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The Last Duel Review: Jodie Comer’s Knockout Performance Brings Nuance To Ben Affleck And Matt Damon’s Stiff Swordplay
It’s a Ridley Scott medieval epic deeply exploring the harsh and age-old truths of a woman caught in the middle of a man’s world.
Antlers Review: A Well Made Horror Movie That Doesn’t Stick The Landing
Given its promise and everything it does right, Antlers winds up being a frustrating experience.
Halloween Kills Review: Michael Myers’ Shockingly Horrific Rampage Continues With A Smart Sequel
[I]t finds fantastic ways to tie into the canon events that played out on Halloween in 1978, but does so without repeating itself, and while also splicing in some well implemented commentary that succeeds in heightening the story and the horror.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review: The Anticipated Sequel Captures The Spirit Of The Original But Really Belongs To McKenna Grace
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a sometimes rousing, sometimes amusing, and sometimes unbalanced continuation of a beloved franchise that Hollywood doesn’t want to see die.
Ron’s Gone Wrong Review: A Sweet Yet Familiar Boy-Meets-Robot Tale
Its sweetness and well-intentioned message prevails during its viewing, but otherwise it’s just an OK and rather forgettable animated film.
Netflix's The Harder They Fall Review: A Badass And Bloody Western That Further Proves The Star Power Of Jonathan Majors
[W]alking away from the movie you just can’t help but be utterly impressed by the work from Jonathan Majors and LaKeith Stanfield
Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review: The Tom Hardy Sequel Teaches How Not To Hurdle An Extremely Low Bar
Rather than really make an effort to change things, the production clearly saw the previous movie’s success as validation of its bad choices...
No Time To Die Review: Daniel Craig’s James Bond Finale Is A Perfect Ending To An Unprecedented 007 Run
Put your fears to rest, because Daniel Craig and Cary Joji Fukunaga make their shot count...
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye Review: Jessica Chastain’s Performance Is A Guiding Light In A Sinfully Uneven Biopic
[F]eels like a quick Cliff's Notes version of what really happened, with a blazing fast pace robbing the movie of any semblance of impact
Amazon’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Review: A Warm And Colorful Musical That Hits At Your Heart
The lack of novelty is more than made up for by the energy that Max Harwood and Richard E. Grant bring to the movie,
- Anthony Nash

Hulu’s upcoming limited series about Mike Tyson, Iron Mike, has […]

The post Harvey Keitel, Laura Harrier, & More Join Cast of Hulu’s Mike Tyson Series appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

After previously confirming his role as Morpheus through an Instagram […]

The post The Matrix Resurrections: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says His Morpheus Is a Different Iteration appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

In a recent interview with Variety, award-winning actor Oscar Isaac […]

The post Moon Knight: Oscar Isaac on the ‘Most Challenging Role’ of His Career appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash

The first-look teaser for the upcoming competition series Harry Potter: […]

The post Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses Gets First-Look Teaser appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Courtney Ehrenhofler
Spooky Who: 11 Modern Doctor Who Episodes to Watch for Halloween

It’s October! Obviously, that means we need to make a […]

The post Spooky Who: 11 Modern Doctor Who Episodes to Watch for Halloween appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash
One Piece Releases New Visual to Celebrate Upcoming 1000th Episode

With just five episodes remaining until the 1,000th episode of […]

The post One Piece Releases New Visual to Celebrate Upcoming 1000th Episode appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz
The Batman Posters Unveil New Look at Caped Crusader & The Riddler

Ahead of tomorrow’s DC FanDome 2021, Warner Bros. Pictures continues […]

The post The Batman Posters Unveil New Look at Caped Crusader & The Riddler appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash

The HBO television adaptation of The Last of Us is […]

The post The Last of Us BTS Videos Show Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey Dancing on Set appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

Netflix has released the official trailer for the upcoming fifth […]

The post Netflix’s Big Mouth Season 5 Trailer Teases November Return appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disney+ have announced the upcoming […]

The post Olaf Presents Trailer: Fan-Favorite Snowman to Recap Disney Classics in New Disney+ Shorts appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

A Quiet Place star Millicent Simmonds and two-time Golden Globe […]

The post Millicent Simmonds & Rachel Brosnahan to Star in Helen Keller Biopic appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

Paramount+ has dropped a brand new Mayor of Kingstown trailer […]

The post Mayor of Kingstown Trailer: Jeremy Renner Leads Crime Thriller Drama appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

As production continues on the Love & Death miniseries in […]

The post Love & Death Photos: Elizabeth Olsen is Axe-Killer Candy Montgomery appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Maggie Dela Paz

During a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Oscar nominees […]

The post Eternals Clip Teases First Showdown Against The Deviants appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Tyler Treese

The Injustice animated film is out October 19 on digital, 4K, […]

The post Injustice Interview: Anson Mount on Putting His Own Spin on Batman appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Jeff Ames

The animated film is currently playing in theaters and on demand.

The post Exclusive: Two Tracks from Mychael and Jeff Danna’s The Addams Family 2 Score appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash

The first official trailer for Apex, a futuristic action-thriller starring […]

The post Futuristic Thriller Apex Starring Bruce Willis Gets First Trailer appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash

Disney’s mobile game Disney: Twisted-Wonderland is getting an official anime […]

The post Disney: Twisted-Wonderland Anime Adaptation in Development appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Michael Leri

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are quickly approaching […]

The post Report: Dragon Age 4 Only Planned for Current-Gen Consoles & PC appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Anthony Nash

Call of Duty: Vanguard will feature a franchise-first crossover when […]

The post Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies Trailer Highlights Next Chapter in Dark Aether Story appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

- Mark Birrell
The 10 Best James Bond Movies (According To Metacritic)
What are the top 10 James Bond movies of all time? Over the franchise's long history, certain films have stood out in the eyes of critics as the best.
- Ben Sherlock
Retro-Cast: Casting The Hateful Eight In The 1980s | ScreenRant
If Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight was made back in the '80s, its gruff antiheroes might have been played by Sissy Spacek and Charles Bronson.
- Cade Onder
Call of Duty Anti-Cheat Leak Doesn't Seem To Bother Activision
Call of Duty's upcoming and highly anticipated anti-cheat system, Ricochet, has been obtained by cheat makers - but Activision doesn't seem concerned.
- Sabrina Costabile
BIP: Wells Adams & Sarah Hyland Waited Three Months To Be Intimate
Sarah Hylandadmitted that she and BIP bartender Wells Adams waited three months before they became intimate. She medically was not allowed to.
- Alisha Grauso
Who Is Legacies' Finch? Werewolf Origin Story & Who Plays Her
Legacies season 4 promises a greater role for Finch and her relationship with Josie. Here's who plays Finch and her werewolf background explained.
- Emma Fischer
90 Day Fiancé: Michael Jessen Called Out For Odd Post Amid Juliana Split
Michael Jessen confirmed his split to Juliana Custodio in a lengthy message, but his latest post is rubbing 90 Day Fiancé fans the wrong way.
- Madeline Lylo
RHOBH: Erika Jayne Reportedly Won’t Watch Reunion Episodes
Everyone's been talking about the highly anticipated four-part RHOBH season 11 reunion. But controversial star Erika Jayne won't be tuning in.
- Brennan Klein
Eternals’ Secret Villain Voice Actor Teased By Producer
Eternals producer Nate Moore teases a "cool" actor playing the voice of Kro, without confirming the longstanding rumor that it will be Dan Stevens.
- Lorianne Palinkas
Bachelor In Paradise: Joe & Serena Reveal Each Other’s Odd Habits
Newly engaged Bachelor In Paradise stars Joe Amabile and Serena Pitt reveal each other's odd habits as they get to know each other in the real world.
- Sabrina Costabile
Southern Charm: Madison Thinks Ex Austen Is Happy For Her Engagement
Madison LeCroy believes her ex and Southern Charm costar Austen Kroll, is happy for her engagement news. She made the announcement on Thursday.
- Bernardo Sim
Big Brother 23: Hannah Shares Funny Picture Between Derek X. & Claire
Big Brother 23 star Hannah Chaddha shares a hilarious picture standing between Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss. Check out Hannah's new Instagram photo.
- Rachel Ulatowski
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous Season 4 Sets December Release Date
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous season 4 is set to premiere on Netflix on December 3rd and will see the survival story continue on a new island.
- Ana Dumaraog
Avengers: Endgame Co-Director Comments On Reported MCU Return
Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo comments on reports that he and his brother, Anthony Russo, are in talks to direct another MCU project.
- Samed Kadirogullari
Dying Light Adds New Map & Fire Wand In Hellraid Update
Dying Light's Hellraid DLC has received a brand-new third content update, introducing a new map section, location, weapon, and magical skill.
- TC Phillips
Tim Burton Turned Down Directing The 1991 Addams Family Movie
The Addams Family director Barry Sonnenfeld admits before he landed the gig on the 1991 film, producers approached Tim Burton but he turned it down.
- Nathan Graham-Lowery
Doctor Who: Flux Trailer Features Weeping Angels, Sontarans & More
The much-anticipated trailer for Doctor Who: Flux finally releases, teasing battles between the Thirteenth Doctor and new and returning foes.
- Jeff Robertson
New Hellboy Miniseries Coming From Dark Horse in 2022
A new four-issue miniseries set in the world of Hellboy will explore the mysterious history of the Hyperborean Sword and the people who handled it.
- Josh Plainse
How Marvel Stopped Richard Madden Being Too Like Superman In The Eternals
Eternals producer Nate Moore explains how Marvel prevented Richard Madden’s Ikaris from being too much like DC’s Superman with so many shared powers.
- Ryan Northrup
Harry Potter Tournament of Houses Trailer Gives First Look At Quiz Show
The first trailer for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses gives fans a first look at the fan quiz show hosted by Helen Mirren.
- Jane Shin Agler
Epic Games Store Giving Free $10 Coupon For Email Subscription
The Epic Games Store is currently giving out a free Epic Coupon worth $10 USD to those who sign up for its emails and wishlist alerts.
- Hannah Strong
Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Tom Hardy returns as the reporter with an extraterrestrial monkey on his back in Andy Serkis’ zany comic book sequel.

The post Venom: Let There Be Carnage appeared first on Little White Lies.

- David Jenkins
ear for eye

debbie tucker green adapts her own stage play to create a radical study of racial discourse in contemporary society.

The post ear for eye appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Oumar Saleh
In defence of Halloween: Resurrection

In breaking from franchise tradition, this maligned 2002 slasher foreshadowed the rise of live streaming and viral fame.

The post In defence of Halloween: Resurrection appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Leila Latif
Lashana Lynch: ‘A lot of nations need to own up to their history’

The British star of ear for eye on why the conversation around race needs to extend beyond the Black community.

The post Lashana Lynch: ‘A lot of nations need to own up to their history’ appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Charles Bramesco
The Beatles make one last record in the Get Back documentary trailer

Peter Jackson's film unlocks a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

The post The Beatles make one last record in the Get Back documentary trailer appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Michael Leader
The Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes directs this definitive chronicle of the fabled avant-garde rock group, taking in everything from doo wop to pop art.

The post The Velvet Underground appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Charles Bramesco
Ghostface has a new game for a new generation in the Scream trailer

In the first installment of the franchise sans Wes Craven, the masked killer returns to prey on another round of teens.

The post Ghostface has a new game for a new generation in the Scream trailer appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Adam Woodward
Halloween Kills

Michael Myers runs amok once more in director David Gordon Green’s strangely lacklustre slasher sequel.

The post Halloween Kills appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Rafaela Sales Ross
The Last Duel

Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer star in Ridley Scott’s blunt-edged tale of masculinity and betrayal in the 14th century.

The post The Last Duel appeared first on Little White Lies.

- Anton Bitel
Discover the monstrous spectacle of this meta exploitation movie

Marco Ferreri’s controversial The Ape Woman is a deeply cynical portrayal of masculinity bestialised and femininity reified.

The post Discover the monstrous spectacle of this meta exploitation movie appeared first on Little White Lies.

Hugh Jackman Thanks The Fans And (Of Course) Responded To Ryan Reynolds’ Birthday Gift
Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds can't stop, won't stop talking about one another via social media, this time relating to Jackman's recent birthday.
Sylvester Stallone Has Wrapped On Expendables 4, See How He Celebrated
Sylvester Stallone shares he is finished filming Expendables just two weeks after beginning production alongside Jason Statham, Megan Fox and 50 Cent.
Indiana Jones 5 Director James Mangold Has Answered A Very ‘Important’ Question About Harrison Ford’s Indy
Indiana Jones 5 director James Mangold has answered a question from a fan about Indiana jones and it's very 'important'.
The Dark Knight’s Michael Caine Reveals Why He's Retiring From Acting
Michael Caine recently explained how health issues, his writing and more factored into his decision to retire from acting.
Javier Bardem Talks Dune And Why His Role Reminds Him Of One Fan-Favorite LOTR Character
Javier Bardem's role as Stilgar in Dune reminds him of a certain LOTR character.
A Hilarious Continuity Error Gets Pointed Out In One Of Daniel Craig’s James Bond Films, And He Reacts
Over a decade after Quantum of Solace's release, the scene where an extra is sweeping up air has been acknowledged by Daniel Craig.
SCAD Savannah Film Festival: A Launchpad For Students, And For Oscars
The Savannah College of Art and Design prepares the best and brightest artists for careers in their chosen industries. And the SCAD Savannah Film Festival brings Hollywood right to their classroom.
The Matrix Resurrections’ Yahya Abdul-Mateen II On Playing Morpheus After Laurence Fishburne
The Matrix Resurrections is fast approaching, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II reflected on taking on the mantle of Morpheus.
The Blair Witch Project Ending: Who Actually Did The Killing?
We all know the ending of The Blair Witch Project, but who actually did the killing?
Is Another Jurassic Park OG Returning For Dominion?
Jurassic World: Dominion will feature a number of original cast members, but there are still are questions.
- Brian Tallerico
Home Entertainment Guide: October 2021

Note: There will be a special horror-themed edition of the guide next week that focuses on the many recent genre Blu-ray releases, including "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions," "Old," "The Forever Purge," and 4K editions of "Halloween," "Misery," and "The Silence of the Lambs."

10 NEW TO NETFLIX

"As Good as It Gets""Desperado""Ghost""Gladiator""Leon""Raw""Spy Kids""Step Brothers""Titanic""Zodiac"

10 NEW TO HBO MAX

"12 Monkeys""Black Hawk Down""Contact""Emma.""The Invisible Man""Kill Bill""Orphan""The Outsiders""Troy""Up in the Air"

11 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"Breakdown"

Jonathan Mostow's 1997 thriller is the latest addition to the Paramount Presents line of Blu-rays, an increasingly fascinating catalog of unexpected special editions, complete with new special features and remastered video. I liked this movie when it was released, and it's even better than I remembered, a great reminder of how perfectly everyman that Kurt Russell can be in the right material. This is basically a Hitchcock riff in that Russell plays the ordinary guy thrown into an extraordinary situation when his wife disappears on a road trip. He sells every intense moment in a film that's refreshingly lean, keeping its foot on the pedal from beginning to end.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesNEW 4K REMASTER APPROVED BY DIRECTOR JONATHAN MOSTOWNEW Audio Commentary By Director Jonathan Mostow and Kurt RussellNEW Filmmaker Focus: Director Jonathan Mostow on BreakdownNEW Victory Is Hers - Kathleen Quinlan on BreakdownNEW A Brilliant Partnership - Martha De Laurentiis on BreakdownNEW Alternate OpeningNEW Alternate Opening With Commentary By Director Jonathan MostowNEW Isolated ScoreTheatrical TrailersCollectible packaging featuring a foldout image of the film's theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie momentsOptional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

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"Cruella"

Given how much I loathe most of the recent live-action versions of Disney classics, I was kind of dreading Craig Gillespie's "Cruella." It may be a matter of low expectations, but this movie worked for me, even if it's best asset is its remarkable design. The costume work here by Jenny Beavan is stunning, keeping the film popping visually over its admittedly too long runtime. (She's been Oscar nominated ten times already and should expect an 11th here.) The art direction and costume design provide a gorgeous stage and Emma Thompson and Emma Stone come to life in this meticulously crafted world, one that looks particularly fantastic in its 4K edition. Yes, it's on Disney+, but the physical edition includes featurettes, interviews, and deleted scenes that you can't get with streaming alone. 

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesDeleted ScenesBloopersBehind-the-Scenes FeaturettesCast InterviewsFun FactsAND MORE...

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"F9: The Fast Saga"

How can we make this saga even MORE about family? Justin Lin returns to one of the biggest franchises in the world and he brings Dom Toretto's brother along with him, played by John Cena. Swapping Dwayne Johnson for Cena isn't exactly an even trade and there's a sense that the "the same but bigger" model of this franchise is, sorry, running out of gas. However, this is still a fun blockbuster in its big set pieces, and we've been so bereft of action blockbusters in the last couple years that it may be all you need. And they actually go to space!

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesDOLBY ATMOS AUDIO TRACKGAG REELF9: ALL IN: The Fast family invites you to be part of the crew as they give you an intimate look at how F9 propels this epic franchise to even greater heights. This bonus feature, with more than 46 minutes of content, includes returning characters, new cast members, huge stunts, big surprises, and so much more.PRACTICALLY FAST: When it comes to stunts, it seems each film in The Fast Saga outdoes the last. In this piece, we examine how Justin Lin and his team go to great lengths to shoot as many stunts as they can in-camera and practically, giving the film an authenticity that cannot be achieved solely through visual effects or CGI.SHIFTING PRIORITIES: We first met many of these characters when The Fast and the Furious was released in 2001. In the 20+ years since, not only have the characters themselves grown and evolved, but so have the actors that portray them. Art often imitates life, and we look at how that's particularly true in F9.JUSTICE FOR HAN: Han is back! Sung Kang and Justin Lin discuss the genesis for the return of this beloved character, while the cast reveals how much it means to them to have Kang back along for the ride.A DAY ON SET WITH JUSTIN LIN: The job of a director on any movie production is huge. The job of a director on a production the scale of F9 is immeasurable. Spend a day with Justin Lin and see just how demanding it is to navigate a production day when you're the one with all the answers.JOHN CENA: SUPERCAR SUPERFAN: John Cena is a real-life car expert, and no franchise does cars like Fast. Watch John jump from exotic car to exotic car like a kid in a candy store, giving you a true fan's look at some of the rarest and most expensive automobiles in the world.FEATURE COMMENTARY (THEATRICAL AND DIRECTOR'S CUT) WITH PRODUCER/CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR JUSTIN LINOptional English, French Canadian and Latin American Spanish subtitles for the main feature

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"Free Guy"

Shawn Levy directed this surprisingly strong hit for Fox/Disney earlier this year, proof that Ryan Reynolds is one of the more reliable stars out there. He delivers in what is basically a blend between "The LEGO Movie" and "Ready Player One" about an NPC in a video game world who breaks from his pattern. Jodie Comer steals the movie as one of the creators of this world, which has been stolen from her by profit-crazed mogul (Taika Waititi). For most of the film's target audience of pre-teens, the non-stop references and cameos from stars of the YouTube Era keep the film entertaining, although their parents might fight it all a bit overwhelming.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesDeleted and Extended ScenesGuy and Buddy Hit the BeachHot Nuts Gets BlownNPC Rally (Extended)Gag ReelDude vs. Guy – Join Ryan Reynolds, director Shawn Levy and the creative and stunt teams as they reveal the innovative process of creating "Free Guy"'s ultimate showdown between Guy and the wildly amped-up, spray-tanned, frosted-tipped version of himself known as Dude.Creating Molotovgirl – Jodie Comer transforms from a brilliant programmer to her fierce avatar in "Free Guy." Watch as the award-winning action star and filmmakers deconstruct the conceptualization, evolution and execution of bringing Molotovgirl to life.It's Taika's World – "Free Guy"'s outrageous action may exist in a virtual world, but Taika Waititi makes the real world just as crazy with the over-the-top Antwan. See him at work in this entertaining showcase of a genuinely talented and hilarious performer.Welcome to Free City – Delve into the reality-skewing universe that is Free City, as revealed by director Shawn Levy, the cast, and its inventive creative teams. Find out how they transformed a real metropolis into a virtual playground where anything is possible.Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles for the main feature

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"The Green Knight"

David Lowery's long-delayed adaptation of the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was finally released in July to universal acclaim, including a four-star review by yours truly. While interested viewers had to wait forever from its initial release date to finally getting to see it, the wait from theaters to Blu-ray has been much smaller, as it's already out physical and digital media. A gorgeous rumination on masculinity and courage, Lowery's dreamlike vision casts Dev Patel as Gawain, a nephew to King Arthur, who sets out on a journey to face his destiny. Captivating in ways that modern American filmmakers are rarely allowed to be these days, this stands among the best films of the year. 

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesBoldest of Blood and Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight - FeaturettePractitioners of Magic: Visual EffectsIlluminating Technique: Title DesignTheatrical TrailerOptional English SDH and Spanish subtitles for the main feature

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"High Sierra" (Criterion)

Movies wouldn't be the same without Raoul Walsh's 1941 noir flick about an ex-con on a job gone wrong in the Sierra Nevada. Released early that year, it made Humphrey Bogart a viable star, and we all know what would happen next there. It also proved the skill set of writer John Huston, who would team up with his new star later that same year and make a little movie called "The Maltese Falcon." All of the ingredients for their future fame and influence are here, including Bogey's unique blend of irascible charm and Huston's gift with plotting. There's more fat on the bone than in their best works, but the Criterion release is a beauty for classic movies fans, and even includes Walsh's 1949 Western remake of his own material, "Colorado Territory," in its entirety.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesNew, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-rayColorado Territory, director Raoul Walsh’s 1949 western remake of High SierraNew conversation on Walsh between film programmer Dave Kehr and critic Farran Smith NehmeThe True Adventures of Raoul Walsh, a 2019 documentary by Marilyn Ann MossCurtains for Roy Earle, a 2003 featurette on the making of High SierraBogart: Here’s Looking at You, Kid, a 1997 documentary aired on The South Bank ShowNew interview with film and media historian Miriam J. Petty about actor Willie BestNew video essay featuring excerpts from a 1976 American Film Institute interview with novelist and screenwriter W. R. BurnettRadio adaptation of High Sierra from 1944TrailersEnglish subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearingPLUS: An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith

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"Inglourious Basterds" (4K)

The last Quentin Tarantino movie that people seem able to agree on has only recently been released on 4K Blu-ray, perhaps allowing for a reconsideration or just a chance for collectors to finally add to their shelf. The richness of Robert Richardson's cinematography here has always felt like one of its most underrated aspects, and it looks better than ever on 4K. It's almost hard to believe that it's already been 12 years since the world was introduced to Hans Landa, and you really should revisit this modern classic if you haven't done so in the last decade.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesExtended & Alternate ScenesRoundtable Discussion with Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Elvis MitchellThe New York Times TalkNation's Pride – Original ShortThe Making of Nation's PrideThe Original Inglourious BasterdsA Conversation with Rod Taylor

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"Legend" (Arrow)

Who would have guessed that one of the best special edition releases of 2021 would be for Ridley Scott's largely derided "Legend"? When it came out, heavily mangled from its director's original intent, critics hated it. Gene Siskel went as far as to call it one of the worst films of the year. I always disagreed with that sentiment, considering Scott's craft in creating his own fantasy universe to make for, at the very least, a noble misfire. However, the director's cut here, which runs over 20 minutes longer, takes even that kind of assessment away and places this film closer to the top tier of Scott's work. The differences between the three cuts in existence (detailed in a great special feature here) are fascinating, largely because they seem so misguided. Beyond that, the transfers here are GORGEOUS, some of the best of the year, adding detail and depth without over-polishing the film. It's the kind of great Arrow box set that you can spend an entire day with.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesDISC ONE: US THEATRICAL CUTNew 2K restoration of the US Theatrical Cut from original materials including a 4K scan of the original negativeNew commentary by Paul M. Sammon author of Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies2002 Reconstructed isolated score by Tangerine DreamIsolated music and effects trackA Fairytale in Pinewood, new featurette interviewing grip David Cadwalladr, costume designer Charles Knode, co-star Annabelle Lanyon, camera operator Peter MacDonald, set decorator Ann Mollo and draftsman John RalphIncarnations of a Legend, comparison featurette written and narrated by critic Travis CrawfordThe Directors: Ridley Scott, 2003 documentary where the director discusses his career, including Legend"Is Your Love Strong Enough?" music video by Bryan FerryDISC TWO: DIRECTOR'S CUTCommentary by Ridley ScottCreating A Myth: Memories of Legend, a 2002 documentary with interviews with Ridley Scott, William Hjortsberg, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, Rob Bottin and othersOriginal promotional featuretteAlternate 'Four Goblins' opening and 'The Fairie Dance' deleted sceneStoryboard galleries for three deleted scenesTwo drafts of William Hjortsberg's screenplayAlternate footage from the overseas release plus textless footageTrailers and TV spotsStill galleries

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"Ratcatcher" (Criterion)

Lynne Ramsay should make more movies. The director hasn't released a new one since the stunning "You Were Never Really Here," and has only made four movies in her 20+ years of work. Her debut came in this 1999 drama that announced a major new talent, even winning Ramsay the Silver Hugo for Best Director at the Chicago International Film Festival. A bleak and yet truthful study of poverty in Glasgow, it's a tough watch but a rewarding reminder of the strength of filmmakers as committed as Ramsay. She never compromises or apologizes as her cinematic visions feel completely her own and no one else's. I just wish there were more of them. Note: This is one of those awesome Criterion releases that includes early short films by its auteur, three of them presented here.

