against him, but is reasonably entertaining for a Bush-hater.

Fallen Angel 1945 Otto Preminger 2.5 Dana Andrews as well-dressed drifter who arrives in small California town somewhere on the coast looking for fortune; Linda Darnell smashing as diner waitress, who dates a lot of men and resists commitment unless her partner can offer marriage an lots of money; Alice Faye a bit fay and goodie-two shoes as conservative girl in town with some money; Anne Revere as her old-fashioned and rather forbidding sister; Charles Bickford as rather brutal temporary police investigator, who turns out to be the murderer; John Carradine in bit part as séance con man trying to make a buck. Intended as a follow-up to the popular “Laura”, this film mixes personal melodrama (will Andrews ever find love and settle down) with a murder mystery. First half of film has the viewer following the low-key, taciturn, evasive, dapper, suit- and fedora-clad, cigarette-smoking Andrews around town wondering who he is, where he came from, and what he wants. Since he wants to marry the reluctant Darnell, he hatches a thoroughly incredible plot – marry Faye (you have to overcome the resistance of her straight-laced sister), get her money and then divorce her! When she is discovered murdered, the rest of the film is devoted to find the guilty one – we even think it might be Andrews, another suitor, or even Anne Revere, who thoroughly disapproves of Darnell. It turns out to be Bickford, who is arrested at the end, and a remorseful and wiser Andrew throws in his lot with his wife, Faye – he won’t divorce her after all! Film is generally well-acted, Darnell is deliciously sultry and hard-to-get, and Andrews has an easy laconic charm. Several incredible situations: Andrews’ plot to marry Faye for her money and then divorce her; Faye’s willingness to go along with him despite his ill treatment of her, and even Revere’s weak objections, which are hard to swallow after her strong initial dislike of Andrews; the resolution, which has a basic heel living happily ever after with the girl next door. Quite pleasurable is Preminger’s objective (we don’t get inside the heads of the characters) and elegant camerawork. Scenes are often shot in two shots, with the camera moving modestly to frame and reframe in smooth and soothing way. Some shadowed cinematography, but not many signs of film noir.

The Fallen Idol 1948 Carol Reed (writer Graham Greene) (Britain) 4.0 Ralph Richardson in strong performance as Baines, an “ordinary man” who is a butler in as larger London embassy; Michèle Morgan as pretty, simple embassy typist that Baines falls in love with; Sonia Dresdel as the autocratic, unhappy, Mrs.,-Danvers-like housekeeper and wife of Baines; Bobby Henrey as Phile, an innocent, brutally honest, and inquisitive child interacting with the world of adults (working with him during the filming was however an ordeal). Fascinating and impeccably executed film about a child trying to cope with an adult world. Most of the film takes place in an elegantly spacious mansion in London – a huge foyer, a sweeping staircase, a lot of banisters, potted plants, and large French windows all around through which pours bright light. The film is shot from the child’s point of view: we often see him through the posts of the railings; the camera is always with him, we hear and see the same things he does, and we are constantly comparing his perceptions and understandings with our own adult ones. The first half of the film establishes the characters and their relationships – particularly Baines’ adulterous one with Morgan –, Mrs. Baines unsavory nature, and Phile’s uncomprehending knowledge of Baines’ situation. With what we suspect are tall stories, Baines enchants the boy, who is deprived of his parents who are often away from the embassy. The second half deals with the rage of the wife, her accidental death, and the police investigation. The patterns of the narrative are confusing until one realizes that the true subject of the film is the difficulty of communication and understanding between adults and children. The lack of emotional consistency in the child’s performance contributes to the viewer’s impression that he does not understand what he is experiencing. He tries to keep the secrets valuable to his hero, but he rarely succeeds and in revealing them (e.g., using the word “they” when describing what Baines had been doing supposedly alone) he often makes things worse for his hero. He contributes to the roundelay of confusion surrounding the investigation of Mrs. Baines’ death. Since Phile erroneously believes that Baines pushed his wife down the stairs, he decides to lie again to protect Baines, but again the lie (again the use of “they”) temporarily incriminates him. The police are able to exculpate Baines through their own efforts, and even then Phile has an observation – a true although irrelevant one – which the police won’t listen to, since they are already convinced that he does not tell the truth. The film just comes to an end with the return of Phile’s mother and father, and all of them still living with Baines; the incomprehension between the boy and the adult world lives on; one wonders whether he and the boy will continue to be such good friends. The pleasure of the film is largely in its impeccable classical style – smooth, expressive editing, expressive choice of mise-en-scène, a general impression of cinematographic elegance. The film is sometimes puzzling, but pleasurable and rewarding upon reflection.