Buy it here 

Special FeaturesOn the Blu-ray: New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Lynne Ramsay and cinematographer Alwin Küchler, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrackOn the DVD: Digital transfer, enhanced for 16x9 televisionsNew interview with Ramsay from 2021 (Blu-ray only)Audio interview from 2020 with Küchler (Blu-ray only)Three award-winning short films by Ramsay: Small Deaths (1995), Kill the Day (1996), and Gasman (1997)Interview with Ramsay from 2002Stills gallery (DVD only)Trailer (Blu-ray only)English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearingPLUS: Essays by film critic Girish Shambu and filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Blu-ray only)

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"Unbreakable" (4K)

The increasing market for 4K Blu-rays keeps leading to more and more catalog releases of films that have been available on physical media for years. In some cases, with companies like Arrow, this means new transfers or restorations. In most cases, it just means a technical upgrade, like going from cassette tape to CD. I was a little surprised that M. Night Shyamalan's beloved third film hadn't been on 4K until this recently as it feels to me like the film that has grown the most in esteem over the years. Sure, the releases of "Split" and "Glass" that now make this the first film in a franchise have added to that legacy, but the story of a man who can't be hurt going up against one who is extremely fragile has had a passionate fan base for decades. It's one of Shyamalan's smartest films in terms of plotting and visual language. And it's a great addition to the 4K universe. Buy it here 

Special FeaturesBehind the ScenesComic Books and SuperheroesNight's First Fight SequenceDeleted ScenesThe Train Station Sequence: Storyboards and Final Scene

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"Zola"

The first (and probably last) film based on a Twitter thread took Sundance by storm in January 2020, becoming one of the most buzzed movies to come out of that year's fest. Sadly, the buzz felt like it died down a bit as A24 held it for a year-and-a-half due to the pandemic. This is the kind of project that will find an audience at home either on Blu-ray or streaming services (it would just explode on Netflix, guaranteed). Taylour Paige plays Zola, a stripper who travels to Florida with a new friend, played with ferocious fearlessness by Riley Keough. Smart, quick, and hysterical, it's a cult movie waiting to happen. 

Buy it here

Special FeaturesAudio Commentary with Writer-Director Janicza Bravo and Editor Joi McMillon"Y'all Wanna Hear a Story: Making Zola" FeaturetteDeleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary

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- Peter Sobczynski
CIFF 2021: Oscar Micheaux—The Superhero of Black Cinema, Punch 9 for Harold Washington, Love Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter

Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and celebrity chef Charlie Trotter have three things in common. For one, they all hail from the great state of Illinois. For another, all three would go on to become genuine trailblazers in their respective fields of expertise. Finally, each one is the subject of a documentary playing at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. They each tell fascinating stories of individuals whose significance transcends ordinary borders.

Of the three, the name that might not register immediately to much of the general public is Micheaux’s but as Francesco Zippel’s “Oscar Micheaux—The Superhero of Black Filmmaking” clearly demonstrates, he was a man with a life and career so astonishing that not only is it eminently worthy of documentary treatment but if someone tried to pitch it as a screenplay, there's a very good chance it might get rejected on the basis that his story was simply too good to be believable. Born in the town of Metropolis in 1884, Micheaux grew up on a farm and eventually made his way to Chicago, where he secured a job on the railroads as a Pullman porter, a position that offered him a decent salary and the chance to travel and interact with people he might not have encountered otherwise. He then used his savings to purchase some land in South Dakota that he worked as a homesteader. He took his experiences as a homesteader and turned them into a series of novels that he published and sold himself to great success. His third novel, The Homesteader (1918), would attract the attention of a film producer, but when he was unable to secure the amount of control over his material that he wanted, Micheaux turned it down and elected to make the film himself, using connections that he made as a porter and sales of shares from the production company he founded to finance it. This would kick off a filmmaking career that would consist of more than 40 films (including “Within Our Gates” [1920], a blistering riposte to “The Birth of a Nation,” and “Body and Soul” [1925], which marked the screen debut of Paul Robeson and which would be named to the National Film Registry in 2019) stretching until a couple of years before his passing in 1951 and make him, in the words of film scholar Jacqueline Stewart, “the most important black filmmaker who ever lived.”

Stewart is one of a number of contemporary voices on hand attesting to the importance of Micheaux and his work, ranging from academics to the late filmmakers John Singleton, Haskell Wexler and Melvin van Peebles, alongside archival materials and clips from a number of his surviving films. Granted, some of these clips may come across as a little stilted and awkward (especially the ones made after the shift from silent to talkies made it harder to overlook questionable acting), but when you consider that he was making these far outside the Hollywood system on budgets that could charitably be called shoestring, they do evoke a certain fascination. Film critic J. Hoberman once wrote a piece comparing Micheaux to Ed Wood and while I would disagree with that assessment, they did both demonstrate a burning desire to create cinema that could be detected despite the threadbare trappings of their respective works. More importantly, Micheaux’s work also demonstrated a strong social conscience that could not be denied—even a seemingly innocuous courtroom drama like “Murder in Harlem” (1935) was inspired by the infamous 1913 trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan, and a film like “Body and Soul” evokes a considerable amount of power to this day. Although never quite as groundbreaking as the works of Micheaux himself, Zippel’s film is nevertheless a fascinating reminder of a largely unsung part of American cinema history and should leave most viewers yearning to explore his work for themselves.

The name of Harold Washington, on the other hand, continues to have resonance with many people. And as is revealed in Joe Winston’s “Punch 9 for Harold Washington,” there was a point when it seemed as if the eyes of the world were on Chicago in the early months of 1983 when the one-time congressman shocked the political establishment by becoming the city’s first African-American mayor, a notion that even at that comparatively late date was seemingly unthinkable to many people. As the film shows, he managed to accomplish this task by taking advantage of the upheaval left by the death of long-running Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1976, the inability of successor Michael Bilandic to successfully handle the 1979 Chicago Blizzard and the disappointment over his successor, Jane Byrne. The election turned into a bitter contest when the Republicans, not to mention a number of high-ranking Democrats, fearing their possible loss of power to the Washington coalition, backed Bernard Epton, who ran a campaign so ugly and racially charged that in one of the film’s present interviews, his son practically weeps at the memory of the sheer ugliness on display.

Rather than serve as a full documentary on Washington’s life, "Punch 9 for Harold Washington" devotes most of its first half to a recounting of that 1983 election and the remainder to his tumultuous term in office, which ended prematurely when he died of a massive heart attack a few months after his 1987 reelection and which saw him in constant conflict with the same establishment politicians from his own party that tried to prevent him from getting elected in the first place. As a kid with a keen interest in politics, I remember watching the drama surrounding that 1983 campaign with great fascination and watching “Punch 9” brought back those memories in a rush to such an extent that I could even remember seeing some of the events and news reports captured in the archival materials, such as the primary debate between Washington, Byrne and not-quite-heir-apparent Richard M. Daley that is often regarded as the turning point for his campaign, as they were first occurring. The film also takes pains to point out the parallels between the difficulties Washington faced in both his campaigns and term in office with those encountered by Barack Obama in the course of becoming the first African-American President (and indeed, there is even a photo shown featuring Washington working yet another room with Obama standing in the background and observing it all). Outside of the unfortunate absence of excerpts from “Council Wars,” the hilarious series of sketches written and performed by local comedian/radio host Aaron Freeman that brilliantly filtered the ongoing City Council skirmishes through the template of the “Star Wars” films, “Punch 9 for Harold Washington” is about as complete of a recounting of this significant chapter of Chicago history as one could hope to see, and one that you don’t have to be a political junkie to appreciate.

Washington’s legacy, even without the documentary, is pretty secure but with her film, “Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter,” director Rebecca Halpern finds herself in the position of making a case for someone who had clearly fallen from their position of prestige due to a combination of changing times and a legacy that would grow increasingly complicated in his later years, leading up to his untimely death in 2013. Using a treasure trove of archival photos, home movies and videos along with interviews with friends, colleagues and loved ones, the film follows Trotter from his earliest days working at places like the Ground Round and then moving on to slightly more prestigious positions in kitchens in California and Florida before returning home to Chicago in 1987 to open his own take on a gourmet restaurant. As he had never run his own kitchen prior to this, such a move raised the eyebrows of the culinary establishment, as did the then-novel concept of giving diners a 10-course “tasting menu” that changed regularly instead of focusing on one thing. However, from the moment Charlie Trotter’s opened, it was a huge success that had people coming in from all over the world to dine and would make Trotter so famous that he would even play himself in a cameo role in the hit Julia Roberts film “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

As the film reveals, however, the over-the-top version of himself that he played in that film (“I’m gonna kill your whole family if you don’t get this right!”) was only somewhat of an exaggeration—his workaholic nature and fiery temper would wreak havoc on friendships and a couple of marriages and when a number of his workers won a 2003 class-action suit settlement over unpaid back wages, he proved to be vindictive towards anyone who took the money. In the wake of the closing of his restaurant in 2012, he found his reputation tarnished through such strange and widely reported incidents as selling a counterfeit bottle of $45,000 wine and disrupting an after-school program being held at the former restaurant site. He also suffered from significant health issues—when he did pass away, the two things jumbled in the minds of many who felt that there was more to his death than was reported at the time.

“Love, Charlie” has two things working against it. For one, it is the latest in a long string of culinary-themed documentaries that have come down the pike in the last couple of years—so many that a number of the famous fellow chefs on display offering observations of Trotter’s work and influence have been the subjects of their own films—and viewers who do not already watch the Food Network on a 24-hour loop may find themselves growing a bit weary with that particular sub-genre at this point. For another, this may not be quite the right time to offer up anything remotely resembling a apologia for bad behavior from a rich and powerful man against his employees, especially when it involves them getting fairly paid for their efforts. Beyond that, however, the film does do a good job of showing how Trotter and his innovations helped to bridge the gap between the likes of Julia Child, who was a key influence in bringing gourmet cooking to the masses by taking the mystery out of it (which Trotter would famously build upon by offering a table for customers in the middle of his bustling kitchen, which became arguably the hottest table in Chicago since Booth One at the Pump Room) and the denizens currently inhabiting the Food Network. It also offers some much-needed illumination regarding that odd behavior in his later years and the seriousness of the medical problems that he tried to keep under wraps. For these reasons, “Love, Charlie” is worth a look—just make sure to leave time afterwards to get something to eat because you will almost certainly be a little peckish.

All three films will be showing via in-person and virtual screenings. For more information on these and other films screening at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival, including showtimes, locations, ticket availability and Virtual Cinema access, go to the festival’s website at www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call them at (312)332-3456.

- Ciara Wardlow
HBO’s Succession Season 3 Sees Kendall Secede, Series Succeed in Exceeding Expectations

Toxic, powerful families have been the stuff great dramas are made of since before Aristotle wrote Poetics. Never in human history has there been a shortage of stories to choose from exploring the lives of the outrageously wealthy and miserable, and in recent memory, the paradigm of excellence for this rich and storied lineage is without a doubt “Succession,” HBO’s accoladed drama series created by British scribe Jesse Armstrong (“Peep Show,” “The Thick of It”). Exploring the power struggles between octogenarian business magnate Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his children against the backdrop of company Waystar Royco, the multi-billion-dollar media and entertainment conglomerate he founded, the central conflict of "Succession" is deliciously unsolvable: the Roy kids all want Logan’s love and respect, but at most can have one of the two (and more often than not have neither). So long as they follow his orders like sheep, he will never truly respect them; if they take charge and go against him, he will respond with fire and brimstone.

That still hasn’t stopped the younger Roys—the now openly mutinous Kendall (Jeremy Strong), aggressively crass but shrewder-than-he-seems Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Sarah Snook), now fully setting aside her career as a political fixer in favor of throwing her hat in the Waystar Royco ring—from trying. Meanwhile, elder half-brother Connor (Alan Ruck), the only child from Logan’s first marriage and full-time cloudcuckoolander, continues to dance around the narrative periphery, nursing a presidential fantasy that feels tragically a lot more possible than it really should. 

“Succession” has been off the air for two long years, but by five minutes into the season three premiere you feel like you never left—partly because the new season picks up moments after where the previous ended, but mostly because it’s just as good as you remember it, if not better. It’s the sort of show that’s so impeccably character-driven in its writing that it ages like a fine wine, the more time these writers and impeccably cast performers have to spend diving into these characters, the more mesmerizing it becomes. It’s amazing how many scenes from the series—and the new season in particular—boil down to different subsets of a rather small core group of characters discussing the same handful of topics, with Nicholas Britell’s insanely catchy score woven in here and there for added flourish.

The end of season two promised war, and season three delivers. Last we met the Roys, Kendall, once the heir apparent, was instead selected by Logan to play sacrificial lamb and feed himself to the wolves in a bid to mitigate the damage to Waystar Royco following a massive scandal involving Waystar’s cruise lines, a workplace with the distinction of scoring a full house on the human rights violation bingo card. Only Kendall got in front of the cameras and pointed the finger at Logan and not himself, accusing the Roy patriarch of being fully complicit in the crimes that took place.

The new season premiere, none-so-subtly titled “Secession,” sees Kendall, well, seceding; he declares all-out war on Logan, and the two men vie for the support of the remaining members of the Roy clan and their wider social network. The clash of the titans has begun.

It’s as simple as that but also far more complicated—“Succession” is a master class in duality, an object lesson on paradoxes, a narrative high-wire act on the level of Philippe Petit. Both sweepingly grandiose and deliciously petty—often at the same time—the Roys are built up big enough to earn the lofty allusions to bygone dynasties scattered generously throughout the dialogue, but “Succession” also doesn’t hesitate to make the Roys look like absolute dunces. It’s clash of the titans in one breath and attack of the clowns in the next.

The first few episodes of the new season feel like follow-through on the promises made last season, allowing the Roys to openly brawl amongst themselves, but the gloves soon come off and the real fun begins. Like most great stories, “Succession” plays with expectations, and does so with a particularly devilish glee—a literal Trojan Horse statue, for example, becomes a red herring in a situation where the actual Trojan Horse proves to be a box of donuts with a threatening aura.

Then there’s the tone of “Succession,” always subject to debate. (Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Let’s just tick all the boxes and call it a day.) The caustic sensibilities of the series are precisely what neutralize just how absolutely awful these characters are. As the Waystar cruises scandal continues to dominate headlines, talks of values and virtue signaling grow more prevalent this season than ever before, but the extent to which these platitudes are utterly empty is also clearer than ever. Notions of guilt and culpability are wielded as weapons, claims of moral high ground or outright innocence crammed into arguments as leverage—remorse or anything like it is never even raised as a possibility, because that’s simply not on the table for the Roys.

“Succession” is a den of monstrously selfish villains, and that’s precisely what makes it such a pleasure to watch—you are invested but not attached. It’s like the joy of scrolling through the highlights of the “Everyone Sucks Here” verdict on the Am I The Asshole subreddit, only with the peerless production values of an HBO flagship series. While all the characters are tasked with picking a side in the Roy family civil war, being a viewer requires no such decision-making: just sit back and enjoy as the Olympic-level volley of insults unfolds. And yes, the dialogue is just as delightfully sharp as ever. One new personal favorite, provided with no context: “That is an imaginary cat, now could you please f*ck off?”

While Kendall is arguably still the closest thing “Succession” has to a protagonist—or perhaps, more accurately, a main character—the new season feels more of an ensemble piece than ever. Season two saw Kendall starting at a low point, pulled early out of a brief stint in rehab, in a way that made his subsequent journey the season’s natural center of gravity (the pull was also powerful enough to compel an Emmy straight into Jeremy Strong’s outstretched hand). This time around, Kendall starts on a high, nearly giddy on the rush of publicly denouncing Logan. Every character on the show is a walking bag of contradictions and Freudian complexes, but Kendall wears his on his sleeve the most obviously. A self-saboteur with a constant yearning for approval, season three sees Kendall looking for validation from the internet—particularly, Twitter—perhaps the only place less likely to scratch that itch than his father. He’s a classically tragic figure you can laugh at but also occasionally feel for, brilliantly rendered by Strong as usual.

But Kendall’s conscious uncoupling from Logan’s orbit also de-centers him in the show’s overall narrative, creating a bit more room for other key players. The character work in “Succession” is brilliant all around, but Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), Waystar executive and husband to Shiv, has a particularly intriguing arc this season, quickly becoming one of the most fascinating players in the Roy family power games.

Tom’s lackey and de facto work husband, fan favorite cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), also finds himself at an interesting crossroads. He’s still playing up the affably naïve poor relation persona that has defined him for the past two seasons, but it’s a performance with a time limit, and time is running out—he’s been too deep in shady Waystar dealings for too long at this point to convincingly play the fool much longer, begging the fascinating question of what happens next for the endearingly awkward giraffe of the extended Roy family, and what new sides to his character are in store to be revealed.

There’s no shortage of starry new players in this season, but in terms of screen time even the most significant newcomers feel more or less like elevated cameos, from hotshot lawyer Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan) to reclusive Waystar 4% shareholder Josh Aaronson (Adrien Brody). They have a little more screen time than, say, Gong Yoo in “Squid Game,” but not much; the spotlight remains firmly on the core cast, with fresh faces only really getting involved as much as is needed for them to serve their narrative purpose and not one line more.

“Succession” never had much fat to trim, but where season two felt like the show hitting its stride, leaning more into its delightfully Shakespearian flair for wordplay and elaborate insults, and fully embracing its taste for the darkly absurd, season three swaggers with a new level of confidence. As the series itself so thoroughly explores, staying on top is no easy feat, but this new season manages to do just that. Two years was a long wait, but the payoff is glorious.

Seven episodes screened for review. “Succession” season 3 premieres on HBO on October 17, 2021 at 9 p.m. ET.

 

- Tomris Laffly
Bergman Island

There is a graceful ease to Mia Hansen-Løve’s cinematic prose, one that can feel misleadingly simple at times. But once you allow her placid beats wash over you, the intricacy of her ideas rises to the surface with little effort, revealing the deep thinker and feeler Hansen-Løve always has been. Just think of “Eden” and the serenity in which Hansen-Løve telegraphs her nostalgia about the fading cultural prominence of the French touch generation, or the calm sensuality of her pronouncedly feminist “Things to Come” as she tiptoes around the new chapter in the life of a recently divorced female professor. These films and others in her sophisticated oeuvre will give you enough clues about the filmmaker’s interest in the complexity of creative minds with all their emotional, moral and existential dilemmas as well as the casual comfort through which she transposes her preoccupations onto the screen.

“Bergman Island” is the writer/director’s latest excursion full of surprising rewards. It finds Hansen-Løve in a characteristically reflective place, through the story of two filmmakers—one prominent, one less experienced but perceptibly promising—spending a lavish amount of time on the Fårö Island of the Baltic Sea, where Ingmar Bergman once lived, loved and made movies. Even though the good-humored proprietor giving the guest couple a walkthrough of their vacation home is quick to remind them that they are where Bergman once conceived “Scenes from a Marriage” and caused the divorce of millions of people, the place is certainly a retreat for Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps), the latter being the less famous filmmaker of the two. After all, they are there to work, to soak in all the inspiration they can get and perhaps tour the island on an official “Bergman Safari.” (No, that’s not a joke. It’s a real thing that happens on this island.)

Soon enough, the couple settles into a routine with Bergman’s shadow and filmography following them everywhere. And as they make their own way through the island—Tony takes the safari, Chris prefers the company of a young student and less touristy outings—subtle marital difficulties percolate with a healthy dose of sharp humor. Chris wonders whether the society would ever allow her (or women filmmakers in general) to have nine children from six different romantic partners like Bergman did in his time. Tony, meanwhile, circulates talks and screenings with the slightest hint of haughtiness, mingling amongst fans eager to rub shoulders with him. In a suggestive and fiendishly funny incident, the duo settles in for what they assume would be a light-hearted viewing, only to be shown a print of Bergman’s cutting psychodrama, “Cries and Whispers.” 

But before you can ask the question, “which Vicky Krieps character will age faster: the one on the age-accelerating beach in M. Night Shyamalan’s 'Old' or the one stuck in Fårö with her famous director husband,” Chris pitches a new story to Tony, asking for his help in finding an ending. This is where “Bergman Island” connects itself to another land via a hidden passage, one Hansen-Løve bravely walks on, revealing a second film within that just might be immensely personal to the filmmaker (as in, both Hansen-Løve and Krieps’s Chris), or a complete work of fiction. It follows the young American filmmaker Amy (Mia Wasikowska), who arrives on an island (“a place like this, Chris remarks) to attend the wedding of a friend and perhaps rekindle a fleeting romance with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), the old flame that got away. Set over the course of three celebratory days, Chris’ incomplete tale unfolds around minor and major conflicts, like the inappropriately chosen and bridal-looking white dress Amy brought along to attend the wedding—"it’s more cream or off-white,” she insists—and of course, the brief affair she embarks on with Joseph despite the fact that they’re now both involved with other people. 

To validate the latter, “I love two people,” Amy matter-of-factly suggests in a refreshing statement that removes self-vilification from the act of infidelity with a startling sense of just and confidence. And it’s with a similar type of confidence that Hansen-Løve interlocks the two tales, equally dear to her heart. Pensively shot by Hansen-Løve’s repeat collaborator Denis Lenoir and hypnotically edited by Marion Monnier—another Hansen-Løve regular—in a luxurious rhythm that blurs the lines between the two intimately interlaced films, “Bergman Island” slowly becomes a heady experience from there. And its resonance only grows with the realization that Hansen-Løve—an actor, filmmaker and a former Cahiers du Cinéma film critic—was once both the creative collaborator and life partner of the prolific Olivier Assayas. In that regard, Hansen-Løve’s private imprint on the material is undeniable as “Bergman Island” toggles between the tales of Chris and Amy, eventually melting their respective realities into the same cauldron, interchanging objects and even pieces of costumes between the two films. 

Two beady-eyed performers that strangely look more alike over the course of “Bergman Island,” Krieps and Wasikowska register as collectively haunting in the respective skin of their characters, delivering performances that both contrast and complement each other, like two chameleons in a harmonious duel. Their synchronization becomes so pronounced over time that this critic found herself wondering how the duo would look recreating one of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann’s famous “Persona” stills.

The finish line in “Bergman Island” is of the opaque kind. But anything else would have done Hansen-Løve’s wistful sleepwalk through memory, time and cinema injustice. Her film is less a direct, clear-cut homage to Bergman, and more a searching exploration of reality and art in the way they mirror, propel and feed on one another, washing ashore remembrances both dreamy and lifelike.

This review was filed on September 16th from the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and is being re-run for the film's limited theatrical release today, October 15th.

- Tomris Laffly
Freeland

What happens to a counterculture and its devotees when alternative becomes mainstream? This is the question at the heart of “Freeland,” a psychological drama that unfolds economically yet patiently, venturing into thriller-adjacent soils as it traces the life of a self-sufficient entrepreneur whose independence becomes at odds with changing systems. She’s Devi (Krisha Fairchild), an autonomous 60-something woman who’s thus far made a good living for herself, breeding and selling top-shelf marijuana for nearly three decades. But she is now facing the threat of legalization, a process that comes with hefty fines if she fails to comply with all the government-mandated steps, an inevitability to convert her homespun land and abode into a state-of-the-art facility at great expense, and eventually, a significantly reduced value for her stains that she pours her blood, sweat, and tears into every season.

All this might sound counterintuitive at first—how could legalization be bad for such a business that has always existed illegally and on the margins at great risk? Isn’t being out in the open and accessible to all better for one’s bottom line? Making their narrative feature debut, the film’s co-directors Mario Furloni and Kate McLean were apparently confronted with the same questions when they first discovered Northern California’s Humboldt County nearly ten or so years ago as documentarians and got to spend some time amongst its isolated community of low-key outlaws. Devi is based on the filmmakers’ own reflections. As someone who’s lived in seclusion in a place that thrived at the height of the drug wars amid go-getting residents building their own town their way and establishing their own rules, she is now challenged by the greatest enemy of them all: capitalism. How can she possibly maintain her legacy against a fierce competition with deep pockets and navigate all the new regulations?

Making use of their documentarian eye and perceptiveness as intimate observers, Furloni and McLean intricately build Devi’s no-bells-and-whistles world, taking us inside a communal operation that evolves around well-tended fields and cheerful tables where joints are passed around and products are packaged. Making an unforgettable impression in Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha” back in 2015, Fairchild once again brings a captivating, organic sensibility to her character, crafting Devi’s wild and varied mood swings with a relatable sense of precision. We see her at the tail end of her better days in the film’s early moments, surrounded by a trio of young, hourly employees, all dealing with their own slice of uncertainty in life. There is Mara (Lily Gladstone), a practical and sensible young woman trying to gauge her prospects. There is Casey (Cameron James Matthews), the clan’s laid-back resident not really rushing to make any firm decisions. There is also the overtly ambitious Josh (Frank Mosley), who seems to be perennially at the ready with unsolicited opinions on the future and progress of Devi’s business.

The filmmakers capture the clan’s evolving dynamics sensitively, underscoring Devi’s growing discomfort and paranoia in well-paced fragments when she goes from a savvy business owner to someone struggling to pay her workers on schedule. Amplifying the tension is a series of anonymous, almost ghostly text messages Devi receives one day from a supposedly interested buyer intending to move her product—her best ever—to potential customers out East. Desperate for an opportunity and having freshly returned empty-handed from a soul-killing cannabis expo, Devi engages with the messages, only to realize she might be the victim of a scam. Could one of her nearest be victimizing her? Or is she needlessly distrustful in an alienating world?

While the finale of “Freeland” feels unearned and a touch up-in-the-air, the film’s visual qualities elsewhere make up for this relative weakness. In that regard, the greatest achievement of “Freeland,” other than Fairchild’s performance, proves to be its lived-in feel, an attribute seen everywhere—from the loveably hippy-dippy clutter of Lauren Donlon and Alexander Zane Irwin’s production design to Furloni’s atmospheric cinematography of hauntingly foggy skies and magnetically tall redwoods. It’s a contemplative film that manages to whisk the audience away to an unfamiliar land whose off-the-grid survival you can’t help but root for.

Now playing in select theaters.

- Christy Lemire
Introducing, Selma Blair

Selma Blair needs no introduction. She’s been a singular presence as a standout supporting actress for decades, with indelible performances in “Cruel Intentions,” “Legally Blonde” and the “Hellboy” franchise among her many film roles. There’s a certain pleasing spikiness about her persona—she’s at once playful and tart, with an alluring androgyny to her sharp, striking features.

And yet we get to meet Blair anew—and she comes to know and eventually embrace a different version of herself—over the course of the documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair.” Working with director Rachel Fleit, Blair gives us an intimate, unflinching look at her life as she struggles through the debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis she received in 2018. We also follow her as she strives to continue parenting her young son, Arthur, and travels to Chicago for the stem-cell transplant she hopes will provide relief.

It’s a lot, especially as Blair makes herself increasingly vulnerable and provides a window to her pain and fear through both the raw video diaries she shoots herself and the unvarnished moments she allows Fleit to capture. (The filmmaker has alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss; both her sensitivity and sense of humor shine through in her documentary feature debut.) “Introducing, Selma Blair” is frequently a tough viewing experience, and it should be. What is the documentary form if not a mechanism to show us the truth of how others live? The honesty on display here is crucial, both for people who have no idea what multiple sclerosis is and for those who may be suffering themselves from the disease, in which the immune system attacks the protective covering of the nerves.

But whenever the film seems be on the verge of turning maudlin, Blair shifts the tone through some biting, self-deprecating quip that instantly lightens the mood. Her self-awareness, and her frequent willingness to laugh at herself in the saddest situations, cut the tension. When we first see her, she’s donning a turban and applying severe makeup to dress like Norma Desmond for an interview at her Studio City, California, home. She uses this flair for the dramatic to disarm us throughout. But what’s truly compelling—devastating, actually—is the transformation she allows us to witness as she sits in a cocoon-like red chair and describes her condition. A sweet, white terrier mix snoozes contentedly in her lap. At first, she cracks snappy jokes about the importance of walking with a stylish cane and speaks eloquently about how she hopes her illness will inspire her to become a better person in her late 40s. But the second her comfort dog hops off and scampers away, we can practically see the mask fall. It’s as someone flipped a switch. Suddenly her speech is halting and slurry. She’s twitchy and self-conscious. “Now the fatigue happens,” she strains to articulate. It’s painful for her and for us as viewers, but she wants us to see this, because this is her reality. Eventually, a whimper: “I don’t have anything more,” she concludes.

Just as illuminating are the moments she shares with her son, for whom she gives every bit of energy in her body to have an impromptu dance party or a game of dodgeball. When he tells her around age seven that he’s frightened of what she’ll look like without hair—because she must undergo agonizing chemotherapy in preparation for the stem-cell treatment—she makes the most inspired and terrifying mom move I’ve ever seen by handing him scissors and clippers and letting him trim it off himself. (My kid’s almost 12 and I wouldn’t let him anywhere near my head with a pair of scissors.) These moments may seem superficially uplifting, but they carry an undercurrent of melancholy—as is true so often throughout the film—because they so clearly reflect Blair’s intention to be a totally different kind of mom than the one she had. She’s candid about the darkness and rage she believes she inherited from her hypercritical mother, and to learn that she’s doubted herself all these years is heartbreaking.

But because Fleit has captured so many powerful and enlightening moments, it makes you wish she hadn’t relied so heavily on music to punctuate them. When Blair is goofing around with a cane in the hospital corridors, for example, a jaunty tune accompanies her strut. Conversely, an inspiring melody swells as Blair comes to a conclusion about what matters in life, or her newfound drive to make others suffering like her feel less alone. The emotions conveyed in these scenes have to compete with the score, with creates a distraction and drains them of their impact.

Still, it’s impossible to watch “Introducing, Selma Blair” and not feel deeply moved. Whatever happens from here—whether she returns to work as an actress, and hopefully she will—she’s already accomplished her goal of using her platform to shine a light on what it’s like to live with a disability, and she’s done it with her signature style and grace.

Now playing in theaters and available on Discovery+ on October 21.

- Sheila O'Malley
Luzzu

"Luzzu" is about the slow whittling away of ancient rituals and traditions, of bureaucracy imposing itself on something that has existed for centuries. "Luzzu," named for the traditional boats of Maltese fishermen, rests in the uneasy space between tradition and modernity, where the "old ways" are not only de-valued but criminalized, wiping out the past, leaving people facing an uncertain future. "Luzzu" doesn't so much ask questions as present the problem, and it does so in quasi-documentary style, erasing the distance between the subject matter and the audience. "Luzzu" is not homework or a lecture. "Luzzu" is embedded in a quickly-vanishing world, and director Alex Camilleri approaches it with sensitivity, knowing that authenticity is crucial to how the film operates. Camilleri is clearly influenced by Italian neo-realism and contemporaries of that tradition like the Dardennes and Ramin Bahrani (one of the producers of "Luzzu"). "Luzzu" is a moving portrait of a world in flux, and one man attempting to survive the changes thrust upon him by a baffling outside world.

Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) goes out every day on his brightly-colored luzzu, inherited from his father, who, in turn, inherited it from his father. Jesmark fishes all day and into the night, working to bring home a full haul to sell at the local fish auction. EU regulations have placed limitations on this old tradition. Catching certain fish during "closed season" is illegal, and boats are checked at random by officious authorities, an outrage to these men who have been fishing since time immemorial. Jesmark and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) just had a baby, and the baby requires special care. They don't have the money. A pall of worry settles over the marriage, pushing the couple apart. Out of desperation, Jesmark is drawn into the criminal underworld of the corrupt fish industry. His luzzu sprung a leak and requires a full overhaul, which also costs money. He splits his time between working on the luzzu and his sketchy new side gig.

The luzzus float in and out of the harbor, flashing with colors and personal touches, painted yellow, green, blue, with bulging wooden eyes attached to the prows, eyes peering out at a world that doesn't make sense anymore. Across the harbor looms a gigantic container port, the modern world forcing the fish out of the harbor. Jesmark looks around at the only life he's ever known and sees it slipping away. On the interior of the boat is a yellow-painted baby's footprint, his own. What can he pass on to his own son? The government offers buyouts to the fishermen. But what would Jesmark do instead? Fishing is all he knows.

Camilleri, a first-time director, embeds himself in this world. Working closely with cinematographer Léo Lefèvre, "Luzzu" captures the rituals, the everyday tasks in this line of work: catching fish, packing them in ice for the ride back, cleaning fish, mending nets, hauling a forbidden swordfish on board before throwing it back. Nothing is explained. You understand what is happening by watching. The sun, the sound of the waves, the traffic on the roads in the background, all come across with palpable reality. Camilleri is American, but his family immigrated from Malta when he was a child. He grew up in snowy Minnesota, a long way away from that salty breeze. He looks at Malta with the eyes of an exile, and exiles' perception of their homeland is often sharp, pointed. Most of all, Camilleri approached Malta with curiosity. Frustrated with the lack of an independent Maltese film culture, and frustrated that Malta is often used as a stand-in for other places in bigger films, Camilleri decided to travel to Malta and investigate what story he might tell. He became fascinated by the fishermen.

The cast is made up of non-actors. He cast real fishermen as the fishermen, including Jesmark Scicluna.  Everyone in the film actually lives in this world. David Scicluna plays Jesmark's friend, trying to abide by the rules, trying to help Jesmark. (In real life, the two men are cousins.) Camilleri worked with them both, having them improvise scenes, allowing them to just do what they would do in those specific circumstances. They are both riveting. When they fight there's real pain behind it. The chaotic fish auction is the Real Thing, and there's nothing like the real thing. Chloé Zhao used a similar approach in both "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" and "The Rider," and—to a lesser degree—"Nomadland." Brady Jandreau, the central figure in "The Rider," was so unselfconsciously himself in front of the camera it put some professional actors to shame. The same is true with Scicluna, a handsome man, but burdened, his shoulders tense with worry, filled with tender love for his son (watch how he looks at the baby), but frightened for him, for himself. Jesmark's slip-side into criminality is that much more painful, because his love for the luzzu, his family, and the harbor is so apparent.

Authenticity can't be faked. This seems like an oversimplified or too-obvious statement, perhaps, but a film like "Luzzu" shows the truth of it.

Now playing in select theaters.

- Nick Allen
Son of Monarchs

Alexis Gambis' “Son of Monarchs” won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, a unique distinction that goes to one film that “focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character.” (“Searching” was a previous winner). There’s a special power in this storytelling ambition, in exploring science with emotion, but it also can be tricky. “Son of Monarchs,” which is driven by mood as much as it is a metaphor that it can’t get enough of, embodies the equal ambition and shortcomings of a writer/director trying feel their way through science, while having as minimal a narrative as possible. 

Tenoch Huerta proves his strong on-screen silence as Mendel, a contemplative, hard-working scientist who studies the color of butterfly wings. His job is central to what the movie is doing—thinking about butterflies, wondering what it would be like if human beings could also fly, using butterflies to help make sense of its emotions. Everything is a metaphor here, connected to butterflies. The ideas can be powerful, but at some point it's almost like the film is trying to prove how much mileage it can get out of an idea that other movies would use as a meaningful character trait. 

If you squint you can see a more typical narrative foundation in this story, of a man who returns to his original home of Michoacán in Mexico (to mourn his grandmother, recently deceased). Mendel faces the different pieces and people from his past life, and then reflects on it when he’s at home. These dynamics are expressed quietly, but they set up enough of a sense of his family—a wedding for his niece that he should, but many not attend—and friends, like Vicente (Gabino Rodríguez), who leads his own type of primal grieving ceremony, in which everyone wears animals masks and howl at the moon. The most strained relationship involves his older brother Símon (Noé Hernandez); they have great deal of emotional distance between them, especially after Mendel left Michoacán and essentially their shared trauma related to the loss of their parents.

"Son of Monarchs" uses the science of butterflies for numerous significances, including that of migration, ancestry, and that of camouflage. With a cut to black and loud whoosh of subway cars, Gambis' film takes us away from Mexico and back to a life in a concrete jungle that makes Mendel feel all the more lonely, which we understand most of all Huerta's performance. Mendel peers through a microscope, modifying the color using controversial new CRISPR technology, which itself creates more opportunity for the movie to feature monologues about science while dampening the emotions. He begins a relationship with an immigration lawyer and amateur trapeze artist (Alexia Rasmussen), watches his friend Pablo (Juan Ugarte) advance in the field, and returns day after day to the lab. Gambis cuts in between to memories—either as a child learning about the wonder of butterflies from his grandmother, or learning about death and science from his brother Simon—like lyric passages that have been cut from a book and strewn about. 

There's an imbalance here of atmosphere and story that holds the film back from casting as large a spell as it desires. Some narrative pieces are too understated—even for its overall delicate swirl of emotions—as when Mendel disappears from the people in his life, an emotional passage that does not have the proper lead-up or impact. At the same time there’s one too many dream sequences, moods and metaphors, that the story clutters the direct connection it’s making from human to animal. It’s almost like the movie is better when its narrative and scientific ideas exist apart from each other, instead of being used to explain the other’s presence. There are numerous involving story components here, about Mendel coming home, and facing relationships with those he is closest to, that do not demand a poet’s scientific eye. 

Mendel’s relationship with his older brother Símon makes for a handful of weighty, effective scenes, whether it’s when they are kids (Símon’s morbidity at a young age) or as adults. Huerta and Noé Hernández, have excellent tension that reaches a boiling point, naturally and painfully. The scene is extremely well done, with editing that allows us to see how each of them processes the heartbreaking statement they've just heard from the other. This is the type of scene that gives "Son of Monarchs" a pulse, and shows off its promising artistry. It does not seem like a coincidence that this scene also has nothing to do with butterflies.

Now playing on HBO Max.

- Peter Sobczynski
Needle in a Timestack

“Needle in a Timestack” is based on a short story by esteemed science-fiction author Robert Silverberg that first appeared in the pages of the June 1983 edition of Playboy. Oddly enough, almost two decades earlier, he published a short story collection by the same name but which had no other connection to it. To some people, especially those driven by John Ridley’s screen adaptation to look up the source material, this may seem a bit perplexing, though it does make a strange bit of sense when one considers the story's nature. As it turns out, this literary curiosity proves to be far more interesting than the finished film, which takes an undeniably interesting premise and then fails to make good use of it.

The premise, I assure you, is a doozy and it involves our old friend, time travel. In the not-too-distant future, it's not just a possibility but it has been commodified to serve as a new perk for the wealthy, who plunk down huge amounts of money to “time-jaunt” to a point in their past and relive their most important memories. Of course, there's a hitch to all of this in the form of our other old friend, the butterfly effect—any changes, no matter how minute, that are made while visiting in the past can have unintended ripple effects on the present day, not just for the jaunters themselves but those in their lives, causing them to change in ways from the minor to the profound, after undergoing a “phasing.” There are all sorts of rules and laws forbidding jaunters from doing such things, but it happens frequently enough that a cottage industry has developed letting people lock away precious memories in a time capsule (for a hefty fee) in the hopes of reconstructing them after an unwitting phasing.

But what would happen if someone decided to say “nuts” to the Terms & Conditions form they signed and decided to use time-jaunts for more diabolical purposes? This is what architect Nick Mikkelsen (Leslie Odom Jr.) suspects is happening to himself and his wife, photographer Janine (Cynthia Erivo). Using the dim memories they are able to recall in the gap between their previous timeline and their new one, they have determined that they have undergone an unfortunate turn of the phase three times over the course of the last year. And while the results haven't been catastrophic (unless you're a dog lover like Nick), there's always the threat that another one could come and wipe out not only their current life but all the memories they have of each other.

What kind of monster would do such a thing? Nick has a pretty good idea that the guy behind it all is Tommy Hambleton (Orlando Bloom), a now-estranged friend from college who has become successful enough to afford to jaunt whenever he cares to go. More significantly, he is also Janine’s ex-husband and Nick is convinced that he is jaunting back into their combined past in order to shift things around so that Janine stays with him. Inexplicably, even though Janine agrees that it probably is her ex, she insists that Nick not report him to the police because even though he has presumably messed with their lives on three separate occasions that they know of, she is somehow convinced that he won’t push things any further. Inevitably, Nick and Janine are hit by another phase and when it is all over, the new timeline has Janine indeed married to Tommy while Nick is now married to his old college flame, Alex (Frieda Pinto). Despite a seemingly blissful relationship with Alex, Nick nevertheless has a nagging feeling that something is not quite right and he finds himself increasingly obsessed with the notion that there is someone out there who is truly meant for him, even if he has no real memory of who it might be, and tries to come up with a plan to set things right.

The problem with a lot of narratives involving time travel is that they seem fascinating on the surface but have a tendency to crumble once you start thinking about all the various paradoxes and conundrums at play. Anyone attempting such a story needs to tell it in as clean and efficient of a manner to avoid inspiring those mood-destroying questions, at least until after it's over. Now, the Silverberg story may not make a lot of sense in the recounting—it's never explained how a process that can send the lives of so many unsuspecting people higgledy-piggledy could have become so widely accepted—but it's told in such a concise manner that readers could conveniently ignore the hiccups until afterwards while perusing the interview with Stephen King. In an ideal world, the story might have served as an ideal episode for something like “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror,” compact shows that deal with the kind of fantastical concepts utilized here.

Although Ridley’s adaptation hits all the major beats of the original story, it has been stretched out in order to fill out a feature-length running time, and this is where the film stumbles. What was once a potent tale of technology gone amok has been transformed into a weird hybrid of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Made in Heaven” (that 1987 curiosity from Alan Rudolph in which two souls meet and fall in love in Heaven and then have 30 years to find each other on Earth without any tangible memories of each other), though it lacks in the emotional power and visual verve of the former as well as the latter’s loopy romanticism. The problem is that none of the characters here are especially interesting, despite the undeniably engaging actors involved (Erivo and Pinto are especially wasted), and since we don’t care about them, it's hard to generate much interest in what happens to them. The mind then wanders to those pesky questions about the whole jaunting concept and the whole house of cards ends up collapsing.

This is especially frustrating as it's easy to imagine a more compelling version that fully explores ideas that have been left here on the back burner. Instead, "Needle in a Timestack" is more like the kind of low-grade and low-stakes romantic fantasy that too often feels like a misfired attempt to cross-breed a project. Who knows, maybe jaunting and phasing will one day become real things and someone out there can fiddle with the timelines long enough to transform “Needle in a Timestack” into a better movie.

Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms; available on DVD on October 19.

- Nell Minow
Golden Voices

In the charming and wryly bittersweet Israeli film "Golden Voices," Vladimir Friedman and Maria Belkin play Victor and Raya Frenkel, "golden voiced" actors in their 60s who made a living dubbing movies in the Soviet Union. Audiences would see Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, or Dustin Hoffman on the screen but the Russian-speaking voice they heard was Victor's. He says, "Each movie is an entire world we help people enter." A fellow emigre tells him that when he saw "Spartacus" in Israel he realized that what he loved about the movie was Victor's voice. "You make Kirk Douglas great!" 

The Frenkels, like the actors who play them and co-writer/director Evgeny Ruman, are among the over 900,000 Jews who emigrated to Israel as the Soviet Union crumbled in the 1980s. They get very little by way of support. A nephew once named Boris is now called Baruch. He drops them at an apartment he found for them and leaves them there. Victor suspects that a small utility box on the wall is some sort of spyware, reminding us that he has always had to be conscious of being observed. But the film touches very lightly on the cultural differences. This is not a "Perfect Strangers"-style sitcom filled with laugh-track-able cutesy misunderstandings and malapropisms. Standing in line to pick up gas masks to be used if Saddam Hussein drops a chemical bomb on Israel seems as ordinary a part of their new life as taking Hebrew lessons.

What is more unsettling is not being able to find "golden voices" jobs that meet their standards of professionalism and artistic value. The only Russian-language voice jobs they can find are an unpaid public service announcement about what to do in case of a toxic chemical attack for Victor and being a phone sex operator for lonely Russian newcomers for Raya. She is so embarrassed by it that she tells him she is a telemarketer. And yet, in one of the film's best scenes, when it comes time for her to be not real-life 62-year-old Raya but fantasy-figure 22-year-old virgin Margarita on the phone, Belkin shows us how the actress in Raya rises to the occasion and even enjoys being a performer again. Raya/Margarita seamlessly shifts into a different character for one caller. She can tell he will appreciate an older, dissatisfied wife mode. As she talks to this caller, some of her true self begins to come through, more than she has allowed herself to be for many years.

Victor toasts to "a fresh start" on their first night in Israel. But starts don't happen at all once and do not always feel as fresh as we hope. The Frenkels and their relationship are tested as they have to re-invent themselves. Their golden voices have been deployed on behalf of others for decades and their real selves, in this new environment, are emerging uncomfortably. Raya says she wants to feel like the lead actress in her own life but "I'm not even a supporting character." Victor is increasingly glum and distant. For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, they will have to find a way to speak with their own voices. 

Belkin, who was nominated as Best Actress by the Israeli Film Academy for this role, is a radiant delight, showing us how Raya uses her voice to explore her deeper feelings as her husband must abandon his sense of himself as a professional to do quick dubs of pirated films. This is very evidently a personal story for the people who made it, a heartfelt note of thanks for the fresh start they found in their new home, and for all fresh starts and the people with the courage to find them.

Now playing in select theaters.

- Liz Shannon Miller
You Season 3 Ending Explained by Penn Badgley and Sera Gamble
Penn Badgley and Sera Gamble offer their insights into why 'You' Season 3 had to end the way it did, and what might be coming in the future.
- Britta DeVore
Sylvester Stallone Wraps Filming Expendables 4, Says Goodbye to Series
Sylvester Stallone finished filming The Expendables 4 and said goodbye to the franchise, putting it in Jason Statham's hands.
- Erick Massoto
The White Lotus Season 2 Books Jennifer Coolidge for Another Stay
Jennifer Coolidge will be returning for the second season of Mike White's The White Lotus series.
- Britta DeVore
Harry Potter Game Show Tests Wizarding Knowledge, Hosted by Helen Mirren
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses game show tests players on their Wizarding knowledge, hosted by Helen Mirren.
- Remus Noronha
How to Watch The Last Duel: Is It Streaming or in Theaters?
Wondering how to watch The Last Duel? Here are all the details on whether it's streaming, when it's in theaters, and more.
- Robert Taylor
The Halloween Franchise Timelines Explained
The Halloween franchise may seem confusing, so here's a guiding hand.
- Ashley Bubp
Big Mouth Season 5 Trailer Reveals Lovebugs, Hate Worms, and Kumail Nanjiani
Netflix's animated series Big Mouth returns for Season 5 with lovebugs, hate worms, and Kumail Nanjiani as himself.
- Rae Torres
You Season 1 Recap and Ending Explained: Everything You Need to Remember
A quick refresher from Season 1 of 'You' to prepare you for the new season on Netflix
- Liz Shannon Miller
Top 10 Netflix Shows Right Now as Ranked by Netflix Itself
The official list of the top 10 most popular TV shows on Netflix in the U.S. as of today, assembled by Netflix, and based on viewer data.
- Britta DeVore
The Piano and The Celebration Coming to Criterion in January
The Criterion Collection has announced their January 2022 titles, which include 4K releases of The Piano and A Hard Day's Night.
- Remus Noronha
How to Watch Halloween Kills: Is it Streaming or In Theaters?
Wondering how to watch Halloween Kills? Here are all the details on where it's streaming, when it's in theaters, and more.
- Maggie Boccella
The Batman: New Image of Zoe Kravitz's Selina Kyle Revealed by Matt Reeves
Director Matt Reeves has shared a look at Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle in his upcoming film The Batman ahead of its trailer.
- Hilary Remley
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous Season 4 Release Date Announced
DreamWorks has announced the release date for the fourth season of Netflix's 'Jurassic World; Camp Cretaceous.'
- Liz Shannon Miller
American Horror Story Season 10: Neal McDonough on Playing Eisenhower
Neal McDonough explains how seriously he took the opportunity to play President Eisenhower in 'American Horror Story' Season 10, 'Death Valley.'
- Devon Forward
Enola Holmes 2 Cast, Plot, Release Window, and Everything We Know
Millie Bobby Brown is officially stepping back into the mystery-solving shoes of Enola Holmes; here's what we know so far.
- Marco Vito Oddo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise DLC Release Date Revealed
Animal Crossing: New Horizons will be receiving some massive updates, both in the form of a free expansion and the paid DLC Happy Home Paradise.
- Erick Massoto
The Matrix 4 Plot Summary Hints at a Stronger, More Dangerous Matrix
A new plot summary for The Matrix Resurrections says this latest iteration of the Matrix is stronger and more dangerous than before.
- Vinnie Mancuso
Halloween Ends to Start With a Huge Time Jump, Says David Gordon Green
Halloween Kills leaves a lot of answers in the air, but director David Gordon Green reveals Halloween Ends will pick them up several years later.
- Rahul Malhotra
Eternals Video Features Kumail Nanjiani and His “Finger Guns” Power
A new clip from Marvel's Eternals shows off Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo and his power, described as "finger guns."
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American Horror Story: Death Valley Cast and Character Guide
Your guide to who's who in 'American Horror Story: Double Feature' part two, 'Death Valley'
- ScreenCrush Staff
How the Illuminati Could Join the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Someone is going to have to step up to stop Kang. Continue reading…
- Claire Epting
New ‘Indiana Jones 5’ Set Photo May Confirm Plot Rumor
It sounded far fetched but ... maybe not? Continue reading…
- ScreenCrush Staff
‘The Batman’ and Riddler Square Off In New Character Posters
Riddle me this poster, Batman. Continue reading…
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Hannah Gadsby Calls Out Ted Sarandos For Dave Chappelle Defense
The Netflix co-CEO had named Gadsby as part of his argument in favor of keeping Chappelle’s controversial special available. Continue reading…
- Matt Singer
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Confirms He Is Morpheus In ‘The Matrix 4’
Morpheus has been resurrected. Continue reading…
- Claire Epting
The 12 Worst Continuity Errors In Popular Movies
Did you catch these mistakes in famous films? Continue reading…
- Matt Singer
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Was Made As ‘The End of a Franchise’
That’s according to Tom Holland. Continue reading…
- Matt Singer
Marvel Begins Production on ‘Secret Invasion’ Series
Star Samuel L. Jackson posted a photo revealing the news. Continue reading…
- ScreenCrush Staff
Matt Reeves Unveils Incredible New Image of ‘The Batman’
It’s a new twist on a familiar Bat-pose. Continue reading…
- Matt Singer
Is Bob Odenkirk In ‘Halloween Kills’? Sort Of.
The story behind his blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Continue reading…
- Alec Bojalad
You Season 3 Ending Explained

This article contains spoilers for You season 3. The latest installment of You follows creepy creepster Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) as he begrudgingly moves to the tony California suburb of Madre Linda with his wife, Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). He attempts to atone for his sins and try his hand at being a good husband […]

The post You Season 3 Ending Explained appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Alec Bojalad

Todd Haynes is more of a conductor than the director of The Velvet Underground. He tells the story of the band in chronological time, but fills in the blanks by presenting a performance piece of historical art. This is Haynes’ first documentary. It is the first time he hasn’t put a fictional spin on the […]

The post Todd Haynes Slowly Peels the Cover Off The Velvet Underground appeared first on Den of Geek.

- David Crow
Halloween Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

Do you believe in the boogeyman? If you’ve ever watched one of the good Halloween movies, the answer is an unqualified yes. The boogeyman is real and he has a name and a Shape: Michael Myers. And for the last 43 years, he’s been cutting a bloody path of carnage across multiplexes everywhere. It began […]

The post Halloween Movies Ranked from Worst to Best appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Louisa Mellor
Doctor Who Series 13 Cast: Meet the Guest Stars in the First Full Flux Trailer

Considering that there are certainly names left off this list so as not to spoil any surprises, and that Doctor Who: Flux will tell its serialised story over just six episodes, a good few guest stars are on their way to save/destroy/marvel at the TARDIS (delete as appropriate). Some of them can be glimpsed in […]

The post Doctor Who Series 13 Cast: Meet the Guest Stars in the First Full Flux Trailer appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Joseph Baxter
Why Spider-Man: No Way Home is the End of an Era for Tom Holland

Spider-Man: No Way Home will serve as the sixth appearance of Tom Holland’s Wall-Crawler role, which, in a sobering fact, he’s been fielding for over five years now. Consequently, the star is saying that the new film, his third solo feature, is being treated like the closing chapter of a tonally-linked trilogy. Indeed, recent comments […]

The post Why Spider-Man: No Way Home is the End of an Era for Tom Holland appeared first on Den of Geek.

- John Saavedra

When Joel meets Ellie in the opening act of The Last of Us, it’s a turning point for the character. After years of blaming himself for the death of his daughter during an outbreak that turned most of world’s population into flesh-eating monsters, Joel has a chance at redemption when he’s hired to smuggle Ellie […]

The post The Last of Us HBO Series Set Footage Reveals Best Look at Ellie, Joel, and Tess in Boston QZ appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Lee Parham

Marvel’s Secret Invasion Disney+ series has gone into production per Samuel L. Jackson’s Instagram account. “Star Samuel L. Jackson has revealed on Instagram that Marvel’s Secret Invasion TV show has officially begun production. Via social media, Jackson published a photo of himself wearing a shirt featuring Nick Fury turning into dust. This event took place […]

The post Link Tank: Marvel’s Secret Invasion Disney+ Series Has Begun Filming appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Don Kaye

This article contains Halloween Kills spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review here. Halloween Kills is a peculiar film that ends on a peculiar note. By the end of director David Gordon Green’s movie, a mob of Haddonfield townspeople, exhausted and fed up after 40 years of trauma brought on by Michael Myers, have decided to take […]

The post Halloween Kills: Where Does the Story Go From Here? appeared first on Den of Geek.