Die Fälscher 2006 Stefan Ruzowitzky (Germany) 3.0 Karl Markovics with plain rather ravaged face plays a German Jewish counterfeiter, Sally Sorowitsch, in prison for his activities; August Diehl as Adolf Burger, the character who wrote the book upon which the film is based, an idealist who plays against the opportunism of Sorowitsch; David Striesow as German SS officer in charge of the counterfeiting operation. Interesting and sometimes moving film about a German Nazi counterfeiting operation, in which the Germans "employed" Jewish prisoners in concentration camps to counterfeit British and American currency in an attempt to undermine the Allied war effort; they have some success with the British pound, but the war is over before they make much progress on the dollar; the pound forgery was so good that it was never discovered by the British authorities. The film is shown in flashback, starting with Sally disconsolately gambling in postwar Monte Carlo with apparently forged money (tango music is used to show his hedonistic proclivities); most of the film takes place in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. The members of the counterfeiting team were treated much better than the regular Jewish prisoners -- they even had mattresses and sheets on their beds, and Striesow treats them decently, even giving them a ping pong table for recreation. The main issue is moral: what is the duty of the Jewish prisoners – Are they morally allowed to cooperate with the Nazi authorities and risk being contributors to the destruction of the Allied economies (Sally)? Or must they resist the authorities and sabotage the project at the risk of their own lives (Burger). They end up cooperating on the pound project, but then sabotaging the dollar project (although it would have made little difference since the dollar could not have been ready until the last months of the war). In the course of the film Sally evolves from his egotistical indifference to everyone and everything around him to at least a sense of solidarity with his fellow prisoners; e.g., he always refused to compromise any prisoner to the authorities. Vivid portrayal of brutal SS behavior toward the Jewish prisoners.

Familia rodante 2004 Argentina: Pablo Trapero 2.5 Features a host of non-professional actors: the grandmother is played by Tablero’s own grandmother. ‘Typical’Argentine film – obviously low budget (no professional actors, no special effects, no sets, etc.) about a working class family living in the suburbs of Buenos Aires that decides to travel all the way to Missiones – in sight of Brazil – to attend a wedding. Twelve very disparate people – the elderly grandmother, a collection of daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, one of whom in dreadlocks has a small baby – pile into an over-the-hill homemade camper on a 1958 Chevy chassis (the film was made in 2004) to drive the 800 miles or so. At first they are on pretty modern-looking paved highways, but when they get into Corrientes and Misiones, they find themselves on almost impassible dirt tracks. In the process they pass hundreds of fearsome-looking trucks (no wonder the death toll on Argentine roads is so high!), and once deep into the provinces every man appears to ride a horse; they also visit a small town which was allegedly the birthplace of San Martin. The film kind of follows the little intra-family dramas – the wife of the driver of the camper (known as ‘Fatso’) almost has sex with her old boyfriend; one teenage boy is obsessed with sex and he makes out heavy with his two adolescent cousins; Fatso gets into a blustery, but fairly harmless, fight with the n’er-do-well boyfriend of his daughter; the camper breaks down and Fatso has to find a gasket head in a nearby village for repairs; one of the daughters has a terrible toothache – hence the trip to the San Martin village to visit the dentist (who seems competent enough – he pulls out the tooth). The portrait of the family is not particularly affectionate: there is a lot of bickering and fighting, sex experimentation with one’s cousins, with few demonstrations of solidarity or affection aside from the care of the baby. The film ends with a very long shot held on the face of Grandma, who says not a word and stares toward the Brazilian horizon; she is perhaps above the bickering (although she has done a fair amount of it herself), or perhaps she is just too old to do anything about it. The style is very ‘realist’ – a lot of handheld camera shots, hyper close-ups that make it sometimes difficult to know what is happening, an episodic plot structure, a tendency never to finish the current vignette, but just o cut to another with perhaps not returning to resolve the little story.



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