- David Crow
Best Horror Movies on Netflix in October 2021

For many of us, October is the most wonderful time of the year. With the smell of autumnal leaves turning red and golden hued, the sound of children’s laughter as ghosts and goblins walk down the street, and finally the sight of pumpkins everywhere you look—there’s no better month-long celebration than the wind up to […]

The post Best Horror Movies on Netflix in October 2021 appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Alec Bojalad

In The Velvet Underground, director Todd Haynes expertly captures the outsider quality of the titular band. While much of the youth of the Aquarius age wanted to let the sunshine in, the band preferred to close the door, so they’d never have to see the day again. This disconnect is glaringly featured in a segment […]

The post The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa Was the Original East Coast/West Coast Musical Feud appeared first on Den of Geek.

- Eric Vespe
The AMPTP Has Until October 18 To Make IATSE An Offer They Deserve — Or Else They Strike

Last week, the International Association of Theater and Stage Employees (IATSE) voted to authorize a strike if their leadership couldn't reach a deal on more humane work hours and living wage increases with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Well, it looks like they just might be heading to the picket lines, and Hollywood is starting to brace for that eventuality.

We covered the IATSE demands and why these changes are needed for the everyday on-set employees that make up that union before the vote went into effect. The short version is that the unending crunch...

The post The AMPTP Has Until October 18 to Make IATSE an Offer They Deserve -- or Else They Strike appeared first on /Film.

- Joshua Meyer
Eternals Clip: Marvel's Newest, Oldest Heroes Save Some Helpless Humans

The first official clip from Marvel's "Eternals" has arrived, and it features sea monsters and sign language. When a winged murder dragon comes crawling out of the ocean, who's going to be there to save the prehistoric boy it wants to eat? Why, Earth's original superheroes, of course.

At 26 films and counting, you might think the Marvel Cinematic Universe has nothing new left to offer, but "Eternals" marks a number of firsts. It's the first MCU film helmed by an Oscar winner for Best Director — Chloé Zhao. It's also the first MCU film to receive a PG-13 rating for "brief sexuality," and it will introduce the first deaf...

The post Eternals Clip: Marvel's Newest, Oldest Heroes Save Some Helpless Humans appeared first on /Film.

- Liam Gaughan
13 Movies Like A Quiet Place That Are Definitely Worth Watching

"A Quiet Place" was a refreshing original sci-fi horror movie that became a sensation when it debuted in 2018. It couldn't have come sooner. While great horror films were being produced by indie distributors like A24 and Neon, studio horror films of the time tended to be cheap found footage projects and lazy teen slasher flicks. A change of pace was very welcome.

Director John Krasinski developed the original premise with co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, crafting a post-apocalyptic world where a fearsome alien race stalks the few remaining humans. The enigmatic creatures are highly attuned to noise, so survivors have to...

The post 13 Movies Like A Quiet Place That Are Definitely Worth Watching appeared first on /Film.

- BJ Colangelo
Doctor Who: Flux Trailer: Jodie Whittaker's Time Lord Run Reaches Its End

Today, the BBC gave Whovians all over the gift of the trailer for the final full series featuring Jodie Whittaker's run as the thirteenth Doctor, the six-chapter event, "Doctor Who: Flux." It looks like the members of Team TARDIS, the Doctor (Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Dan (John Bishop) are setting off for a final series of epic proportions, facing off with their greatest threat yet, the Flux, the big bad boss of the series. But not before bringing some of the greatest threats and arch enemies of the Doctor back into the fold to battle along the way.

This series looks...

The post Doctor Who: Flux Trailer: Jodie Whittaker's Time Lord Run Reaches Its End appeared first on /Film.

- Vanessa Armstrong
Saved By The Bell Season 2: Release Date, Cast, And More

(Welcome to ...And More, our no-frills, zero B.S. guide to when and where you can watch upcoming movies and shows, and everything else you could possibly stand to know.)

Did you know that "Saved by the Bell," the popular '90s television show, has a 2020 reboot? Did you also know that this reboot was greenlit for a second season back in January of this year?

You probably did, if you're reading this article. Read on to learn everything we know about season 2 of "Saved by the Bell," including when you can watch it.

Season 2 of the "Saved by the Bell" reboot will premiere on Peacock...

The post Saved by the Bell Season 2: Release Date, Cast, and More appeared first on /Film.

- Kirk Boxleitner
The Eternals: Things Only Comic Book Fans Will Know About Kingo

When Pakistani-American actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani appears as Kingo Sunen in director Chloé Zhao's "Eternals," not only will it offer an interesting inversion on the traditional superhero formula, since Kingo is a global celebrity in his civilian identity who seeks to keep his superheroic deeds hidden from the world, but it will also present an intriguing blend of comics-faithful traits and cinematic riffs on the character.

In both the comics and the film, Kingo is a big-screen star who hails from Asia, but while Nanjiani's Kingo performs in Bollywood musicals, the Kingo introduced by "Captain America" co-creator Jack Kirby appeared in martial...

The post The Eternals: Things only comic book fans will know about Kingo appeared first on /Film.

- Chris Evangelista
The Best Movies Streaming Right Now: After Hours, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, The Terminal, Avengement, Timecop

(Welcome to Now Stream This, a weekly column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)

It was a rough week (isn't it always?), but the weekend is finally here. I don't know about you, reader, but when the weekend comes along, I get excited to kick back and watch some movies. If you're like me, and on the lookout for some recommendations as to what to watch, I've swooped in here to help you. With this streaming column, I comb through the tangled forest of streaming titles and bring back entries...

The post The Best Movies Streaming Right Now: After Hours, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Terminal, Avengement, Timecop appeared first on /Film.

- BJ Colangelo
Big Mouth Season 5 Trailer: The Horrors Of Puberty Return

Puberty is the worst, but having weird, animated, anthropomorphic metaphor monsters somehow makes it easier to deal with. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg's coming-of-age animated series for Netflix, "Big Mouth," is known for its creatures like the hormone monsters, depression kitties, f*ck gremlins, anxiety mosquitoes, and shame wizards. Now, the trailer for "Big Mouth" season 5 previews that there's even more emotional creepies to worry about. Enter: love bugs and hate worms. 

Our favorite animated youngsters are getting older, and with that comes big, big feelings. They've already learned to navigate the system overriding hormones can do to common sense, but now our characters...

The post Big Mouth Season 5 Trailer: The Horrors Of Puberty Return appeared first on /Film.

- BJ Colangelo
Redbox Won't Go Down Without A Fight, Teams With Lionsgate For Original Content

In an age where streaming services absolutely dominate the market, it would be understandable for people to ask questions like, "How is Redbox still a thing?" The company whose primary business model is renting DVDs from kiosks outside stores across the United States is still kicking, and planning on expanding its existing free, ad-supported streaming platform thanks to a deal with Lionsgate.

Thanks to a multiyear distribution agreement, Lionsgate has signed on to handle the home entertainment distribution of Redbox Entertainment titles, as well as lead the licensing efforts for subscription-based streaming services. The plan for Redbox is to release around...

The post Redbox Won't Go Down Without a Fight, Teams With Lionsgate for Original Content appeared first on /Film.

- Ryan Scott
Superhero Bits: DC FanDome Is Tomorrow, Avengers: Endgame Director Addresses Marvel Return & More

(Superhero Bits is a collection of stories, updates, and videos about anything and everything inspired by the comics of Marvel, DC, and more. For comic book movies, TV shows, merchandise, events, and whatever catches our eye, this is the place to find anything that falls through the cracks.)

In this edition of Superhero Bits:

"The Batman" gets new promo art.

Joe Russo comments on a rumored return to Marvel.

Batman is crossing over with "Fortnite" again.

DC FanDome is tomorrow.

All that and more!

If last year's DC FanDome is any indication, tomorrow, Saturday, October 16, will be a big...

The post Superhero Bits: DC FanDome is Tomorrow, Avengers: Endgame Director Addresses Marvel Return & More appeared first on /Film.

- Alex Billington
Watch: Fun Supercut of 'The Most Important Device in the Universe'
"This equipment is far superior to ours!" There's an object that appears in many sci-fi films from the 70s and 80s that really has no use, and just "looks cool" - it's known as "Blinking Tubes Without Function". (Read more about it here.) A YouTube channel has created a series of supercut videos with all the footage of these blinking red tubes from every TV show & film it appears in. The funniest thing about this is noticing how the exact same prop appears over and over, almost like they just wheel the thing around to different sets and some guy plugs it in and everyone goes "oh, wow." It's in everything from Star Trek (of course) to V to Knight Rider to Trancers to Airplane II, even in one Austin Powers. I'm glad it doesn't appear anymore, but I wonder if it's in the background of some sci-fi show? Maybe. All three of the videos can be seen below. Thanks ...
- Alex Billington
On Their Way to a New Year's Eve 1999 Party in UK Trailer for 'Pirates'
"Getting into that party is the only thing that matters." "Boys – we're going on a mission." Picturehouse in the UK has unveiled an official trailer for an indie flick called Pirates, just that, Pirates and that's it. This is being billed as "the world's shortest road movie", following three eighteen-year-old friends on their journey from North to South London on New Year's Eve 1999. They drive through London in their tiny Peugeot 205 pumping out a live garage set from the stereo and arguing about their Avirex jackets and Naf Naf imports. Determined to see out the century with a bang they drive from place to place in a desperate search for any tickets for the best millennium party ever. Starring Elliot Edusah, Jordan Peters, and Reda Elazouar, with Kassius Nelson, Youssef Kerkour, Rebekah Murrell, and Aaron Shosanya. Ohhh yeah, this looks rad! Always fun to take a journey back in time and hang out with some youngsters just ...
- Alex Billington
Official US Trailer for German Political Comedy 'Operation Curveball'
"We make the facts." Rock Salt Releasing has already debuted this German film in cinemas in the US, but we're catching up with it now. Operation Curveball, also known as just Curveball, originally premiered at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, but got in trouble because of the title. One of the other alternate US titles is Curveball - A True Story, Unfortunately. The film tells the grotesque, at times even surreal, true story of how the Iraq war was started based on nothing but fake intelligence and the involvement of the German government. It's a very awkward, dark comedy from Germany about how how they provided false details to the Americans that lead to the start of the Iraq War in 2003. The name "Operation Curveball" is actually the real name given to the Iraqi asylum seeker they used as a source, even though he didn't know anything and just wanted a German passport to stay. Curveball stars Sebastian Blomberg, ...
- Alex Billington
Modern Love Film 'Mark, Mary & Some Other People' Official Trailer
"This was your idea from the start!" Vertical Ent. has released a trailer for an indie romantic comedy titled Mark, Mary & Some Other People, directed by actress / filmmaker Hannah Marks. This premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is out to watch this November. Newlyweds Mark and Mary reluctantly decide to give ethical non-monogamy a try as their lives get increasingly complicated. "The decision changes things for the couple and opens a lot of personal questions for both as Mary starts to realize she's more traditional than she thought whereas Mark starts to open up and [begins to see] the world differently through Mary and a polyamorous lens." Quite interesting, an perhaps the expected results. Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law star as Mark and Mary, with a cast including Nik Dodani, Matt Shively, Sofia Bryant, Kelli Berglund, Esther Povitsky, Joe Lo Truglio, and Haley Ramm. Not the first contemporary romance to get into the polyamory game, with Ma ...
- Alex Billington
New US Trailer for Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe's 'The Beta Test' Film
"Now I'm suspicious of everyone... We're so terrified of stepping out of line." IFC Films has just unveiled a second official trailer for The Beta Test, a seductive, provocative thriller from filmmaker Jim Cummings (of Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow). The first UK trailer arrived a few weeks back, time for another look. Cummings teams up with actor PJ McCabe to co-write & co-direct this film, which initially premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this year. It's opening in the US in art house cinemas starting in early November. A married Hollywood agent receives a mysterious letter for an anonymous sexual encounter and becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data. It's partially a commentary on the world of agents in Hollywood, and partially a commentary on the disruptive nature of sexual provocation, how easily it can tear things apart. The film stars Cummings & McCabe, plus Virginia Newcomb, Kevin Changaris, Olivia Grace ...
- Alex Billington
First Netflix Teaser for Cute Animated Adventure 'Back to the Outback'
Let's dance? Netflix has revealed a teaser trailer for an animated adventure from Australia titled Back to the Outback, following a group of animals that escape and try to make their way home. This was made by Netflix Animation and Reel FX Creative Studios, arriving on Netflix in December. Tired of being locked in a reptile house where humans gawk at them like they're monsters, a group of Australia's deadliest creatures plot a daring escape from their zoo to the Outback. Leading the group is Maddie (Isla Fisher), a poisonous snake with a heart of gold, who bands together with the self-assured Thorny Devil lizard Zoe (Miranda Tapsell), a lovelorn hairy spider Frank (Guy Pearce), and a sensitive scorpion Nigel (Angus Imrie). But when their nemesis — Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin), a cute but obnoxious koala — unexpectedly joins their escape, Maddie and the gang have no choice but to take him with them. Also featuring the voices of Rachel ...
- Alex Billington
Trailer for Maya Sarfaty's Holocaust Documentary 'Love It Was Not'
"Could this have been normal love?" Greenwich Ent. has released an official trailer for a documentary film called Love It Was Not, telling the "incredible" true story of a Jewish prisoner during World War II who ends up in a romantic relationship with an SS officer at a concentration camp. "A tragic love story between a prisoner and her captor." But that's not the end of the story. This premiered at the IDFA and Docaviv Film Festivals last year, and opens in a few art house cinemas in the US starting in November. A young Jewish woman named Helena Citron is taken to Auschwitz, where she develops an unlikely romantic relationship with Franz Wunsch, a high-ranking SS officer. Thirty years later, a letter arrives from Wunsch's wife asking Helena to testify on Wunsch's behalf. Faced with an impossible decision, Helena must choose. Will she help the man who brutalized so many lives, but saved hers? I believe there's an obvious ...
- Alex Billington
Watch: Clever Dark Comedy Short Film 'Two Puddles' by Tim Keeling
"What happened down there?!" Okay this short rules. Two Puddles is a very clever dark comedy / horror short made by filmmaker Tim Keeling. This originally premiered back in 2018, but we're catching up with it now and it's still definitely a good recommendation. It also goes through a lot in only six minutes, which is an impressive feat in and of itself anyway. In Two Puddles, a family's peaceful day of picnics and hiking in the woods is interrupted when they stumble upon two puddles that will test the strength of their bond. It stars Luke McGibney as Evan, Amy Keen as Jamie, Julia Florimo as Alice. Filmed on location in The Chilterns, UK. I always love a good short that makes you think about the concept and what it's going for. I won't say anything else, as this is best experienced going in fresh. It's worth a few minutes of time to watch. Thanks to Short of the Week ...
- Alex Billington
Official Trailer for 'The Drummer' About the Trauma of U.S. Soldiers
"You can't force these soldiers to become political." 1091 Pictures has revealed an official trailer for an indie drama titled The Drummer, from filmmaker Eric Werthman. This first premiered last year, and is out on VOD this fall - timed to honor Veterans Day. Set in 2008, The Drummer revolves around active and former members of the U. S. military. With the US engaged in a seemingly perpetual war, the devastating traumas that soldiers suffer abroad continue to be felt at home. The film stars Danny Glover as a Vietnam veteran who has become a lawyer and political advocate for soldiers who've suffered mental health issues. Glover's statement: "My brother was a Vietnam vet, given to the recent announcement that there are more veterans suicide than soldiers killed in Iraq makes the film The Drummer more timely than ever." The cast includes Prema Cruz, Sam Underwood, Daniel K. Isaac, Camilla Perez, Frankie J. Alvarez, Jennifer Mudge, and Lillias White. This ...
- Alex Billington
'I Was A Simple Man' Trailer - A Ghost Story Set on O'ahu, Hawai'i
"Dying isn't simple, is it?" Strand Releasing has unveiled an official trailer for an acclaimed indie film titled I Was A Simple Man, which originally premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The film is made by a Hawaiian filmmaker named Christopher Makoto Yogi, his second feature, and it earned some rave reviews from critics. It's a gorgeous slow burn work of art. A family in Hawai'i faces the imminent death of their eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside. The director explains: "It was always the goal to make it feel honest to my experience growing up in Hawaii. When I think back to my childhood, I was always surrounded by ghost stories... it's very much a vibrant part of the culture. They are told in the same ways that one would trade memories." I Was A Simple Man stars Steve Iwamoto and Constance Wu, with Tim Chiou, Kanoa Goo, Chanel Akiko Hirai, ...
- Alex Billington
Meet 'The All-Seeing Stupendo' in UK Trailer for Comedy 'Sideshow'
"You can't hold me responsible for what the spirits say." Munro Films has debuted a new official UK trailer for an indie comedy titled Sideshow, from filmmaker Adam Oldroyd. The film follows two criminals who after breaking into the home of a washed-up psychic, get much more than they bargained for, because "The All-Seeing Stupendo" is a genuine master of the dark mystic arts – at least that's what it says on his poster. "It's a hilarious, perfectly-pitched and thoroughly silly way to spend 90 mins." With hilarious performances from British legends Les Dennis and Anthony Head, as well as April Pearson and Nathan Clarke. Oldroyd states: "Sideshow is my modern take on the black humour of the old Ealing comedies. Les was the perfect pick to play ageing psychic Stuart Pendrick, his years of experience as one of the nation's best-loved entertainers was the ideal material to draw from." It looks like it might actually be funny enough to ...
- Alex Billington
Trailer for 'Women is Losers' Film Inspired by the Janis Joplin Song
"You want to buy a house... so you can never be kicked out." Look At The Moon Pictures has revealed an official trailer for indie drama Women is Losers, marking the feature directorial debut of San Francisco filmmaker Lissette Feliciano. This originally premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival earlier this year, and it also played at the Cinequest, Oxford, Cleveland, and Maryland Film Festivals. In 1960s San Francisco, a once-promising catholic school girl, Celina Guerrera, sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future for herself that sets new precedents for the time. Inspired by real women and the Janis Joplin song of the same title, Women is Losers played at SXSW this year as one of the most-watched of the festival. The film stars Lorenza Izzo as Celina, with Simu Liu (yes, Shang-Chi!), Bryan Craig, Chrissie Fit, Steven Bauer, Liza Weil, Cranston Johnson, Alejandra Miranda, Shalim Ortiz, and Lincoln Bonilla. This looks like ...
- Alex Billington
New Trailer for Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller 'Broken Darkness'
"Nobody's been topside in 8 years!" Vertical Entertainment has debuted a trailer for Broken Darkness, a post-apocalyptic survival thriller that originally premiered back in 2017. Years later and it's finally getting an official release. Broken Darkness follows the exciting story of Sam, a broken man who after the world ends from a massive meteor shower and the death of his son, is forced to survive underground. He ends up on the run with a crew of rag tag yet heavily armed rangers. Hunted down by mutated creatures, bandits and cannibals alike, their undeniable defiance to return to home is challenged, and an honest story emerges to reveal the heart of friendship in the face of death. A "tale of selflessness, friendship and courage." The film stars Sean Cameron Michael, Brandon Auret, Suraya Santos, and Brendan Murray. Looks like so many other post-apoc survival films, with mutant people and more. Doesn't look like there's anything new? Here's the official trailer (+ posters) ...
- Alex Billington
Halle Berry Directs & Stars in MMA Film 'Bruised' Trailer from Netflix
"Yeah, she still got somethin'." Netflix has unveiled a trailer for Bruised, a thrilling new sports drama that is also the directorial debut of actress Halle Berry. This is opening on Netflix in November, despite not showing up at any festivals or elsewhere yet. A disgraced MMA fighter finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life. She left the sport on bad conditions years earlier, but is given a chance to start a new life back in the octagon. Halle Berry also stars as Jackie Justice, with a cast including Adriane Lenox, Sheila Atim, Valentina Shevchenko, and Stephen McKinley Henderson. It's a "triumphant story of a fighter who reclaims her power, in and out of the ring, when everyone has counted her out." This looks pretty dang good, though it seems to be the same underdog-returns-the-ring story we've seen in plenty of ...
- Alex Billington
Ben Affleck & Tye Sheridan in Clooney's 'The Tender Bar' Film Trailer
"In life, you gotta have 'it'. You don't have it, you'll never get it. And I say... you got 'it.'" Amazon Studios has unveiled the official trailer for The Tender Bar, the latest feature film directed by Academy Award winner George Clooney. This recently premiered at the London Film Festival to some great reviews, and has been set for release starting in December, just in time to catch awards season buzz this fall. It's about a boy growing up on Long Island seeks out father figures among the patrons at his uncle's bar. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning author J.R. Moehringer's memoir "The Tender Bar". Tye Sheridan stars as J.R., a fatherless boy growing up in the glow of a bar where the bartender, his Uncle Charlie, is the sharpest and most colorful of an assortment of quirky & demonstrative father figures. Ben Affleck also stars as Charlie, joined by Christopher Lloyd, Lily Rabe, Max Casella, and Max Martini. ...
- Alex Billington
Second Trailer for the Adorable Live-Action 'Clifford the Big Red Dog'
"People don't like things that are different." Paramount Pictures has debuted the second official trailer for their live-action Clifford the Big Red Dog movie, based on the classic Scholastic book series by Norman Bridwell. The first trailer arrived in the summer and was made fun of by almost everyone, mostly because the giant red dog look so odd. Technically this is a "hybrid" movie because Clifford is actually entirely CGI, though they did use a giant maquette on set during filming. A girl's love for a tiny puppy named Clifford makes the dog grow to an enormous size. Emily and her fun but impulsive uncle Casey then set out on an adventure that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat as our heroes take a bite out of the Big Apple. Clifford the Big Red Dog features Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong and John Cleese as Mr. Bridwell. It's amusing that the plot ...
- Alex Billington
Another Bad Bruce Willis Movie Trailer: Play a Deadly Game of 'Apex'
"Men like that never should've come to a place like this." The same question always come to mind: why?!? RLJE has debuted an official trailer for an action thriller film titled Apex, which is (of course) a shortened version of the excruciatingly dull title Apex Predator. Another new film from the same director of the epicly bad Cosmic Sin with Willis. So what's Apex about? Six elite hunters pay to hunt down a man on a deserted island, only to find themselves becoming the prey. Bruce Willis stars as "Malone", an ex-cop serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit, offered a chance at freedom if he can survive a deadly game of Apex. The cast includes Neal McDonough, Corey Large, Alexis Fast, Nels Lennarson, Lochlyn Munro, Megan Peta Hill, and Trevor Gretzky. Ughhh this seems so so so awful, even the action looks mediocre. Here's the official trailer (+ poster) for Edward Drake's Apex, direct from IGN's YouTube: Serving ...
- Alex Billington
Abel Ferrara's 'Zeros and Ones' Official Trailer Starring Ethan Hawke
"You wouldn't last 10 minutes on the street knowing what he knows." Lionsgate has revealed the official trailer for Zeros and Ones, another awkward new Abel Ferrara movie releasing this year (in addition to Siberia with Willem Dafoe). This one, however, came out of nowhere and it only recently premiered at the Locarno Film Festival. An American soldier stationed in Rome watches the Vatican blown up, then embarks on a hero's journey to uncover and defend against an unknown enemy threatening the entire world. How exciting?! I mean come on, what a boring plot. Ethan Hawke stars, with Valerio Mastandrea, Cristina Chiriac, and Babak Karimi. This looks terrible. The trailer is full of grainy can't-even-see-anything close-up shots, plus tons of stock footage, and that's about it. Move along folks, there's really nothing to see here. Here's the official trailer (+ poster) for Abel Ferrara's Zeros and Ones, direct from Lionsgate's YouTube: Jericho (Ethan Hawke) is an American soldier stationed in post-apocalyptic Rome ...
- Alex Billington
Full Trailer for Time Travel Romantic Thriller 'Needle in a Timestack'
"The past doesn't just belong to history books anymore, now we can live it, touch it, change it." Lionsgate has debuted the full-length official trailer for sci-fi romantic thriller Needle in a Timestack, from director / producer John Ridley (of Jimi: All Is by My Side). Glad to finally get some more footage from this. Set in the near future, the film involves some kind of tech that lets people revisit the past somehow. Nick and Janine live in marital bliss until Janine's ex-husband warps time to tear them apart. As his memories begin to disappear, he must decide what he's willing to sacrifice in order to hold onto - or let go of - everything he loves. "Can love endure in a future where time is fluid, and all of life may be just an illusion?" Needle in a Timestack stars Leslie Odom, Jr. & Cynthia Erivo, along with Orlando Bloom, Freida Pinto, Jadyn Wong, Laysla De Oliveira, Hiro ...
- Alex Billington
Wacky Dark Comedy About Greed 'This Game's Called Murder' Trailer
"Don't talk – otherwise my dad will kill you." Cranked Up Films has debuted an official trailer for a strange indie dark comedy titled This Game's Called Murder, the latest cinema creation from writer / director Adam Sherman. A modern, dark-humored tale of greed, romance, and lost innocence in consumer-crazed, alienated society that functions as a harsh critique of society today without taking itself too seriously. This hasn't played at any festivals, and will be dropping directly into two cinemas + on VOD this December. The film is about the wacky, weird, extremely wealthy Wallendorf Family. The eccentric Wallendorf’s struggle to maintain the facade of a prominent successful family while their violent nature rips them apart. The film stars Ron Perlman, Natasha Henstridge, Vanessa Marano, James Lastovic, Nicole Sousa, Nikko Austen Smith, and Tory Devon Smith. This looks like there's way too many big ideas that clash with each other, despite a good cast and some cool visuals. At least ...
- Ryden Scarnato

Isaac called the role the 'most challenging' of his career.

The post Oscar Isaac Gushes Over ‘Moon Knight’ Experience appeared first on Heroic Hollywood.

- Ryden Scarnato

Another glimpse at the upcoming trailer has been released!

The post Matt Reeves Drops New Look At Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle In ‘The Batman’ appeared first on Heroic Hollywood.

- Aahil Dayani

Misha Green is directing the sequel.

The post ‘Tomb Raider’ Star Alicia Vikander Provides Update On Sequel appeared first on Heroic Hollywood.

- Aahil Dayani

A familiar character returns.

The post ‘The Flash’: Rick Cosnett Set To Return For Season 8 appeared first on Heroic Hollywood.

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Why Neal Fox Won’t Stay Silent on Marxism Gone Wild

The Rolling Stones just canceled one of its most beloved songs, “Brown Sugar,” after a brief flurry of so-called outrage. Veteran troubadour Neal Fox is busy doing the opposite. Fox’s new album, “Unhinged,” takes direct aim at government overreach, speech restrictions and a news media drowning in Fake News. The events of the past year-plus …

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- Barry Wurst
‘Vamp’ Gave Grace Jones a Perfectly Unexpected Close Up

Two college students, AJ and Keith, (Robert Rusler and Chris Makepeace), partake in a late-night mission in “Vamp” — find a stripper in order to be indoctrinated into a bizarre fraternity. The duo convinces Duncan, a wealthy but friendless nerd (Gedde Watanabe) to loan them his wheels (and his unwelcome company) to drive into Los …

The post ‘Vamp’ Gave Grace Jones a Perfectly Unexpected Close Up appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
‘Halloween Kills’ Stars Politicize Horror Franchise, Cite Jan. 6 Riot

“Halloween Kills” isn’t the first film to get its release date changed due to the pandemic. It may not be the last. The sequel’s shift, from a 2020 release to this weekend, does complicate one factor emerging from the movie’s publicity push. Call it the Blame Trump agenda. Actors and directors alike credited President Donald …

The post ‘Halloween Kills’ Stars Politicize Horror Franchise, Cite Jan. 6 Riot appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
‘Grave Intentions’ Serves Up Sloppy Anthology Scares

Horror anthologies offer something for everyone, in theory. Not a fan of story A.? Just wait. The next chapter might be a better fit. The best anthologies offer something extra, a shared creative DNA that heightens the ick factor. “Creepshow” often felt like you were thumbing through a dog-eared E comic book. That’s beyond characters like …

The post ‘Grave Intentions’ Serves Up Sloppy Anthology Scares appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
WaPo Tries to Cancel Country Music. Really

Cancel Culture isn’t done with country superstar Morgan Wallen, this site declared just days ago. It turns out its next target may be country music itself. Wallen infamously uttered the “n-word,” just like Hunter Biden repeatedly texted without fallout, and watched his career collapse overnight. He temporarily lost his label, his ability to be heard on …

The post WaPo Tries to Cancel Country Music. Really appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
How the Media Make Cancel Culture Worse

Cancel Culture might not exist without Twitter and company. Take one angry Tweet or Facebook post. Add hundreds, or thousands, of shares over a short span of time. Voila! A single complaint can leave the target scrambling to apologize or look for a new line of work. Often, it’s both. There’s another component of Cancel Culture, …

The post How the Media Make Cancel Culture Worse appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
‘Brain Freeze’ Satirizes the Usual Targets … with a Twist

George A. Romero’s shadow still looms large over the zombie genre. Romero deftly blended gore, shocks and satire throughout his “Dead” series, never more effectively than with “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). Consumerism never saw that coming. Now, Canadian shocker “Brain Freeze” carries on that ghoulish tradition. Yes, the zom-com slaps around the usual suspects …

The post ‘Brain Freeze’ Satirizes the Usual Targets … with a Twist appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Barry Wurst
Tarantino’s ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ Isn’t Worthy of Its Cult Following

Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Til Dawn” opens with the criminal Gecko brothers (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) destroying a convenience store and slaughtering those unlucky enough to run into them. As the store burns to the ground and a man screams in agony, the Gecko brothers never waver in their hip, profane banter. They seem …

The post Tarantino’s ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ Isn’t Worthy of Its Cult Following appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
Sorry, Jon Stewart … Cancel Culture Is Definitely not a Myth

Jon Stewart isn’t as funny as he used to be, but there’s a good explanation for it. The comedian’s new Apple TV series, “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” takes a more serious approach to the issues of the day. Sure, that Stewart snark is never too far away, but the early episodes let him explore …

The post Sorry, Jon Stewart … Cancel Culture Is Definitely not a Myth appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- HiT Guest Contributor
Why ‘Midnight Mass’ Didn’t Reach Its Full, Ripe Potential (Yet)

Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass” on Netflix Is a missed opportunity, unless Flanagan seriously reckons with the ideas he’s stirred so far for a second season. Flanagan demonstrates he is in great command of the syntax and grammar of his supernatural content, but he shies away from its deeper meaning. This bodes ill for a series …

The post Why ‘Midnight Mass’ Didn’t Reach Its Full, Ripe Potential (Yet) appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Barry Wurst
Why the Atrocious ‘Shout’ Couldn’t Derail Travolta’s Career

For die hard movie fans, the list of bad movies that fished us in with great trailers is tall and varied. Near the top of that list for me is Jeffrey Hornaday’s “Shout” (1991). A slick trailer, set to Jeff Lynne’s catchy “Lift Me Up,” had me fooled. In fact, that rousing song plays for …

The post Why the Atrocious ‘Shout’ Couldn’t Derail Travolta’s Career appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
It’s Official: Woke Marketing Broke Bond

The big news for James Bond fans? “No Time to Die,” the 25th film in the saga, didn’t go woke as many expected and/or feared. The bad news? The creative team behind the movie suggested it did just that. Over and again. The results? “No Time to Die” netted $56 million on its opening weekend. That’s far …

The post It’s Official: Woke Marketing Broke Bond appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Barry Wurst
Why ‘Deadly Friend’ Missed Classic Status, Settled for Camp

Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” (1986) was the filmmaker’s major studio attempt to recapture lightening in a bottle. The movie came after Warner Bros. gave the master of horror a substantial budget after the success of “A Nightmare on Elm St.” (1984). It was not Craven’s first attempt to find another Freddy Krueger-sized zeitgeist-loving hit and, …

The post Why ‘Deadly Friend’ Missed Classic Status, Settled for Camp appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
Movies Plus Brings ‘Banned’ Movies to Your Streaming Devices

An irresistible “Plot” pushed Cory Tucek to jump the gun on his new streaming platform. Movies Plus wasn’t officially ready last summer – Tucek planned to unveil it several months later. Then the entrepreneur learned about a new documentary that faced long odds to reach the public. “The Plot Against the President,” director Amanda Milius’ powerful …

The post Movies Plus Brings ‘Banned’ Movies to Your Streaming Devices appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
Have We Reached Peak Woke?

Consumers know “Saturday Night Live” is the premiere spot for political comedy. Or, to be more accurate, was the premiere spot up until a few years ago. Now? “SNL” pulls its satirical punches whenever a Democrat stumbles. And, in the Age of Biden, that happens more or less daily. So it’s not a shock that …

The post Have We Reached Peak Woke? appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
Media Rush In to Save ‘Fauci’ Doc

There’s an excellent chance Americans have had their fill of Dr. Anthony Fauci. The elderly bureaucrat and infectious disease guru is more visible than any public figure save the president. On any given day you can watch Dr. Fauci weigh in on COVID-19 across the media landscape. Except “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show,” …

The post Media Rush In to Save ‘Fauci’ Doc appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Barry Wurst
Why ‘House’ Took More Risks than Most ’80s Horror Films

In Steve Miner’s “House” (1986), William Katt stars as Roger Cobb, a successful horror novelist whose marriage has ended after the disappearance of his son. Devastated by the loss of his child and marriage dissolving, Cobb decides to move into his late aunt’s home to write an autobiographical work about his tour of duty in …

The post Why ‘House’ Took More Risks than Most ’80s Horror Films appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
Critics Call Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Special ‘Closer’ Bigoted, Transphobic

Comedian Dave Chappelle stomped across a woke minefield in his 2019 Netflix special “Sticks & Stones.” Joke after joke hit targets presumably off-limits in our Cancel Culture age. For Chappelle’s newest Netflix special, “The Closer,” he did it again. And the reaction from liberal critics is virtually unchanged. Bigoted! Transphobic! Yet Chappelle won’t be canceled, …

The post Critics Call Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Special ‘Closer’ Bigoted, Transphobic appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Christian Toto
‘God’s Not Dead: We the People’ Is the Movie We Need, Flaws and All

The “God’s Not Dead” franchise caught up to the zeitgeist, and then some. The 2014 original did more than snag $60 million at the box office. It gave Christians who feel western culture has it in for them a voice. True? False? Somewhere in between? What’s impossible to deny is how “God’s Not Dead: We …

The post ‘God’s Not Dead: We the People’ Is the Movie We Need, Flaws and All appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.

- Anthony Whyte

Our Opinion on Poulter casting is Adam Warlock, Tom Holland claiming this Spider-Man film feels FINAL, Tom Hardy’s acting and status, Chloe Zhao wanting to direct Star Wars, the upcoming trailer for The Batman and more. Shortcuts: 00:00 Will Poulter’s casting as Adam Warlock 02:18 Our opinion on Tom Hardy ... [Read More]

The post appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Subhadeep Ganguli
The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020): A Comical Christmas Fantasy

The Christmas Chronicles 2 is a sequel to the film The Christmas Chronicles. Co-produced, co-written and directed by Chris Columbus, The Christmas Chronicles 2 features Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Jahzir Bruno and Julian Dennison in the lead roles. The film was released on Netflix on November 25, 2020. ... [Read More]

The post The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020): A Comical Christmas Fantasy appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Soumya Jain
Disney Releases Official Trailer for New Docuseries, ‘The Beatles: Get Back’

The Beatles: Get Back is a three-part docuseries centred around the rock band, The Beatles. It focuses on the time during the recording of their last album, Let It Be. The documentary’s theme will be bright and lighthearted. Instead of focusing on the band’s disagreements and feuds, it will highlight ... [Read More]

The post Disney Releases Official Trailer for New Docuseries, ‘The Beatles: Get Back’ appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Connie Wilson
“The Velvet Underground” Documentary (Todd Haynes) Begins Streaming October 15, 2021

   The Velvet Underground Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min. ” Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night (Oct. 14) presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far ... [Read More]

The post “The Velvet Underground” Documentary (Todd Haynes) Begins Streaming October 15, 2021 appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- John Smistad
Win a Free DVD of the Crime Thriller “Whitetail” (2021)!

“Whitetail” tells the chilling story of a troubled family, two men and a boy, on a weekend hunting trip at a remote Texas ranch.  They find a mysterious man, shot in the stomach, and clutching onto a backpack full of money.  Whose the shooter?  Where did the cash come from?  ... [Read More]

The post Win a Free DVD of the Crime Thriller “Whitetail” (2021)! appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Subhadeep Ganguli
Serious Men (2020): Nawazuddin Siddiqui Stars In An Incredible Tale Of A Man’s Pursuit For Fame

Bollywood’s producer and director Sudhir Mishra adapts the award-winning novel of author Manu Joseph titled “Serious Men” and brings an engaging satirical comedy by the same name to the big screens. “Serious Men” stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as an assistant astronomer Ayyan Mani and Nassar as his astronomer boss Dr. Arvind ... [Read More]

The post Serious Men (2020): Nawazuddin Siddiqui Stars In An Incredible Tale Of A Man’s Pursuit For Fame appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Elliot Hopper
Cryptocurrency: Least Rated Crypto

The cryptocurrency industry began to reflect that of the Apple App Store in 2008 in 2021. It was groundbreaking back in those days. The concept of having several apps on your phone was very novel. Cryptocurrency is exponentially increasing, but it has not yet burst into the consciousness of everyone. ... [Read More]

The post Cryptocurrency: Least Rated Crypto appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette
No Time To Die Review: The Classy Fan Service And Closure We Need

In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous ... [Read More]

The post No Time To Die Review: The Classy Fan Service And Closure We Need appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Anthony Whyte
The return of the New York Comic Con Day 1

Day 1 of New York Comic Con 2021 is in the books! And what a day it was! It was great to return to the Jacob Javits center and commune with other fans of geek culture. The New York Comic Con this year was very lively and fun if not ... [Read More]

The post The return of the New York Comic Con Day 1 appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Elliot Hopper
Best Streaming Platforms 2021: Alternative for Hefty Cable Bills

Cable bills are rising with each passing day leading to a shift to streaming services. The hype of streaming services has been quite high in recent years due to programming and low cost. Without incurring extra equipment charges, hike in prices, and hidden costs, streaming services offer you enough entertainment ... [Read More]

The post Best Streaming Platforms 2021: Alternative for Hefty Cable Bills appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette
MAYA AND THE THREE Advance Screening Giveaway

Did you want to see MAYA AND THE THREE starring Zoe Saldana, Hailey Hermida, and Carolina Ravassa? Would you like to see it early and free? Enter for the chance to attend the virtual premiere screening of MAYA AND THE THREE on Saturday, October 16 at 12:00pm CST. Winners will ... [Read More]

The post MAYA AND THE THREE Advance Screening Giveaway appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Cricker
What Factors to look for before buying VPN Service

A Complete User Guide With more incidents of cybercrimes and government monitoring, VPNs have gained prominence. Several internet dangers lurk just waiting to pounce. Many people use VPNs to safeguard themselves against a variety of threats to their personal information. As a result of this, many individuals have chosen trustworthy ... [Read More]

The post What Factors to look for before buying VPN Service appeared first on The Movie Blog.

- Joseph Saulnier
Get ready for some retro goodness. The Neogeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 – Steam Edition is out now and it’s one of the largest collections of retro-game compilations out there.  Featuring 10 games of yesteryear, this is a must have for retro enthusiasts and those missing the good old days of gaming. The Neogeo [&hellip
- Joseph Saulnier
SNK vs Capcom: The Match of the Millennium (we’ll call it MoM for short) was originally released more than 20 years ago on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and again earlier this year on the Nintendo Switch. Now this fun retro throwback comes to PC players via Steam. If you follow me at all, you [&hellip
- gareth
This week for my segment on BJ Shea’s Geek Nation on KISW FM; The Rev and I discuss the launch of Back 4 Blood, NYCC 2021, and DC Fandome.  We also Discuss The New Anti-Cheat software for Call of Duty.   Joe discusses the latest from Apple TV+’s The Foundation; Joe discusses the latest from [&hellip
- minshewnetworks
The Best Movies and TV shows on Netflix in 2021
  Deciding what to watch with your family, friends or partner can take a long time. There are a plethora of movies and shows to choose from so we have helped narrow down to some of the best ones available.   There are many streaming services available so checkout Sknr.net guide to the best streaming [&hellip
- gareth
): Read our guide to the best shows on Netflix in 2021. We have included comedies, dramas and thrillers, there is something for everyone!
- gareth
Looking forward to this as it looks like lots of fun. The next chapter in the Dark Aether Saga has been revealed, with “Der Anfang” – the new story of Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies
- Genevieve Mc Bride
I am sure Sonic fans will love the new items. Sakar International and SEGA of America, Inc. have today announced a partnership to expand Sakar’s line of licensed wheeled goods and accessories with Sonic the Hedgehog, as part of the iconic video game character’s 30th anniversary. This Fall, Sonic fans can speed into action and [&hellip
- gareth
This looks like a fun events for fans of the game to get into the Halloween spirit. Starting today, Star Trek Online players can join the game’s first-ever Halloween event, The Fall of the Old Ones, on PC, Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Like the “First Contact Day” event, this new three-week celebration begins with a [&hellip
- gareth
I am curious how this will work as cheating in Online COD has been a problem that keeps getting worse. Today Activision introduced RICOCHET Anti-Cheat, a robust anti-cheat system supported by a team of dedicated professionals focused on fighting unfair play across Call of Duty: Warzone and Call of Duty: Vanguard.  The Call of Duty [&hellip
- Genevieve Mc Bride
Looks like another solid update to the game. Today, Ubisoft announced that Brawlhalla’s 54th Legend, Munin, makes a grand entrance into the game with some huge riffs and musical energy to defeat her opponents. With her sister Hugin, Munin forms the band Ravenqueen, an explosive and colorful musical duo. Munin is ready to make some [&hellip
- Nathanial Eker
Luzzu LFF review
★★★★★ Directed by #AlexCamilleri Starring: #JesmarkScicluna #MichelaFarrugia Film review by Nathanial Eker-Male
- Chris Olson
Filmmaker Interview with Saniya Sajjan and Babs Production
Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson Thanks for chatting with us. What were the origins of Babs Production? Babs Production Ltd. was...
- UK Film Review
The House of the Devil film review
★★★★ Directed by: Ti West Written by: Ti West Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, A.J Bowen and Dee Wallace Throwback...
- Robert Stayte The Critic
Belfast LFF Review
Whilst Director/Actor Sir Kenneth Branagh has made a wide range of films, his background in Northern Ireland has not been depicted by him at
- Darren Tilby
On the Third Day Grimmfest review
★★★ Directed by: Daniel de la Vega Written by: Alberto Fasce, Gonzalo Ventura Starring: Mariana Anghileri, Arturo Bonín, Diego Cremonesi...
- Robert Stayte The Critic
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon LFF Review
Ana Lily Amirpour has defied convention by not allowing herself to be stuck into a certain mould. Despite debuting with the unique Iranian v
- Robert Stayte The Critic
Red Rocket LFF Review
Sean Baker is one of many noteworthy indie directors to emerge in the 2010’s, being set apart from the mainstream by his utter devotion to r
- Robert Stayte The Critic
Spencer LFF Review
Director Pablo Larrain’s recent effort based on a famous woman of history, Jackie and Kristen Stewart’s fame both seem
- Corey Bulloch
Waimea short film review
★★★ short film review for Waimea directed by Steve Herold. Words by critic Corey Bulloch for UK Film Review.
- Alex Matraxia
The Real Charlie Chaplin LFF Film Review
★★★★ Review for The Real Charlie Chaplin directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney. Words by critic Alex Matraxia for UK Film Review.
- Nathanial Eker
No Smoking short film review
★★★ Directed by #DNi Film review by Nathanial Eker-Male
- Emily Davison
Masking Threshold (2021) Film Review
Film review for Masking Threshold (2021), directed by Johannes Grenzfurthner. Words by critic Emily Davison for UK Film Review.
- Alex Matraxia
The French Dispatch LFF Film Review
★★★★★ Film review for The French Dispatch directed by Wes Anderson. Words by critic Alex Matraxia for UK Film Review.
- Alex Matraxia
The Hand of God LFF Film Review
★★★★★ Film review for The Hand of God directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Words by critic Alex Matraxia for UK Film Review.
- Alex Matraxia
The Souvenir Part II LFF Film Review
★★★★★ Film review for The Souvenir Part II, directed by Joanna Hogg. Words by critic Alex Matraxia for UK Film Review.
- Darren Tilby
Two Witches Grimmfest film review
★★★ Directed by: Pierre Tsigaridis Written by: Kristina Klebe, Maxime Rancon, Pierre Tsigaridis Starring: Rebekah Kennedy, Danielle...
- William Hemingway
The Beatles And India documentary film review
Documentary film review for The Beatles And India directed by Ajoy Bose. Words by William Hemingway for UK Film Review.
- Darren Tilby
Alone With You Grimmfest film review
★★★★ Directed by: Emily Bennett, Justin Brooks Written by: Emily Bennett, Justin Brooks Starring: Emily Bennett, Barbara Crampton, Dora...
- Emily Davison
JOJO (2021) Short Film Review
Short film review for JOJO (2021), directed by Tharun. Words by critic Emily Davison for UK Film Review.
- Darren Tilby
The Beta Test Grimmfest film review
★★★★ Directed by: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe Written by: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe Starring: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe,...
- Montelent
Bai Yutang and Mystery of Maneater Wolf (2021) Chinese WEB-DL Full Movie Download MP4

Bai Yutang and Mystery of Maneater Wolf (2021) Full Movie DownloadBai Yutang and Mystery of Maneater Wolf (2021) Full Movie Download – Bai Yutang, nicknamed “Sleek Rat”, is a Song dynasty knight-errant from the 19th-century [...]

The post Bai Yutang and Mystery of Maneater Wolf (2021) Chinese WEB-DL Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Shadowless Sword (Muyeong geom) (2005) Korean BluRay Full Movie Download MP4

Shadowless Sword (Muyeong geom) (2005) Full Movie DownloadShadowless Sword (Muyeong geom) (2005) Full Movie Download – In ancient Korea, the Prince of Beahae has been assassinated and the kingdom is in turmoil. [...]

The post Shadowless Sword (Muyeong geom) (2005) Korean BluRay Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Injustice (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4

Injustice (2021) Full Movie DownloadInjustice (2021) Full Movie Download – On an alternate Earth, the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane, which causes a rampage in the hero. [...]

The post Injustice (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019) Hollywood Norwegian BluRay Full Movie Download MP4

The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019) Full Movie DownloadThe Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019) Full Movie Download – Families n people on their way home for Christmas are trapped inside a tunnel when a truck [...]

The post The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019) Hollywood Norwegian BluRay Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Upcoming (2021) Chinese WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4

Upcoming (2021) Full Movie Download MP4Upcoming (2021) Full Movie Download – Chen Chen, a high school student, finds the love affair of her mother just before the college entrance exam [...]

The post Upcoming (2021) Chinese WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4

Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021) Full Movie DownloadDave Chappelle: The Closer (2021) Full Movie Download – As he closes out his slate of comedy specials, Dave takes the stage to try and [...]

The post Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury III (2021) English HDTV Full Movie Download MP4

Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury III (2021) Full Movie DownloadDeontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury III (2021) Full Movie Download – Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder III, billed as Once and For All, is a [...]

The post Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury III (2021) English HDTV Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Last Man Down (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4

Last Man Down (2021) Full Movie DownloadLast Man Down (2021) Full Movie Download – After civilization succumbs to a deadly pandemic and his wife is murdered, John Wood – a special [...]

The post Last Man Down (2021) Hollywood English WEBRip Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
IP Man: The Awakening Master (2021) Chinese WEB-DL Full Movie Download MP4

IP Man: The Awakening Master (2021) Full Movie DownloadIP Man: The Awakening Master (2021) Full Movie Download – When Ip Man was studying in Hong Kong during his youth years, he accidentally gets [...]

The post IP Man: The Awakening Master (2021) Chinese WEB-DL Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Montelent
Greta (2018) Hollywood English BluRay Full Movie Download MP4

Greta (2018) Full Movie DownloadGreta (2018) Full Movie Download – Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), a sweet, naïve young woman trying to make it on her own in New York [...]

The post Greta (2018) Hollywood English BluRay Full Movie Download MP4 appeared first on Montelent - General Movies, Fzmovies Downloads 2021 and Where to Watch Best Movies.

- Shawn Thompson
31 Days of Horror – DAWN OF THE DEAD

31 Days Of Horror continues at Last Movie Outpost as we count down to Halloween. Today we tackle George A. Romero’s all-time great Dawn Of The Dead. Dawn Of The Dead is the greatest zombie horror film ever made. It is also Romero’s best film. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, there […]

The post 31 Days of Horror – DAWN OF THE DEAD appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Stark
Whittaker Has Shot Final DOCTOR WHO Scenes

It won’t be on our screens until the latter half of 2022, but Jodie Whittaker has confirmed that she has shot her final scenes as Doctor Who. The thirteenth incarnation of The Doctor in the long-running sci-fi series will regenerate next year, in time for a new showrunner to take over. A six-episode thirteenth season […]

The post Whittaker Has Shot Final DOCTOR WHO Scenes appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Not George Lucas
Bellucci And Collette In MAFIA MAMMA

Director Catherine Hardwicke has a new comedy planned called Mafia Mamma. Monica Bellucci and Toni Collette are both set to star in it. The story is about a suburban housewife who inherits her grandfather’s mafia empire. She defies everyone’s expectations as she takes on the family business. Catherine Hardwicke, best known for directing the first […]

The post Bellucci And Collette In MAFIA MAMMA appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Stark
HAWKEYE Extended TV Spot

Marvel’s Disney+ bandwagon rolls ever onward. After WandaVision, Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and now What If..? the next cab off the rank is Hawkeye. Last month they presented a trailer that surprised a few people, showing a welcome humorous tone and some great interplay between the two leads. Now Marvel Studios has released a […]

The post HAWKEYE Extended TV Spot appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Stark
JACK RYAN Renewed

Jack Ryan is coming back for a fourth season. The TV show that is based upon Tom Clancy’s famous literary character will be back on our screens soon as Amazon completed production a while ago. They are yet to set a date. Even though season three is yet to air, they have ordered the fourth […]

The post JACK RYAN Renewed appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Stark
Kim Jong-un Not A SQUID GAME Fan

It may be a global smash with the kind of watercooler buzz we haven’t seen since Game Of Thrones, but that doesn’t mean everyone is in love with Squid Games. The noisy neighbors to the North aren’t impressed. Maybe the buzz is keeping them awake or something? Both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal are running a […]

The post Kim Jong-un Not A SQUID GAME Fan appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Stark
The SECRET INVASION Underway As SPIDER-MAN Ends?

Mixed messages coming out of Marvel, Sony, and the MCU in general right now with Secret Invasion and Spider-Man: No Way Home both on the way. One sooner than the other. First up, MCU lynchpin, stalwart, and most appearing player Samuel L. Jackson is back. His thirteenth time in the role, fourteen if you include […]

The post The SECRET INVASION Underway As SPIDER-MAN Ends? appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Shawn Thompson
31 Days of Horror – THEM!

31 Days Of Horror continues at Last Movie Outpost as we go back, way back to the 1950’s and take a look at Them! Giant Atomic Monsters!  You’ve got to love the science fiction and horror movies post World War 2. Back then the only thing we had to worry about besides Communist domination of […]

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- MacLeod
Sheer Beatlemania – THE BEATLES: GET BACK Trailer

Disney has released a full-length official trailer for Peter Jackson’s new Beatles documentary called The Beatles: Get Back. It was originally supposed to open as one long film playing in theaters exclusively last year, but with delays, they’re skipping theaters entirely to launch digitally exclusively. And it is being split into 3 episodes as a […]

The post Sheer Beatlemania – THE BEATLES: GET BACK Trailer appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Drunkenyoda
Top 10 STAR TREK Episodes: Part 1

Star Trek gives as much as it takes away these days. For every Wrath Of Khan, there is a Final Frontier. For every Deep Space Nine, there is a Star Trek: Picard (and Discovery, and Lower Decks and damn you Kurtzman!). Here at the Last Movie Outpost, we do love us some Star Trek. Classic […]

The post Top 10 STAR TREK Episodes: Part 1 appeared first on The Last Movie Outpost.

- Donald Shanahan
GUEST EDITORIAL: Interesting Facts About Freddie Mercury "Bohemian Rhapsody" Doesn’t Reveal
By Monykanchna Kunvuth Former lead vocalist of Queen, Freddie Mercury led one fabulous life. If you think the Academy Award winning film Bohemian Rhapsody depicts Mercury’s life in a colorful light, you’re in for a wilder ride if you’re interested in knowing more about the man. Lesley-Ann Jones, Author of Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, covers the most compelling aspects of Mercury’s life. She interviewed members of Queen, Mercury’s lovers, family members, and many more. She even visited places of significance to the lead vocalist such as London, Zanzibar, and India. Here are some interesting facts that are never revealed in the Academy Award winning movie.
- Donald Shanahan
How Boosting your ELO in League of Legends can Save a lot of Time and Nerves
Playing League of Legends only for entertainment is not a challenge and even relaxing, but if you are one of those players who want to boost their ELO on their accounts, then you should be prepared for a big challenge. Boosting your ELO is never easy, especially if you are not fully familiar with League of Legends. However, there are some tips that you can use to boost your ELO much more easily. These tips can save you a lot of time and nerves. Also, there are many things while boosting your ELO that you should not do. Avoiding these can also save you a lot of time and nerves. We have listed the most important factors that you should do while boosting your ELO and how they can save a lot of time and nerves for you.
- Donald Shanahan
Award Winning Casino Related Films that you Need to Watch
Casino gambling is regarded as a fun and social activity; if you would want to participate and strive to win the jackpot reward, there are a wide range of online gaming options available, click here for some examples, all mentioned gaming casinos offer good odds, promotions, offers as well a good welcome package to help you get started on the right foot. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the films that you need to watch:
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: CBD Documentary "Grass Is Greener": Know All About It 
by Emma Wilson According to the federal government, even as marijuana gets legal in most states, it remains a Schedule-I drug, whether for medical or recreational purposes. So, how did that happen? In his new documentary Grass Is Greener , legendary rapper Fab 5 Freddy examines how cannabis has influenced the Black music scene from the dawn of jazz to the present day, as well as the government's rationale for taking possession of it illegally.
- Donald Shanahan
MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Duel
It is also through her side of the story, clearly a huge product of Holofcener’s storytelling contributions, where the historical behaviors in The Last Duel accurately yet problematically fly against our still-evolving modern attitudes. While Scott’s film may follow the charted multiple perspectives of Jager’s well-researched novel, folding its painful and triggering trauma three times makes for an exorbitant and unsettling movie experience.
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: 3 Reasons Why Actors Choose To Go to College
by Lewis Robinson The importance of education cannot be overstated. Today, more and more high school graduates are doubting the value of a college education. It might surprise them to know just how many famous performers have taken the time and made the effort to complete their college degrees even after they have become stars. Hollywood is full of superstars who value their framed degrees as much as they value their Oscars, Emmys and Grammys. The reasons why they choose to complete their studies even after fame are moving and they reveal the value of a good education.
- Donald Shanahan
FESTIVAL COVERAGE: Special programs and events of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival
From dramas and thrillers to documentaries and comedies, the 57th Chicago International Film Festival presents an outstanding diversity of offerings. As in other years, their competitive categories and programs include Cinemas of the Americas, International Comedy, Women in Cinema, OutLook, After Dark, the 25th anniversary of the Black Perspectives focus, and the City & State program highlighting films made in Chicago and throughout Illinois.
- Donald Shanahan
FESTIVAL COVERAGE: Second year of the drive-in program of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival
Last year’s Drive-In offerings for the 56th Chicago International Film Festival were a big success at the ChiTown Movies location in the Pilsen neighborhood. Continuing that success, the Drive-In program has returned with its classic format for the upcoming 57th Chicago International Film Festival. Five drive-in features will be presented at 2343 South Throop Street. Tickets to the Chicago International Film Festival drive-in screenings, and the full program and drive-in schedule are available online now.
- Donald Shanahan
FESTIVAL COVERAGE: Previewing the headliners of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival
The prestigious 57th Chicago International Film Festival will run from October 13-24. Spinning out of a virtual 2020 year of limited online screenings, drive-in accommodations, and a limited slate, this year’s festival roars back to expand across the city. After many years centered at the AMC River East homebase location, the 57th CIFF is branching out across the Windy City. Film events will also be hosted by The Gene Siskel Film Center, the historic Music Box Theatre, the returning drive-in ChiTown Movies in Pilsen, and neighborhood pop-up screenings at Bronzeville’s historic Parkway Ballroom. This proud festival finally has the full coverage across the city it has long deserved.
- Donald Shanahan
SPECIAL EVENT: Previewing Wizard World Chicago 2021
Wizard Brands, Inc. is proud to announce that the 23rd edition of its flagship national event, Wizard World Chicago, will officially make its triumphant return on October 15-17, 2021, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. As a sign of tremendous good faith in this COVID era, all tickets purchased for the originally scheduled event in 2020, also postponed from August 2021, will be honored. Event tickets, photo op, autograph appointments and more are available online right now at the Wizard World website.
- Donald Shanahan
MEDIA APPEARANCE: Guest on the "Seeing and Believing" Podcast with Kevin McLenithan
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Kevin McLenithan of the long-running "Seeing and Believing Podcast,” part of the Christ and Pop Culture site and podcast network as one of a series of interim hosts. Kevin and I are both members of Chicago Indie Critics and his faith-flavored perspective has always been topical, honest, and outstanding. His regular co-host Wade Bearden has retired from the show for other ventures and this new episode talking about the new James Bond movie No Time to Die was Kevin’s first run on “Seeing and Believing” leading the ship. I was honored to talk about a stellar movie and temporarily fill some big shows.
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: Movies That Say Something About Business Savvy
by Lewis Robinson Movies are made primarily for entertainment purposes, but they can be so much more. They can be educational, inspirational, and cautionary. Some of the most compelling movies ever made deal with business, either directly or tangentially. You can watch them to either increase your own business acumen from them or learn from them what not to do.
- Donald Shanahan
PODCAST: Episode 28 of "The Cinephile Hissy Fit" Podcast
For our 28th episode, 25YL film critics, strong dads, and inventive school teachers Will Johnson and Don Shanahan welcomed become prior guest and Phoenix-based film critic Ben Cahlamer for a twin bill of Paul Schrader films. Ben joins Will for a debate on Schrader's new film and Oscar Isaac vehicle "The Card Counter." Having not seen the movie, Don puts on the striped shirt as the referee for this one. Ben, as always, brings his insightful color that elevates this show.
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: 5 Movies That Will Leave You Thinking About Climate Change
by Kevin Gardner The topic of climate change has worked its way into all types of artistic expression; however, within more recent decades, it has almost become an entire genre in Hollywood cinematography. You can find a bevy of documentaries about relatively any element of climate change, but given the topic's relevance, you've probably noticed it creeping into the plots of everything from science fiction to heartwarming family films. Here are five major films, fiction and nonfiction, that will leave you thinking about climate change.
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: 6 Killer Fashion Advice Tips From "The Devil Wears Prada"
by Kevin Gardner When asked to think of a contemporary movie that centers around the world of fashion, The Devil Wears Prada should pop into your mind. This iconic film is just that good. It’s funny. It’s stylish. It has a star-studded cast. It’s more than 15 years old, and it’s still serving up fashion advice to today’s audiences that anyone can abide by and look their best, no matter the current trends. It can do no wrong. A few pieces of advice from The Devil Wears Prada stand out above the rest, however. Let’s take a look at the timeless styling tips you can apply to your own approach to fashion.
- Donald Shanahan
Playing at Bitcoin Casinos: What Are the Reasons for Such High Popularity?
In recent years, Bitcoin has been adopted by different industries, including gambling. Today, some casinos let their members make deposits using the pioneering cryptocurrency. Here is how such systems work, and why they are increasingly popular. The rise of Bitcoin カジノ casino is connected to the speed of crypto transactions, anonymity, and security, as well as the volatile nature of the asset itself. This is one of the many applications of Bitcoin, which may be sold, bought, borrowed and lent, or used for long-term investment. Here are the key reasons for playing on such casino platforms.
- Donald Shanahan
GUEST COLUMN: Want To Be a Movie Producer or Videographer? Here's What You Need To Know
by Lewis Robinson The market for video productions is on the rise. Streaming services have created a new way for consumers to watch movies and television, and the audience demand for these services is expected to increase continually. As more platforms develop, film and television production has also expanded globally. The subsequent spending increase holds true not only for major Hollywood studios but also for independent filmmakers. As audiences grow and more contenders enter the market, film budgets rise to attract the best talent.
- Donald Shanahan
SPECIAL GUEST: An Experience from the Set of "No Time to Die"
Every Movie Has a Lesson met Walter Nicoletti through the new Globe Film Awards group of which I am a new member of. He had the dreamy privilege of being present in Matera, Italy when No Time to Die was filmed a few years ago and want to share that experience with my website audience. Welcome, Walter!
- Donald Shanahan
MOVIE REVIEW: No Time to Die
Pushing new discipline, they realigned their creative engine to strip the rote and antiquated character’s foundation back down to its very studs. Progressive change was needed for a new era of geopolitical influences and a new leading man who favored toughness over suaveness. Cinematic dalliances that burned hot, moved with excitement, and extinguished themselves quickly were given depth that was previously rare or entirely dismissed.
- Donald Shanahan
The Power of Cinema: How Movies Influence Online Gambling
Filmmaking is one of the most revolutionary forms of art. As such, it has had an immense impact on various other industries and art forms. One such industry is online gambling. As technology incessantly grows and develops, it’s starting to implement bits and pieces from other fields. At one point, moviemaking and online casinos crossed paths and have continued intertwining since. The proof of this connection can be seen in this list of online casinos.
- bordwellblog
Crime in the streets and on the page
      Richard Wright (Britannica.com); Colson Whitehead (New York Times). DB here: In the 1940s, Richard Wright was one of America’s most distinguished writers. His shocking novel Native Son (1940), in which a young Black man kills and decapitates a white woman, became a best-seller. After Citizen Kane, Orson Welles mounted a flamboyant Broadway […]
- bordwellblog
70s mixtape hit: Tom Nichols and the Deplorables
From studying the polls, I would guess that about a third of the American people at any given moment would welcome a fascist state. Gore Vidal, 1975 DB here: For American conservatives, Hollywood is a prime villain, coarsening the culture and spreading liberal propaganda. Yet when Reagan promised to veto tax-increase legislation, he quoted Dirty […]
- Kristin
Is there a blog in this class? 2021
Kristin here: The year since I posted our previous “Is there a blog in this class?” entry has been a strange one for filmmaking, film-going, film reviewing, film journalism, and film teaching. We managed to keep on blogging about film, though some of our usual sources of inspiration for subject matter were far less active. […]
- Kristin
Dietrich before von Sternberg and von Sternberg before Dietrich
Thunderbolt (1929)   Kristin here– In my entry on the ten best films of 1929, I suggested that that particular year, hovering as it did between silents and talkies, was relatively poorly represented on home video. Now Kino Lorber has released two films from that year that both entertain us and contribute to our knowledge […]
- bordwellblog
Little things
Equinox Flower (Ozu, 1958). DB here: Academic critics and fans share a passion for looking closely at the movies we admire. A lot of film critics enjoy spiraling out from the film to ponder Big Ideas, which is okay, I guess. But I confess I particularly enjoy digging in for trouvailles (great word), lucky discoveries […]
- Kristin
French silents from Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021
L’Arlésienne (1922) Kristin here: Like so many of our fellow festival-goers, David and I were not able to visit Bologna for Il Cinema Ritrovato, the annual festival of restored films and curated thematic threads. Fortunately the organizers made a selection of the films and events (interviews, discussions of films by archivists) available online. We were […]
- bordwellblog
Once upon a time in Hollywood, again: Tarantino revises his fairy tale
Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood (2019). I guess what I’m always trying to do is use the structures that I see in novels and apply them to cinema. –Quentin Tarantino DB here: Tarantino has often embraced print-based texts that revise or complement his films. He’s shared screenplays that differ sharply from […]
- bordwellblog
Learning to watch a film, while watching a film
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992). DB here: “Every film trains its spectator,” I wrote a long time ago. In other words: A movie teaches us how to watch it. But how can we give that idea some heft? How do movies do it? And what are we doing?   Many menus Tinker, Tailor, […]
- bordwellblog
What you see is what you guess
      The Castle Island Case (1937). DB here: In the 1920s and 1930s, stories of mystery and detection became hugely popular in Anglophone countries. Britain’s “Golden Age” of whodunits, launched by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, was rivaled by the emergence of American hardboiled detection, personified by Dashiell Hammett and other writers for […]
- Kristin
A tantalizingly anonymous Josef von Sternberg film
Children of Divorce (1927) Kristin here: In 2008, David and I attended Il Cinema Ritrovato for the sixth time. The Hollywood director being featured that year was Josef von Sternberg. We saw some of the gorgeous prints on show, most notably (for me), a chance to re-watch the underrated Thunderbolt (1929), his first sound feature. […]
- Jason
Scream Official Trailer
A new killer is on the prowl and brings back old memories as Paramount Pictures release the officail trailer for their upcoming film Scream. View trailer below. Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from
- Jason
No Time to Die (2021) Review
A FANTASTIC AND CHARACTER DRIVEN FAREWELL ADVENTURE TO CRAIG’S 007   The man (James Bond), the myth (Bond), and the icon (007). Such are the names that come to mind when speaking about Ian Fleming’s most notorious spy super sleuth: James Bond. Moreover, the Hollywood feature films of Fleming’s character of Bond have become more iconic, spanning over 53 years
- Jason
Cinderella (2021) Review
A FLAT, CRINGEWORTHY, AND MESSY FAIRYTALE RETELLING   A royal ball, a kind-hearted fairy godmother, a wicked stepmother, a glass slipper, and a girl named Cinderella. Yes, I’m talking about the iconic and popular fairytale of Cinderella, which has seeing its various forms and retelling throughout the ages. While many believed that the tale originated with many of the other
- Jason
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) Review
SOON COMES CHAOS, CHAOS SOON COMES!   In 2018, Sony Pictures released Venom, a superhero origin movie that was to focus on the classic Spider-Man villain. Directed by Reuben Fleischer, the film, which starred Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed, follows new journalist Eddie Brock, who unwillingly gains superpowers after becoming the host of an alien symbiote, who calls
- Jason
Free Guy (2021) Review
DON’T HAVE A GOOD DAY, HAVE A GREAT DAY!   Over the years, Hollywood has produced and struggled with the idea of translating a popular video game franchise into a lucrative and entertaining cinematic endeavor. From “game to screen”, the translation of this has allude many in feature films and what becomes pantomime parody of some kind by trying to
- Jason
Encanto Official Trailer
Get ready to uncover a mystery and find your magic as Walt Disney Animation Studios releases the official trailer for their upcoming animated film Encanto. View trailer below. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto,” is the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a
- Jason
Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie (2021) Review
IN THE NAME OF THE MOON…   Sailor Moon, the magical “Pretty” guardian of the Moon who fights for love and justice. Based on the original manga creation by Naoko Takeuchi, the story follows the adventures of a schoolgirl named Usagi Tsukino as she transforms into Sailor Moon. Leading a group friends / comrades known as the Sailor guardians, Usagi
- Jason
The Green Knight (2021) Review (600th Review)
WELL DONE, MY BRAVE KNIGHT!   The names of Camelot, Excalibur, Lancelot, Morgana, Merlin, and Arthur Pendragon are some of the main staples to the many different iterations of the Arthurian legends of King Arthur. Taking inspiration from many the tales of British folklore, the legend of King Arthur has been told and retold through a multitude of accounts, finding
- Jason
Spencer Official Trailer 2
Kristen Stewart fights for “change” in the world’s most famous monarchy as Topic Studios / Neon releases the new official trailer for the upcoming biopic film Spencer. View trailer below. The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the
- Jason
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) Review
MARVEL’S NEWEST HERO SHINES   The Marvel Cinematic Universe (i.e., the MCU) has indeed become a dominant force in both the superhero genre of filmmaking as well as cinematic blockbusters genre. Since the franchise began back in 2008, the MCU has quite literally ascended to popular movie franchise stardom, producing a continuing narrative of interconnected superhero feature films (all from
265.  Italian film director Uberto Pasolini’s third feature film “Nowhere Special” (2020) in English, based on his original script: The rare intent and ability to care for the future needs of others when you can do so

 

 

“I wanted to make a film with this title for a long time. The title is from a dialogue at the end of Mel Brooks' film  Blazing Saddles; one character asks the other, "Where are you going to go?" and the other replies,"Nowhere special", and the first person replies, "I always wanted to go there." The idea behind this choice is that there is no perfection, that you just have to live, find a place where it is good to live, simply.”

---Director Uberto Pasolini, speaking  on how he chose the title of this film for his own fictional script, written after he read a newspaper story on a similar adoption, with the adoption agency refusing to divulge details of that case to him, due to confidentiality clauses (a rough translation of his interview given to Malik Berkati at the Zurich film festival, quoted in J:Ma. Lifestyle and Citizenship) 

Film director Uberto Pasolini makes small budget films with great care and thought that demand respect of mature filmgoers worldwide. His last two films Still Life (2013) and his latest work Nowhere Special (2020) focus on realistic characters who belong to the middle class but are sensitive to the world around them, lending a helping hand to people who require help in a low-key and admirable manner. Both his works stand out among so many others because he writes original stories/screenplays alone—a very creditable distinction separating him from the bulk of other filmmakers, relying on someone else’s tale to direct.

Nowhere Special is a tale of a single father, John, who has brought up his 3 year-old-son, Michael, with earnings from his work as an independent window cleaner in Northern Ireland. John dotes on his single offspring and takes care of him as a mother would. As the film progresses, we learn that John is in advanced stages of a life-threatening illness and Michael can’t be in his care for long. He approaches an adoption agency and they arrange for John and Michael to meet prospective foster parents for Michael in order for John to decide on Michael’s future family.

The single father John (James Norton) goes shopping with his son Michael (Daniel Lamont) 

Pasolini’s amazing ability is in presenting the relationship of father and son in the absence of a mother. John provides all he can, within his financial limitations, which include providing toys and trips to fairs for his intelligent, responsive son. The conversations are minimal and the performances of the first-time child actor Daniel Lamont under the tutelage of Pasolini reminds you of Charles Chaplin directing Jackie Coogan in The Kid(1921) and perhaps even of Vittorio de Sica directing a relatively older Enzo Staiola in Bicycle Thieves (1948). Pasolini’s direction of James Norton as the father John, repressing anger, and alternating frustration with patience in Nowhere Special results in an amazingly controlled outcome. Pasolini had achieved a similar feat with Eddie Marsan in his earlier remarkable film, Still Life.

Are there similar patterns between Nowhere Special and Still Life? Both films study men’s actions in this life and the events after death. Death is the fulcrum of both films, philosophically. In Nowhere Special, John introduces the concept of death to his 3-year-old son by getting him to read about death of dinosaurs. The audience sees some manifestation of his son’s understanding that his father is tired/sick when the boy covers his sleeping father with the blanket that has partially fallen, possibly mimicking what his father would have done for him. Both films of Pasolini are a treat to study for colorful details that the director infuses into the narrative, one example being of John looking at the side mirror of his car to observe an older schoolboy with his bag walking back home, to imagine what Michael would be like when he grows up.  

The single father's treasure notices the tattoo, which he tries to copy on his own hand

In bits and pieces of conversation in the film, we learn that John was an orphan and therefore is all the more interested that Michael has a good family to take care of him. In Still Life, the colorless bureaucrat, Mr. May, goes the extra mile to contact dead persons' relatives and friends and informs them of the death of their forgotten kith and kin. In Nowhere Special, it is a dying father worried about the future of his son if he hands him over to the wrong foster parents. “This is the most important decision of my life. How will I know if I got it right?” John bursts out his frustration at the quiet adoption agency staffer, who reminds him that the clock is ticking for him to make a decision about Michael. There is no obvious manifestation of his deteriorating health except for a bout of vomiting  (thankfully less repulsive realism than John Cassavetes’ 1970 film Husbands) and a sudden decision to stop working after having climbed a tall ladder to clean a window. I admire Pasolini’s ability to add small details in both his films that say a lot without spoken words. One example is saving John’s wife’s/spouse’s mitten left in the dashboard of his car (which he is now selling to evidently augment his purse as he has decided to stop working) to be included in a box of memorabilia for Michael, when he grows up, along with John’s photographs with Michael.  

Breaking the concept of time to his toddler with 34 candles on John's birthday cakeIt is important to compare and contrast Nowhere Special with Naomi Kawase’s Japanese film True Mothers—both films about adoption made the same year in different parts of the world. True Mothers is a film made by a lady director about real mothers and foster mothers of orphans in the contemporary world. In both films, the single parent is giving up their biological child for foster care out of extreme necessity. Both are remarkably well-made films. While religion is absent in the Japanese film, for Pasolini this is important in Nowhere Special as it was in Still Life. John teaches Michael to pray before he goes to sleep and John has a silent thought of his impending future as he stops his car at a red signal, and he  views a closed church with a cemetery, ending the short car halt with a smile, possibly indicating that he is now well prepared for the inevitable. Compared to Still Life, Nowhere Special has a muted dose of religion. John looking at the closed church and cemeteryJohn drives on with a telling smileThe final incredibly mature goodbye of a 3-year oldUnfortunately, compared to Still Life, Nowhere Special lacks the musical contribution of Pasolini’s wife, composer Rachel Portman, which had enriched the earlier work. Even without Ms Portman’s musical flourishes, Nowhere Special is a very rewarding viewing experience for viewers who are not mesmerized by escapist and unreal tales. Mr Pasolini, the late film maestro Luchino Visconti will be proud of you as his nephew putting so much care and thought into the films you make to entertain discerning viewers! 

 

P.S.  Nowhere Special has won the Best Film award at the Pula (Croatia) film festival, and the Audience awards at the Warsaw (Poland) and the Valladolid (Spain) international film festivals. The director’s earlier film Still Life (2013), winner of the Best Film award in the Venice film festival’s Horizons section, and 18 other awards worldwide, has been reviewed earlier on this blog.  The other  Japanese film by director Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers discussed in the above review also has been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the colored names of the films in the post-script to access the reviews.) Both Nowhere Special (2020) and True Mothers (2020) are included in the author’s list of best films of 2020.  

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264. Japanese film director Naomi Kawase’s fourteenth feature film “Asa ga kuru” (True Mothers) (2020), based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura: A contemplative cinematic essay on mothers of various hues and ages

 

Director and co-scriptwriter Naomi Kawase, co-scriptwriter Izumi Takahashi and novelist Mizuki Tsujimura present a diversity of candidates in the film True Mothers who could fit the title of the film.

Confrontation between the biological mother (left) and the foster parents (right)

First, there is a biological mother, Hikari, a young teen in school, who accidentally becomes 24-weeks pregnant following a tryst with a teenager.

Second, Hikari’s own mother is another type of elderly mother, who is embarrassed by her teenage school-going daughter’s motherhood and wants to hide those facts from friends, neighbors and Hikari’s school. She obviously wants to protect her daughter’s and her family’s image in society for the future.

Asami (Miyoki Asada) (center) runs the Baby Baton, showering happiness to so many  

Third, there is Shizue Asami, who runs an adoption organization called “Baby Baton,” located in a secluded resort helping young mothers-to-be prepare for the birth of their children and arranging for their adoption by couples yearning to be parents. The elderly and kind Asami (Miyoki Asada who played the role of the shopkeeper’s wife in Kawase’s An/Sweet Bean) is another kind of “mother”-figure for the young mothers-in-distress awaiting the birth of their unwanted offspring and process the eventual adoption of the newborns. It is interesting to note that Hikari, much after the birth of her son, seeks help from (and refuge with) the elderly Asami rather than her own biological mother. 

Fourth, much later, in the film young Hikari herself, exhibits motherly love for another girl, close to her own age, she had met at Baby Baton extending limited financial, moral and emotional support in her time of need. 

The foster-mother Satoko and her husband take the child Asato to school

Fifth and a strong candidate for  the “true mother” title in the foster-mother (Satoko) who adopts the child Asato (through Baby Baton) with her husband showering love and care, because they are unable to have a biological child of their own due to sterility issues, long after their marriage.

Finally, there is another kind of mother, whose son suffers a fall in the school and holds Satoko’s son Asato  responsible for the mishap and aggressively demands financial compensation from Satoko, who is relatively affluent and can afford to pay the medical expenses.

If King Solomon of the Bible were to sit in judgement over who among the above six exhibits values of a “true” mother in this Japanese film, it doubtful if he would have found a clear and satisfactory clue to make a non-controversial judgement. In the Biblical tale, after hearing the pleas of two ladies each claiming to be the mother of the child, Solomon said he would cut the child in half and give an equal part to each claimant. The true mother in the tale gives up her claim so that the child would live and Solomon realized she indeed was the true mother among the two claimants. That is the rhetorical question Ms Kawase is posing at the viewer of the film to figure out like King Solomon: who among the six “mothers” has the best attributes to be called a true mother.

There is a reason for Naomi Kawase to be interested in making the film on mothers and their offspring. Ms Kawase was brought up by her grandmother, not her mother. Her father, too, was absent as she grew up under the care of her grandmother.

The decision to adopt a child can be painful before enjoying the rewardsThe film is indeed sentimental. Childless couples do dream of a child of their own. In Japan, however, same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt. In Japan, as in most countries, a pregnant school girl would inevitably face social trauma and boycott, not support. The film’s fictional Baby Baton enterprise serves an important social function but, in the film, it ultimately closes shop, for reasons never stated.

Water and trees in a concrete jungle, provide natural succor for the troubled mindA Kawase film offers sophistication beyond the presentation of interesting human characters; True Mothers is no exception. Trees are silent characters as in The Mourning Forest and Still the Water. The sea and waterfronts provide solace to the troubled characters. The birds do bring messages of the stork. Kawase, like Terence Malick, brings to the fore connections between humans and nature in each of their works and it is for the perceptive viewer to pick up those threads. Kawase’s films try to connect normal human beings with those living on the margins of society and try to construct bridges of connection between generations. In The Mourning Forest there is reversal of the roles of the nurse and the nursed, both grieving for personal losses, one of a dead wife, another of a dead child with a forest supporting the two characters, “sometimes gently, sometimes strictly” in Kawase’s own words. In Sweet Bean, a trio of social misfits without a family meld into a virtual family. In Hanezu, Kawase presents the unfulfilled love triangle of grandparents of lovers, mirrored in the present day love triangle, with spiders and arachnids as nature’s metaphors to the tale. In Still the Water, the mother of the lead character dies and her boyfriend’s father is physically absent. Yet the connections between generations are made visually with banyan trees and the waters of the sea. A Kawase film always offers more than the obvious and True Mothers is no exception, with contemplative sequences, without spoken words, accentuated by birds, trees and waterfronts.

All types of "mothers" in True Mothers are very credibly presented and all the actors are a treat to watch. True Mothers is a rare Kawase film that is not based on an original script written by the director. Kawase and her co-scriptwriter  Izumi Takahashi adapted the Japanese “mystery” novel by Mizuki Tsujimura. However, there is an additional  personal touch here, Kawase herself was brought up by her grandparents in the Nara region of Japan, which is where the biological mother in True Mothers is originally from. In Kawase’s films, the little details add more value than the obvious tale.

P.S.  True Mothers won the 2021 Best Director award for Ms Kawase at the Mainichi Film Concours, Tokyo, Japan. Ms Kawase’s earlier feature films Shara (2003), The Mourning Forest(2007), Hanezu (2011), Still the Water (2014), Sweet Bean (2015), and Vision (2018) have been reviewed earlier on this blog. True Mothers is one of the author's best films of 2020.  Ms Kawase is one of the author's favorite 15 active film directors from all over the world.

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263. Mexican film director Carlos Reygadas’ debut film “Japón” (Japan) (2002), based on his original screenplay: Fascinating debut of the talented duo of film director Reygadas and his Argentine cinematographer Diego Martinez Vignatti

 

 

My goal is to observe life and not to mystify it. What I film is simply matter that exists in the world. A person or object may have a particular meaning within the context of the film but I don’t see them as having an inherent conceptual identity. If I say the word ‘tree’, you don’t necessarily need to see the tree because you have learned since you were a child how to conceptualize the tree. In most narrative films, things—whether it’s a bird, a human body, a cloud, a car or a sound—exist as devices that only serve to tell a story. This is true for the actors as well. These types of films do not allow the viewer to see the actors as people existing in the world. Instead, the viewer sees a mask moving around in a costume and wearing lots of make-up. My goal is to bring out the individuality of each person or object and to capture something of their essence. I’m not interested in filming the mask. This is why you see the particular bodies in the films. If they are not ‘conventional’ —if they are considered old, ugly or fat—I couldn’t care less; they are all people and they are all equally beautiful. Filming people as they are is my way of showing them respect.—Carlos Reygadas, interviewed by Paul Dallas, in Extra Extra Magazine (https://extraextramagazine.com/talk/carlos-reygadas-on-existence-the-flow-of-perception-and-the-feeling-of-being-embraced/)

As the above quote reveals, Carlos Reygadas’ film Japón is different from the films of his contemporary Mexican directors such as Guillermo del Toro (who made The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth), Alfonso Cuaron (who made Romaand Gravity), and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (who made Birdmanand The Revenant), who have won Oscars and wide public acceptance globally. They are as different as chalk and cheese. Not just Japón but all the feature films of Reygadas, have ultra-real characters, some with physical characteristics or appearances that one would not normally associate with the typical actors and actresses in commercial films. Reygadas’ choice of actors resembles the casting choices of the famous Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini (who made The Gospel According to Saint Mathew with non-actors, in contrast to the Hollywood Biblicals). Again unlike his Mexican counterparts, Reygadas’ films are minimalistic in terms of dialogues, accentuating instead on sounds and visuals to communicate with the viewer, fusing the internal thoughts of characters with external visuals of nature, animals and the innocence of children.  The entire film used first time actors and it is unlikely that a viewer will easily forget their faces. It was shot on 16 mm anamorphic film stock using 2.88:1 screen aspect ratio and blown up. The outcome is amazing for such a modest technical investment.

The lame painter takes in the rural Mexico's beauty: cacti, trees, hills and river

Japón is different from all the films mentioned above for other reasons as well. One, the name of the principal character of Japón is never revealed. The viewers of the film only get to know visually that he is lame and needs a walking stick at all times. They get to learn gradually that he is a painter, that his backpack contains painting material, that he intends to commit suicide with a gun that he carries with him and that he loves music of Shostakovich (particularly the composer’s 15th symphony) because you can hear it and that he is not religious, at least in the conventional sense, because he states as much. He has evidently travelled from an urban part of Mexico (first sequence of the film) to a carefully chosen distant rural spot of the country, where he is a stranger and has no relations. How and why he chose that village is never revealed in the film. The viewer soon realizes that the painter is a man of few words, observing more than speaking, even when spoken to. Reygadas’ use of Shostakovich’s 15th symphony, which the painter in his film shares with his benefactor widow, using earplugs, suggesting to her that he could explain the music to her but eventually does not, made this critic to delve into what was left unexplained. 

The history of this piece of music is a story by itself. The composer Shostakovich (film director Grigory Kozintsev’s close friend and his collaborator on his King Lear and Hamlet) wrote the music—his last symphony--keeping in mind the Russian intellectual and film director Yevgeny Yuvtuschenko’s poem on the suicide of another Russian intellectual Marina Tsvetaeva. Suicide and tragedy serve as the background of this Shostakovich composition, the painter listens to in Japón. The painter himself is contemplating suicide while listening to this music. 

Shostakovich's music is not the only music that adorns this beautiful film that finds beauty in what most people would consider ugly (wrinkled faces), mundane (the poor and the dirty, smelly, unhygienic persons travelling in a vehicle together in Japón), or even profane (the extreme lack of comprehension and respect for anything another person considers worth worshipping), Reygadas uses two other composers and specific works of theirs to drive home his point of view. One is Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion of St. Mathew and the other is the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's two works Miserere and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. (The second composition of Pärt is used for the final sequences with the camera of cinematographer Vignatti circling the rail tracks capturing urban Mexico in the far distance and the flowing river to one side, with dead bodies and stones from the barn strewn around blending in a bizarre and sad way into the landscape.) Reygadas thanks Pärt in the end credits. Pärt's music is often incorporated in the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Paolo Sorrentino, Pablo Larrain, and Leos Carax, among others.

The painter, skeptical of religion..

...and Ascen the intensely religious widow,who believes in caring for others and loving all

Finally, why title the film as “Japan,” most viewers would ask when there is no apparent connection to that country. Would it be hara-kiri? Or is it that the landscape of this far away non-descript Mexican village offers a transcendental beauty with all its stones, trees and cacti connects with Japan in some obscure manner for one to commit suicide? When the painter does attempt suicide, it is on a cliff where a horse lies dead. Is the painter a famous one? Is the book of paintings that he carries in his backpack related to him? There is no clue offered in the film except that he is excited that his benefactor widow found one painting in the book to be very nice and he wanted her to reveal that particular painting to him.

Assimilating the stones and the trees,the inanimate and the animate

The painter and a child--children are importantin Reygadas' films 

The suicide attempt triggers off a latent sexual urge and a possible desire to continue living. His benefactor, Ascen, is  a much older widow than the painter and she offers him food and shelter in her stone barn where her dead husband used to sleep. Ascen is a devout Catholic and explains to the painter that her name is related to the ascension of St Mary as distinct from ascension of Jesus Christ and even offers to pray for the painter, when he indicates that he is not religious. But a bond grows and a particular scene shows her physical trust in the painter as she extends her hand to him and offers to wash his clothes. That gesture of relationship gradually grows into a physical one with the painter.

Post suicide attempt, the painter lies next to a dead horse

The dead Ascen wearing the painter's jacket,a "suicide" with a cosmic, religious tinge

A subplot of a devious nephew of Ascen to deprive her ownership of the stone barn so that he could sell the stones, leads to the painter pointing out that that the barn legally belongs to her. Ascen does not resist the nephew’s wiles. Her visit to the village church service/mass and her body language would appear as distant parallels to Jesus’ final days on earth. 

Japón starts as a man wanting to end his life.  Japón ends with amazing actions of love and a heavenly design of ascension of the pure in heart. Ascen, in the film, is developed as an individual with characteristics close to the Martha of the Gospels, for viewers familiar with the scriptures, providing food with love to workers who are demolishing her barn and food for a stranger staying under her roof, without being asked. Reygadas might not be religious, overtly. Yet his films show a depth of religious comprehension (biblical names of his films' characters and the term "post tenebras lux" used as a film's title are examples) that few other film directors exude. 

Reygadas can and will unsettle the purist, with his unorthodox content. Reygadas does it for a reason. When crockery falls off a table suddenly, a viewer will recall Tarkovsky's Stalker where a glass of water falls off a table--but here Reygadas relates it to the demolition of the barn, drawing the viewer's attention to the evil designs of those who only think of themselves while amassing lucre. Reygadas infuses philosophy, politics, racial harmony and uplifting innocence of children in his films, recalling the works of Tarkovsky, Paradjanov, Kozintsev, Kiesolwski, Olmi, Ruiz, Malick, and Kawase. 

 

P.S.  Japón onlywon a Cannes film festival special mention but won significant awards elsewhere: Grand Prize at the Bratislava international film festival, the Best Director awards at the Thessaloniki and the Edinburgh international film festivals, and the Best First Work award at the Havana international film festival and the Audience award at the Stockholm film festival. Reygadas’ later feature films Silent Light and Post Tenebras Lux have been reviewed earlier on my blog. The film Japón replaces Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux on the author’s top 100 films list. Reygadas, for this author, is one of the 15 best living-and-active film directors today.

 

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262. Spanish film director Oliver Laxe’s film “O Que Arde” (Fire Will Come) (2019), based on the original co-scripted screenplay of Santiago Fillol and the film’s director Laxe: Unusual film with very few spoken lines preferring instead to communicate with visuals of nature and a cocktail of sounds (diegetic, composed music and exceptionally alluring sound mixing)

 

 

 

“If they hurt others, it’s because they hurt, too.”-- Benedicta, mother of Amador, responding to Amador’s comment on the root formation of the Eucalyptus tree, a tree that can cause explosive burning during forest fires, a metaphor of trees used in the film to describe human behavior

                                        ****

“They told you about me?” Amador to Elena

“Yes, but..well, you know how people are.” Elena’s response

 

In a 2021 interview for American Cinematheque, Russian film director Andrei Konchalovsky stated “Sometimes silence is better than action.” That is a comment applicable to Oliver Laxe’s film Fire Will Come. The lead character Amador rarely speaks but his body language and the soundtrack do the talking, not words. Laxe’s film urges the viewer to explore the soundtrack that is expressive and offers much food for thought for an attentive viewer.

The film opens with a night sequence of a bulldozer with headlights switched on relentlessly mowing down eucalyptus trees until it comes up against a massive oak tree in its path. The bulldozer stops as if the majestic tree had commanded it to stop. The viewer never sees the driver of the bulldozer. The reason for the bulldozer mowing down the eucalyptus trees in a straight line is not spoonfed to the viewer. One has to figure out the puzzle from the clues that the script leaves for the attentive viewer to pick up.

Amador (son), Benedicta (mother) and dog--discussing trees of the forest

The film has three major characters: Amador (actor Amador Arias), Amador’s mother Benedicta (actress Benedicta Sanchez) and the veterinarian doctor Elena (actress Elena Mar Fernandez). Amador, early in the film is introduced being released from prison after serving a sentence for apparently causing a forest-fire. As he is a man of few words, the viewer has to depend on the villager’s point of view that he is actually an arsonist. Amador does not have a wife; he lives with his old mother, who is possibly a widow. They have a few milch-cows and a dog. An accident to one cow leads to Dr Elena visiting their home to treat their cow’s injured leg. Elena indicates her interest in Amador, but the taciturn man is guarded in his response to her overture of playing Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne while driving in Elena’s vehicle.

Benedicta enjoying the tranquility ofliving on the edge of the forest

More details about Amador are progressively revealed in the film. He is aware of various scientific details of the eucalyptus tree in his somewhat cryptic conversation with his mother. He is well aware that the eucalyptus tree is Australian in origin, and was accidentally introduced into the forest near his Spanish village, possibly by travelling earthmoving equipment. He is even aware of the structure of roots of the eucalyptus, in his brief comments to his mother. One can only surmise that he would also know that species only increases the threat to a forest prone to forest fires. Was mowing down of eucalyptus trees, at the beginning of the film, a pro-active action to protect the forest from fire? The viewer has to complete the jigsaw puzzle in the Laxe film.

Firefighters trying to control fire with fire

It is indeed unusual when the film’s script has actors making their film debut playing roles that have their own names—an unusual decision taken by the director and his co-scriptwriter. Amazingly and deservedly, both Amador and Benedicta have received acting awards for their debut performances in this film. But it is not Amador and Benedicta alone that make the film interesting.

Laxe’s film is a wonderful example to study the importance of the soundtrack in a film, an aspect that is often overlooked. Most viewers would easily pick up the importance of the Leonard Cohen song, essentially a song recalling a lover called Suzanne, spiked with Christian theology. Some viewers attuned to Western classical music would identify Vivaldi’s “Cum Dederit” from the larger composition Nisi Dominus play on the film’s soundtrack. Fewer would know that both Handel and Vivaldi composed their versions of Nisi Dominusin the context of Psalms 127 in the Bible. Now Psalms 127 relate to God’s plan. The Psalms 127 discuss the anxiety in persons affected by reliance on their work experience and contrasts it with God’s gift of sleep to his loved ones who leave it all to Him to configure. The possible evidence of Laxe’s choice of this specific piece of Vivaldi is mirrored in the film when the mother Benedicta goes looking for her son Amador one morning because he had looked worried the previous night, and finds him in deep slumber in the driver’s seat of his van instead of sleeping in the house.

Amador driving his vehicle and reflecting on the forest reflected on the windshield

Amador gets set to meet the vet Elena,only to realize that the villagers have influenced her with their opinions that he is a pyromaniac

However, it is not Leonard Cohen’s lyrics and the choice of Vivaldi’s composition alone that makes the soundtrack of Fire Will Come rewarding. The control of the forest fire sequences play out Georg Friedrich Haas’ avant garde composition Konzert fur Posuane und Orchestra  with top-notch sound mixing by composer and sound mixer Xavi Font. For those readers who are interested, the Haas composition in a concert hall is appended to this review to contrast it with Xavi Font’s contribution of the same piece in the film.

The mother Benedicta takes cover from the rain under the shade of an oak tree, possibly the oneshown at the start of the film 

Apart from the soundtrack, it is the long reflective silences in the film that add to the effect. Was Amador driving the bulldozer in the night? Was the oak tree that stopped the bulldozer the same tree that gives Benedicta cover from the pouring rain? Could Amador who helps clear a blocked canal for the entire village selflessly be attacked a few days later by the same villagers for the final forest fire for which he was clearly (at least for the viewers of the film) not responsible? Perhaps the eucalyptus tree does hurt other trees for a reason, as Benedicta figured. The award-winning screenplay, the film’s direction and cinematography, sound mixing and the debut performances of the lead actors make the film outstanding for any serious cinephile. Laxe, Fillol and Font make a coherent and complete team.  One can only wish for more exciting films from this talented team.

    

P.S.  Fire Will Come won the Cannes film festival’s Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, the well-deserved Chicago international film festival’s Silver Hugo for Best Sound Design, the Best Film and the Best Actor awards at the Thessaloniki international film festival and the Best Film and the Best Screenplay awards at the Mar Del Plata international film festival.   

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261. US film directors Cathy Allyn’s and Nick Loeb’s film “Roe v. Wade” (2021), based on their original co-scripted screenplay with co-scriptwriter Ken Kushner: A “right-to-life” view of the US Supreme Court decision made in 1973

 

Roe v. Wade is a 2021 feature film that provides considerable insight from a pro-life point of view into a very important US Supreme Court judgement given in 1973 that the Constitution of the United States “protects a pregnant lady’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction” (Wikipedia). Nearly five decades after that landmark ruling, the decision continues to be fervently debated within USA, between the two main political parties of the country, between church groups and women’s rights groups, and between the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Right to Life Committee, to mention just a few.

US Supreme Court Justices listening to arguments...and discussing the case among themselves outside the courtroom (actors Forsythe, Portnow and Davi)

US Supreme Court Chief Justice (Jon Voight)in his chambers reflecting on the case

Cathy Allyn’s and Nick Loeb’s film takes the right to life argument armed with lots of details from the genesis of the case when Jane Roe (real name revealed much later as Norma McCorvey) became pregnant in 1969 with her third child in Texas, where abortion was illegal, unless it was to save the mother’s life. “Wade” refers to Henry Wade, the Texas district attorney, who opposed the initial lawsuit of Roe.  Roe’s child was born because the legal machinery took its time to come to a decision. The Texas laws were challenged in the US Federal Supreme Court, argued in December 1971, reargued in October 1972, and decided in January 1973. The key players in the controversial case appear in Roe v. Wade, the film, portrayed by actors Jon Voight (Runaway Train; Deliverance) and Robert Davi (Die Hard) as key Supreme Court Justices who contributed to the final 7-2 verdict in favor of abortion. Nick Loeb, the co-director of the film, acts in the role of the real Dr Bernard Nathanson, who made considerable money from conducting some 6000 abortions and was an abortion rights activist initially but eventually converts to a pro-life activist, authoring a book The Silent Scream.

Dr Nathanson (Nick Loeb) conducting legal abortions in New York 

The film Roe v. Wade is useful viewing for those who are not aware of the background of the famous Supreme Court judgement. Where the film treads on disputable territory are the conversations between the Justices amongst themselves and within their families, which are conjectured by the scriptwriters (on the basis of various writings, they claim) but are not real, leading up to their final judgement. For viewers, their ability to sift facts from fiction, will be key to their assessment of the film for themselves.

While viewing the film, a perceptive viewer will note Dr Nathanson walking up to the altar of an empty church orally and rhetorically questioning God followed by a scene of his eventual adult baptism, which are scenes that underscore the Church support for this pro-life film. It is also a film that will recall for the viewer the importance of the recent controversy of political appointments to the US Supreme Court.

Dr Nathanson getting baptized following a U-turn in his beliefs on abortion

To evaluate the true merits of the film Roe v. Wade one could compare and contrast the implicit arguments in a recent US film Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) directed by Eliza Hittman—a film that won the Berlin International Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, and two honors from the US National Board of Review. Ms Hittman’s independent film is not just artistically superior to Roe v. Wade but puts forward the travails of a young pregnant woman, who wishes to abort her foetus in the US State of Pennsylvania, without parental consent, but cannot do so and subsequently travels to New York for the abortion with limited financial resources. The problems of a young mother who wishes to abort her foetus in a geographical territory that considers it totally illegal is probably best conveyed in the 2007 Romanian film 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days depicting abortions conducted under covert conditions increasing the danger to the mother’s life—a film that won the Golden Palm at the Cannes International Film Festival and 41 other awards worldwide, including one from the US National Board of Review.

If one cares to look closely at Allyn’s and Loeb’s cleverly crafted film, the pro-abortionist advocates (Dr Nathanson in his early phase, Larry Lader, Betty Friedan) are developed as prospectors for money and personal acclaim, with Dr Nathanson taking a U-turn on his perspective on abortions towards the end. In spite of the salted script, the actress Lucy Davenport playing the feisty Ms Betty Friedan stood out among the rest. The changes in Dr Nathanson’s views are subtly accompanied by physical changes for the better as the film progresses as though the film was nudging the viewer to like the person as he evolves within the film. (Of course, the version this critic viewed was a rough cut and may differ from the final released version.)

All in all, the filmmakers behind Roe v. Wade, the film, have displayed some talent and have done a good deed in trying to inform a wider public of how the Supreme Court arguments are made and the process of its Justices arriving at a decision. Whether the filmmakers who made Roe v. Wade can make films in future that transcend their personal agenda and avoid making incredible statements such as major US newspapers and magazines can be manipulated to rely on unverified sources of information, or include images suggesting Margaret Sanger, a birth control activist, as a Ku Klux Klan supporter (which innocent viewers might believe to be a fact) only the future can tell.

 

P.S.  Roe v Wade has won several minor awards including a “Cannes world festival” award for best historical film from IMDB (not to be confused with the prestigious awards of the Cannes International Film Festival of France).

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260. Côte d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast’s) film director Philippe Lacôte’s second feature film “La Nuit des Rois” (Night of the Kings) (2020), based on his original script: A significant prison film underscoring the power of storytelling and magic realism from the African Continent

 

 

“I don’t make a lot of films...I can only shoot what is essential to me” 

--Director Philippe Lacôte in an interview to CNN titled "Machetes and Microbes: Why Philippe Lacôte's Prison Drama Cuts Close to the Bone" (September 8, 2020) 

  

French-Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte has made two feature films Run (2014) and Night of the Kings (2020), both officially submitted to the Oscar’s foreign language category by Côte d’Ivoire (former name: Ivory Coast), in respective years. Both films provide a marriage of documentary and narrative fiction styles, and both have international actors of repute playing major roles. Runhas Côte d’Ivoire-born Isaach de Bankole (Jim Jarmusch’s actor in The Limits of Control/Coffee and Cigarettes/Ghost Dog-The Way of the Samurai; Claire Denis’ actor in White Material/ Chocolat) and Night of the Kings has Denis Lavant (Leos Carax’s actor in Holy Motors/The Lovers on the Bridge); Claire Denis’ actor in Beau Travail) working alongside local non-professionals with elan.

The Roman viewing the MACA prison's exteriors on arrival

Night of the Kings is a film about the first day and night of a new prisoner, whose real name is never revealed/mentioned in the entire film, in Côte d’Ivoire’s infamous prison called La MACA (Maison d'Arrêt et de Correction d'Abidjan). It is an unusual prison—it functions as an open prison, within a closed well-guarded perimeter walls. The prisoners are governed, not by the armed police stationed outside but by a prison inmate who is given the title of Dangoro by other prisoners. The Dangoro (Steve Tientcheu, who had a meaty role in 2019 film directed by Ladj Ly called Les Miserables, an Oscar nominated and Cannes Jury award-winning film) rules over other inmates in accordance with  internal rules, laws, and beliefs that one guesses evolved over time by the prisoners. The official prison warden/officials, armed with guns, merely keep watch through small slits in the wall at a vantage point. As the new prisoner is brought to the prison in an open truck with an armed guard seated next to him, the Dangoro assesses the young man who might be 20-years old or even less and announces the new prisoner is the “Roman.” The viewer gradually learns the import of the strange baptized name Roman. A Roman, in the prison, has to wear an impressive gown and narrate tales the entire night to all the Roman’s prison cohabitants just as Scheherazade did to survive in A Thousand and One Nights. In Roman’s case, he learns he has to keep his listeners transfixed overnight to see the sunrise the next day.

The ailing Blackbeard is the Dongoro, facing challenge to his leadership in the MACA

While many viewers will be enraptured by the Roman’s innovative ability to narrate interesting tales woven from his knowledge of Ivorian contemporary street conflicts and his ability to recall Ivorian oral history and tales narrated by his elders as he grew up, the original script of director Lacôte, mirrors more than its face value. What the Roman narrates is a close examination of the violence in Côte d’Ivoire after and between the two civil wars (2002-2007 and 2010-2011), the reasons for that violence, the historical seeds sown over centuries in the minds of Ivorian inhabitants that contribute to the recurring waves of violence, and the internal contemporary politics of the country stated with skill and some camouflage through the Roman’s seemingly innocent storytelling and the parallel events in the prison relating to politics to dethrone the ailing Dongoro and Dongoro’s own plans for his final end-game in line with the internal codes of MACA evolved over time by the prisoners. All this is observed by the warden and his officials and they act as traditional neo-colonial rulers do with knee-jerk reactions, seemingly unable to comprehend the ground complexities.

The Roman narrates his stories, wearing the Roman's fine attire as other prisoners listen

To comprehend the full import of the film, an unusual external event preceding the release of the film, publicized by CNN news channel referred above, needs to be kept in perspective. In December 2019, the film’s director Philippe Lacôte was attacked in the night on the streets of Abidjan (capital of Côte d’Ivoire, by a youth gang armed with machetes referred to in the film as the “microbes,” one of which the Roman in Night of the Kings was purported to have been a member) leaving director Lacôte with injuries on head, hand, and leg that requiring three medical operations to recover somewhat and release the film. Mr Lacôte is an admirable filmmaker crafting his own screenplays. His screenplay for Night of the Kings is entrenched with Ivorian truths, history and folklore that could be allegorical as well.

Silence (Denis Lavant)comes to Roman's rescueSilence helps Roman with ideas to extend his tales

In order to survive, the Roman begins by narrating somewhat real events of Zama King, a contemporary leader of microbes, who he is supposed to have killed, when his real crime was mere pick-pocketing. In order to lengthen the story telling, the Roman goes back several years describing Zama King and his blind father in rural Côte d’Ivoire, attacked by armed groups. At the behest of a well wisher called Silence (Denis Lavant) walking with a hen on his shoulder in the MACA jail, the Roman adds new characters in Ivorian folklore, Barbe Noire, a queen with magical prowess, accompanied by soldiers set in a time zone several centuries prior to the present day. And while Roman is keeping the prisoners distracted with the stories, there are murders, suicides and power games among the prisoners to replace the ailing Dangoro on a full moon night with a new one. Perhaps the goings-on within MACA reflect the turmoil of Côte d’Ivoire’s socio-political scenario in recent years that forced the African Development Bank to move its headquarters from Abidjan to Tunisia in 2003 until its eventual return to Abidjan in 2014.

An Ivorian queen with an unusual head dress, accompanied by her armed soldiers, is one of the riveting tales of the Roman

Director Lacôte has written the script with intimate personal knowledge of the MACA prison. When he was a child, Lacôte’s mother was a political prisoner in MACA and he would travel in public vehicles to meet with her inside the “open prison” depicted in Night of the Kings. According to Lacôte, the ritual of a “Roman” telling stories is real but in reality the “Roman” is never killed. A quarter of the cast of Night of the Kings was made up of former MACA inmates to lend authenticity to the film. Lacôte’s screenplay and the film’s French title further suggests similarities with the Shakespearean play The Twelfth Night, where the servants play the masters in a flow of licensed disorder, just as the Roman holds court while narrating the tales in the MACA. Young Lacôte apparently noticed some of elements of power play within MACA on his visits to meet his imprisoned mother. The screenplay also uses the ancient Greek theatre elements of the chorus as groups of prisoners sing and chant elements of Roman’s tale in an impromptu fashion.   

The survivor

While director Lacôte’s film harks back to Middle Eastern roots of One Thousand and One Nights, another African film Sleepwalking Land made in 2007 in Mozambique, directed by Teresa Prata, adapted novelist Mia Couto’s novel of the same name adding Ms Prata’s personal nods to Melville’s Moby Dick and a distant alluded equivalent of Captain Ahab. So too did French director Claire Denis while cleverly adapting  Melville’s Billy Budd in her remarkable film Beau Travail (1999), set in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. All the three films, by three different directors, deal with Africa and the colonial influences in that wonderful, diverse continent. Cinema is able to link them all together like beads in a necklace. Recent films from Africa that include This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019) from Lesotho and Night of the Kings from Côte d’Ivoire signify that the continent is proudly exhibiting a resurgence in quality films from unexpected countries not often associated as sources of impressive indigenous cinema.

 

 

P.S.  Night of The Kings has won two Silver Hugo awards at the Chicago international festival, one for its cinematography and one for its sound, the Amplify Voices award at the Toronto international festival,  and the Artistic Achievement award at Thessaloniki (Greece) film festival. The films This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019) and Sleepwalking Land (2007) have been reviewed on this blog earlier. (Click on the names of the films in the post-script to access the reviews.) This film is one of the author's top 15 films of 2020. The author is one of the contributors of The Directory of World Cinema: Africa (Intellect Books), The author has had the privilege of having visited Côte d’Ivoire in the Nineties, several times on official work to interact with African Development Bank officials.

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259. Lesotho’s film director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s second feature film “This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection”(2019), based on his original script: One of the most remarkable films from the African Continent

 

“Let the dead bury the dead, you shall leave no trace. Bury your existence, lest they say there lived a sufferer. The soul-less march of time has surrounded you, like an old cloth turned into a dry beetle. The (church) bells speak when people can’t. Little children cheer up. The dead buried their own dead. You will do so in future. You can hear the church bells under the water”

---words of a song sung in the opening sequence, where the time stamp is revealed by the electricity that lights up the room (the rest of the film is lit by candles). The song is sung, aided by a Lesiba, “an unbraced mouth resonated bow,” by the film’s actor Jerry Mofokeng

 

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese is one of the best directors from the African continent today, if not a wider geographical area, and his 2019 film This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection testifies that fact. How original is the tale of the film depends on whether he had seen a remarkable US film Northfork (2003) directed by Mark Polish with an original script written by the brothers Mark and Michael Polish. The essential similarity between the two are limited to the impending acquisition of land to make way for a man-made lake, the shadow of forcible relocation of the inhabitants of a town/village, a Christian priest (Nick Nolte, in the Polish film; Makhaola Ndebele in Mosese’s film) who provides spiritual succor, and relocation of buried remains of the dead before the waters are released. Both are remarkable films. In both films, we have inhabitants resisting change. In both films, the villagers/townsfolk battle powerful wealthy capitalist groups who promise a better life if the inhabitants agree to move out.  Unlike Polish’s film that focused on diverse characters in a town, in Mosese’s film, the focus is on a single inhabitant--an 80-year-old  widow named Mantoa (Mary Twala Mlongo, who is stunning in this film) mourning currently her son’s death and his burial. Similar to the work of the Polish brothers, there is a priest in Mosese’s film to comfort her spiritually but Mosese goes a step beyond the American film, he brings in sheep as non-human mourners in a twist of magic realism to comfort a widow whose house was once burnt in a fire that consumed all her possessions and, possibly, her bedridden husband. To capture the movement of the animals from an overhead shot was a masterstroke, reminding one of Terrence Malick’s shot of grazing wild bison surrounding the lead actors in To The Wonder (2012).

Mantoa played by Mary Twala Mlongo, who won 5 Best Actress Awards at various internationalfilm festivals for this role

The opening song sung with a Lesiba(the room has electrical lights)

Death and burial are important elements of spiritual and social discussion in This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection. The film begins with Mantoa mourning the death of her son who had been working in a mine in neighboring South Africa, that landlocks Lesotho. The script of Mosese reveals in fits and starts that Mantoa has lost her bedridden husband, her daughter and her granddaughter. Her cumulative grief is relieved for a while by the consoling words of the Christian priest quoting the Bible passages. Yet this only leads to a crisis of faith in the strong Mantoa, who merely impassively listens to the hymn “Abide with me” sung in the local language by members of another burial procession passing by her hut. Mantoa is preparing for her own death and burial in the background of the imminent “death and burial” of her “weeping” village called Nasarethe (a variant of Nazareth, the town Jesus grew up in the Bible) under the waters of the proposed lake.  Mantoa calls all the womenfolk of the village and gives guidelines on her own burial reminding one of Abbas Kiarostami’s quest for a suitable person to bury his fictional character Badil in the 1997 Golden Palm winner at Cannes, The Taste of Cherry. For Mantoa, her death is certain and around the corner and her burial wishes will be complied with; for Badil, his plan is dependent on future intangibles. Mosese presents Mantoa, a woman of strong will and character, a ‘Mother Courage,’ who pays a villager in advance to dig her grave next to her husband’s and son’s graves.

Mantoa grieves her losses to a fire sitting on a charred bed while sheep magically surround her as co-mournersAfter the fire, the rebuilt elegant hut of Mantoa (note the art direction/production design)

Mosese’s film presents an unforgettable mix of script, visuals and sounds that are rarely captured so effectively and evocatively in a film. Almost every shot in the film, often wordless, express the affinity of Mantoa to her immediate surroundings that goes beyond the cemetery, the church with its well-described historic bell, and the dead bodies buried in the graves. The colorful attires of Mantoa indoors are regal and yet simple. The exterior shots silently describes the single individual swallowed up by the vast well-endowed land that produce useful flora for the humans and feed for the sheep, not to mention the rainwater that blesses the country.

Mantoa in mourning attire(note the candles.)

Mantoa, in better times, (note the rich colors.)

 (In reality, not stated in the film, the multi-million dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which commenced in 1986 with the help of the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Investment Bank, captures stores and transfers water and generated electricity to South Africa, earning Lesotho hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.)   

The typical cinematography of the film, accentuating Mantoa's stature against larger forces, of rainwater from the clouds that can bring prosperity and the cemeteries that will go under water  

Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, as the director, screenplay writer and editor has made Lesotho and Africa proud with his second feature film winning plaudits all over the globe.  African cinema is on the march while showing indirectly the effect of development in the region.

P.S.  This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection has won 20 awards worldwide at film festivals including Athens, Durban, Hong Kong, Kerala, Montreal, Reykjavik, Sundance, and Taipei international festivals. At the Kerala festival (IFFK) it was chosen the Best Film in competition. Five of these awards were for Mary Twala Mlongo as the Best Actress at the respective events. At IFFK, too, the late Mary Twala Mlongo earned a Special Mention. The film participated at the Denver film festival,  This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection is one of the author's best films of 2020Mark Polish’s film Northfork (2003) and Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder (2012), mentioned above, have been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the names of the films in the post-script to access the reviews.)

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258. US director Henry Butash’s debut feature film “The Atlantic City Story”(2020), based on an original script by the director: Charming and different, crystallizing the potential and power of independent, low-budget cinema

 

There are films that begin to mesmerize a viewer when you watch the initial sequence closely. This is often the case when you view a debut film that is also built on an original script written by its director. The quiet sophisticated strength of the opening sequence of Henry Butash’s debut film The Atlantic City Storywill grab the attention of any mature, attentive viewer and the viewer is likely to be hooked until the film ends. This critic recalls the same feeling while viewing the opening sequence of the British director Sir Ridley Scott’s debut film The Duellists which went on to win the Cannes film festival Best Debut Film award in 1977, Scott’s sole honor at Cannes to date.  Similar to The Duellists, Henry Butash’s film, too, has an opening sequence where the spoken conversation is minimal, and even the lead actress Jessica Hecht playing a middle-aged married woman called Jane (an appropriate name for the character) hardly moves from a table where she is sitting and drinking her morning hot beverage, as her husband greets her fleetingly and rushes off to work. Her posture, the lighting and the camera almost mimics a static shot providing some introductory information for what is to follow. A regular Hollywood studio film would never allow for such a minimalist opening sequence as in Butash’s The Atlantic City Story. These are aspects that regular filmgoers used to loud music and fast action sequences would perhaps discount.  This is probably why The Duellists is rarely discussed even today among Ridley Scott’s works even though Cannes spotted its value ignoring his blockbuster films that he made in his later career.

Taking a break from her cheating husband: Jane (Jessica Hecht) at Atlantic City on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean

Those who have visited Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, in recent decades could anticipate a socio-historic story of the gambling hub on the Atlantic coast especially in winter months when the numbers of visitors dwindle. The wooden boardwalk parallel to the ocean shore would be empty in winter and but crowded in summer. Butash’s film captures the winter scenario with the boardwalks almost empty though the casinos work quite in contrast without a break with sufficient numbers of customers gambling away night and day just as they do in Las Vegas. The only difference: Atlantic City, seems to be on the decline while Las Vegas appears to be unaffected with time.

However, Butash’s film is not about the City as it prefers to focus on the story of two lonely individuals, Jane and Arthur (Mike Faist), who accidently converge on the city for different reasons at almost the same time. Jane is a married woman with sufficient money to spend and wants to spend time anonymously away from her husband, who she suspects is having an affair with another woman. Arthur, the other individual, is a young bachelor, considerably younger than Jane, who has stolen money and an engagement ring from his family members and is possessed by an urge to compulsively gamble. Atlantic City offers the anonymity and escape that Jane briefly desires, and for Arthur the false hopes of becoming rich and hopefully returning the stolen money to the family he so loves. Jane and Arthur, total strangers, meet in that somewhat less-crowded-than-usual Atlantic City.

Arthur (Mike Faist) gambling with money stolen from his family

Jane is initially attracted to Arthur by merely watching his hands on the roulette table. Jane notices that Arthur is losing money and is gradually becoming penniless. Jane follows and discovers him alone one night all wet on the seashore and suspects that he has no place to go and as a kind soul brings him to her room. A bond forges between the two as they spend time in the empty exteriors of Atlantic City over the next few days.  Director Butash had worked on three recent films of Terrence Malick (as post-production assistant in Knight of Cups and Song to Song and as an additional editor for his Voyage of Time). It is therefore not surprising that certain exterior sequences of Jane and Arthur in Atlantic City remind the viewer of Malick’s style of the ballet-like camera movements capturing the almost silent duo (bereft of Malick’s usual voice overs and religious philosophy) conversing only briefly. Butash invests considerable screen time focusing on their body language and that results in better dividends than films that rely on lengthy spoken dialogues.  That’s what makes Butash’s film stand out from most other films.

Butash and cinematographer Derry creating images akin to works of Malick and cinematographer Lubezki

If the viewer is familiar with a particular work of the Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekov, The Atlantic City Story would recall elements of Chekov’s short story The Lady with a Dog. That short story dealt with an unhappily married woman, on a vacation (alone with a dog and without her husband) walking up and down a walkway on the shores of the Black Sea meeting up with a lonely married banker for the first time, while passing each other. The Chekov story was adapted into a wonderful 1960 Russian film directed by Iosif Kheifits with the same title as the story and had officially participated in the Cannes Film Festival that year. Cineastes who have watched the Kheifits film will note the common strains with Butash’s film. The boardwalk of Atlantic City parallel to the Atlantic Ocean shore is similar to the walkway in Kheifits film next to the Black Sea shore. The main characters of both films include married persons who indulge in a brief extra-marital tryst before departing to their respective homes. But the common elements of the two films end there.

Butash’s script does not adapt Chekov’s story any further but instead looks at the brief tryst of Jane and Arthur as a medicine to heal their personal psychological wounds. The ending of Butash’s tale is considerably different from Chekov’s tale. Jane being elder to Arthur notices Arthur’s dangerous gambling addiction and proactively comes up with a solution to help him on the right path and return to his family. Jane is able to reflect on her own life and marriage and resolve that fracture too in an interesting way.

Jane: Escaping a fractured marriage,or repairing it with a short absence?

The admirable aspect of Butash’s original script is in contrasting Atlantic City as a haven for tourists and compulsive gamblers, against those rare well-meaning visitors who could go out of the way to help a compulsive gambler to seek a new productive life and even encourage that person to consider joining Gamblers Anonymous. The script is also admirable because the director/scriptwriter positively focused on saving crumbling marriages and broken family ties set against a bleak backdrop of empty stores and almost empty sandwich outlets that had attracted Arthur’s parents in the past when they visited Atlantic City decades ago enabling Arthur to recall the sumptuous sandwiches of the outlet from memory. The images of Butash's film are starkly in contrast with the well-populated boardwalks of the City during high-tourist periods of the year captured in Louis Malle's film Atlantic City (1980).

Arthur's life is changed by a well-intentioned stranger

Pivotal to The Atlantic City Story is actress Jessica Hecht, who has very few lines to speak and yet dominates the screen fleshing out the character that Butash had created. Butash cleverly zeroed in on Ms Hecht possibly to extract a credible low-key but mature performance required of the character. Similarly, cinematographer Justin Derry’s outdoor cinematography is magical at times and quite possibly influenced by the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in several of Terrence Malick’s later films.

Henry Butash has made a commendable debut film that offers restrained entertainment and thoughtful and positive outcomes with a difference that independent cinema can offer in USA. One hopes the debut film of Mr Butash will sow the seeds for a similar growth trajectory as the debut film of Sir Ridley Scott did for Sir Ridley.  

P.S.  The Atlantic City Story is making its debut at the 2020 Denver Film Festival, USA, and is nominated for the Best American Independent Film Award. This critic had visited Atlantic City in November 1996 and experienced first hand the lack of crowds on the famous boardwalk at that time of the year depicted in the film.  Ridley Scott’s debut film The Duellists and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups mentioned above have been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the names of the films in the post-script to access the reviews.) The Atlantic City Story is one of the author's best films of 2020.

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257. Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s seventh feature film “Shetan vojud nadarad” (There is No Evil) (2020), based on an original script by the director: Distinct tales of four Iranian men (three of whom were soldiers) who either chose to actively participate or conscientiously refuse to hang condemned men and the consequences of their actions on their family life

 

The film is “about people taking responsibility” for their actions and “each story is based on my own experience”

---Director Mohammad Rasoulof, quoted from BBC News on the Wikipedia page on the film There Is No Evil

 

Most filmgoers around the world might not have heard of Mohammad Rasoulof, an Iranian film director. He is one of most courageous filmmakers in the world today making amazing, well-crafted, award-winning films on morality within Iranian society, governed by rules that wreck the lives of its conscientious citizens. The seven feature films he made have upset the Iranian government authorities who do not appreciate dissenting views while his films gathered plaudits and awards worldwide. Both he and another relatively more famous film director Jafar Panahi are facing jail terms, currently in suspension, for highlighting some of the ills within the country. While the Damocles’ sword of prison time has cowed down Mr Panahi, Mr Rasoulof has come out with his most hard-hitting film yet-- There Is No Evil--which is arguably one of the best films of 2020 worldwide, in terms of content and quality and one of the best films from Iran over the decades. That it won top honors at the Berlin Film Festival is no surprise.

Director Rasoulof's daughter Baran plays an interesting role in the fourth segment--"Kiss her" The actor: Mohammad Seddighimehr

What is the film about? The four segments of this portmanteau film deal with four male characters who either hanged prisoners or objected to hanging condemned prisoners, often during their forced conscription for military duty or for economic necessity of bringing “home the bacon” in one case or, in the case of a tertiary character in the film, for covering the medical bills of a family member. None of the four enjoy their activity. In some segments, their close family are well aware of the decisions they make; in some, their dark activity is never fully revealed to their loved ones. And what are the crimes of the prisoners who are executed? Some are murderers, some are drug peddlers, some are political activists or believers in other faiths than those allowed to be practiced in the country by rigid Islamists.

Apparently if a conscripted soldier refuses to hang a condemned prisoner in Iran, you are punished by being given other tough and distasteful tasks, additional time to serve in the military, refusal of a driving license and a required permit to travel abroad. Your life becomes a living hell if you abide by your conscience.

To be involved in hanging a condemned man or not is the question

The awesome aspect of Rasoulof’s scriptwriting lies in the contrasting details of thought that gets weaved into it. Those who hang condemned prisoners, even if it is for the sake of their family’s economic survival, and after regularly collecting their salaries and their rationed rice for their apparent remorseless activity, reveal a kind heart while discussing upset school girls from broken families or saving kittens stuck in unlikely places. On the flip side, conscientious objectors to hanging convicted human beings in the film refuse to kill foxes that harm their own livestock and choose instead to feed them with food enabling them to survive. One of Rasoulof’s hangmen who is quiet about the work he does also exhibits silent remorse as he stops his car at a red light and doesn’t move on when the lights turn green, on his way to work. The camera merely captures the unmoving car which does ultimately move after a while. What an imaginative way to capture the mind of a sullen, seemingly unperturbed individual!

The car scenes like this one can be found in all the four segments. 

There is a strange common denominator in the films of Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy; A Taste of Cherry; Ten), Jafar Panahi (Taxi; 3 Faces), Reza Mirkarimi (Castle of Dreams) and Mohammad Rasoulof (There Is No Evil) in their propensity to film actors sitting in front seats of moving cars often, if not always, in non-studio shots. It is possible that these directors look at economics of filmmaking, ability to get reactions in real time of two or more actors in a single shot, or both. Yet this method of filming has only raised the distinct stamp of creativity of these directors in some of their important and celebrated recent works.

An evocative shot beautifully composed and balanced by the cinematographer and the director. That shot visually encapsulates an entire segment The actress is Mehtab Servati

If we go by information available on the IMdB website, it is quite possible that many of the male actors in There Is No Evil are either non-professionals making their debut or they have never acted in films sufficiently famous to be included on that website. It is indeed a remarkable achievement for Rasoulof to cast them and get fascinating outcomes.  

While Rasoulof’s personal views on death penalty is obvious, the film's strength lies in his astute development of interactions of various major characters, often within their family or a family of a close friend. The infusion of unusual details in the screenplay clearly surpasses his efforts in his past films, such as Good Bye and A Man of Integrity. Here he uses cats, foxes and even honey bees to add value to the conversation of the main characters in the four segments (There is no evil; She said ”You can do it; Birthday; Kiss me) of  the film There Is No Evil. If there is an element where the viewers have to suspend their disbelief in what they are watching, it would be portions of the second segment. But to the credit of the director/screenplay writer that weak segment is also the most entertaining amongst the four. But who cares? The somber value of the other segments more than makes up for it. The film is essentially about moral strength of its four characters not one providing popular entertainment.

Rasoulof and his contemporaries among Iranian directors are blessed with a range of beautiful and talented actresses—and this film is a testament to that factor. Rasoulof considerably depends on them. While his male protagonists may appear to have lead roles, their female counterparts in each segment have equally demanding and more commanding roles in his films and in this one in particular.

This film is in many ways close to Christian, Buddhist, Jainist, and humanist tenets though it is made by an Islamic cast and crew. It is essentially a film about respect for human life and that of animals.

The strength of There Is No Evil is based on several unusual elements—the ability of Rasoulof to make yet another film that could upset many in the Iranian government and judiciary while having a suspended jail term to serve out; writing a fascinating original script based on his own experience; wonderful casting of actors that include Rasoulof’s daughter in a major role in the final segment; and the intelligent cinematography by Askhan Askhani (who also worked on Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity). While it is quite predictable that Iran will never nominate There Is No Evil to the Oscars, one hopes it gets nominated in the categories of direction and screenplay by the Oscar authorities, rules permitting.   

P.S.  There Is No Evil won the Golden Bear for the best film, the Prize of the Ecumenical film Jury, and the Guild Prize for director Rasoulof at the 2020 Berlin film festival. It has also won the Grand Prize at the Heartland international film festival, Indiana (USA), Best Narrative Feature Film award at Montclair festival, New Jersey (USA), and the Special Jury Prize of the Crested Butte Festival (USA) for “courage in filmmaking.”  The film is participating in the 2020 Denver Film Festival, USA. There Is No Evil is one of the author's best films of 2020 Rasoulof's earlier films Good Bye (2011) and A Man of Integrity (2017), Kiarostami's Certified Copy (2010), Panahi's Taxi (2015) and Mirkarimi's Castle of Dreams (2019) have been reviewed on this blog earlier as also Kieslowski's Dekalog 5 (1988), a major cinematic statement on capital punishment from Poland. (Click on the names of the films in this post script to access the reviews) 

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256. Italian director Mauro Mancini’s debut feature film “Non Odiare” (Thou Shalt Not Hate) (2020), based on an original script by Davide Lisino and Mauro Mancini: Fascinating tale on human contradictions, visually narrated, economizing on spoken words

 

 

 

“I wanted what the characters don’t say to each other to be more important than what they do say to each other”

---Director Mauro Mancini’s statement to interviewer Davide Abbatescianni, in Cineuropa, after the film competed in the International Critics’ Week at the 2020 Venice film festival

Debut feature films are, in most cases, interesting films because the directors invest a lot of fresh thought as in the prime examples of Welles, Melville, Chabrol, Ridley Scott, Mike Nichols, Spielberg and the Coen brothers. So too, Mauro Mancini’s first feature film Thou Shalt Not Hate makes an unusual impact where spoken words take a back seat and silent actions speak louder.

Alessandro Gassmann in the Venice award-winningrole of the reputed Jewish surgeon

The hate in the film refers to the continuing hatred over generations between the Nazis/the neo-Nazis and the survivors of the holocaust (and their progenies), surfacing in contemporary Italy. The strength of the film does not lie in the tale that unfolds but more in the way it is presented. The film stands out as a result of the combined creative abilities of the director/scriptwriter, his co-scriptwriter, and the lead actors that present a simple tale, intelligently told.

The film opens with a scene where a father asks his young son to drown several kittens of a brood but retain one. The film ends with an adult re-visiting the same spot alone. The two key sequences do not seem to have a direct connection with “hatred” depicted in the main tale of the film but it does connect up with ideas/prejudices passed on by one generation to another. While many viewers are likely to spot the obvious tensions and hatred between the neo-Nazis and the Jews in the film, viewers are less likely to note the contrasting relationships between father and son within the two groups, presented in Thou Shalt Not Hate. In one group (the neo-Nazis), the son idolizes the father and his views, in the other (the Jewish Italian) there is almost very little evidence of any close connection between father and son in spite of working in closely connected professions. Interestingly, the mother figures in both groups are almost absent in the film’s script. The tale is either intentionally or unintentionally patriarchal. The viewer is given the choice by the filmmakers to figure out where the hatred lies: whether is it between the Nazis/neo-Nazis and the Jews or between the evolving generational perspectives within each group, or perhaps both.

In terms of religion, the title of the film Thou Shalt Not Hate is not a Jewish/Christian commandment but mirrors the Commandment “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” The film extends this view not just to human beings but to man-animal relationships as well. In contrast to the drowning of the innocent kittens that open the film, a fierce dog guarding the house of the dead dentist viciously snarls at his dentist’s son who had not met his father for a long while. Later sequences with few spoken words, explain the gradual bonding of the dog for his new owner. Another detail that may not be obvious is the burial of the neo-Nazi in a Christian cemetery without a priest, a prayer, or a Bible reading.

When a neo-Nazi dies, his daughter is the onlyfemale mourner

The remarkable abilities of the director Mancini and his co-scriptwriter Lisino are apparent in scenes where no words are spoken and music is not used as a crutch to lift the emotions of the viewer. One such scene is the decision of the doctor to visit the police station to lodge a complaint (not a knee-jerk reaction) on being attacked as he first chose to go home and attend to his wounds and mulled over what to do next. He then turns back after pressing the door bell of the police station and almost opening the door that was remotely unlocked for him to enter. Another is a scene in a supermarket, where he chances to spot his housemaid at work from a distance. He departs discretely without interacting with her. The visuals and the editing speak more eloquently than spoken words. In another scene, the subtle ingrained reaction of the maid while travelling in a crowded bus towards an innocent black immigrant sitting close to her is delicately captured by the filmmakers. So is the subtle visual comparison of the old furniture stacked up in the Jewish father’s house along with clues to identify Nazis responsible for the holocaust meticulously being researched by the dead dentist, while his Jewish son lives in a clean and modern apartment without any clutter. The film studies attitudinal changes in families over a generation with love and forgiveness replacing intense hate. Even consensual sex between two evolved adult individuals from the two groups does not take place because they do not feel it is appropriate, indicating the maturity of the screenplay writers.  

While Thou Shalt Not Hate has an early sequence exhibiting the innate hateful action for neo-Nazis from a reserved, otherwise cool-headed Jewish doctor leading to the death of an “accident” victim, the rest of the film relates to the doctor going out of the way to procure public information on the victim and his family and attempt to discretely provide succor to the family of the deceased to compensate his hate-ridden, knee-jerk action on reaching the accident site.

The doctor seeks redemption for his hate in an empty synagogue 

The film recalls the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s sophisticated ten part Dekalog (Decalogue) on the ten Jewish/Christian commandments and Kieslowski’s incredible continuous collaboration with co-scriptwriter Krzysztof Piesciewicz that followed. It appears director Mancini is following in Kieslowski’s footsteps by continuing his collaboration with his co-scriptwriter Davide Lisino on his next film project.  

Sara Serraiocco, plays the housemaid to the Jewish doctor

Apparently Mancini and Lisino developed the story after reading a news item about a surgeon who refused to surgically operate a neo-Nazi years ago and developed the film script keeping actor Alessandro Gassman in mind. Gassman appears as an Italian version of Hugh Laurie playing Dr House (minus the limp, of course) and his laconic performance won him the Venice acting award. (Alessandro is the famous Italian actor Vittorio Gassman’s son.) Mancini very aptly paired Alessandro with the equally talented actress Sara Serraiocco, who has been playing major roles in recent award winners at the Cannes and the Berlin film festivals. The casting choices added value to the film. The future collaborative works of Mancini and Lisino will indeed be worth waiting for.

 

P.S.  Thou Shalt Not Hate won the best actor (Pasinetti) award for Alessandro Gassmann and the award for the best Italian film at the 2020 Venice film festival. The film is participating in the 2020 Denver Film Festival, USA. Thou Shalt Not Hate is one of the author's best films of 2020 Four segments of Kieslowski's Decalogue (Decalogue 1, Decalogue 2, Decalogue 5, and Decalogue 7) mentioned above have been reviewed in detail earlier on this blog. (Click on the names of the films in this post script to access the reviews.) 

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255. Japanese director Takashi Koizumi’s film “Hakase no aishita sushiki” (The Professor and His Beloved Equation) (2006), based on an award-winning Japanese novel by Yoko Ogawa: Melding the magical world of numbers and mathematics with invisible eternal truths existing in the universe, for adults and school-going students alike

 

 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,

And Eternity in an Hour

                       ---opening lines from William Blake’s poem 

                           “Auguries of Innocence”

Some people don’t like numbers or mathematics but many do. Whether you belong to either category, the 2003 Yomiuri-prize-winning novel by the Japanese lady Yoko Ogawa called The Housekeeper and the Professor (the English translation has been published by Picador) and Takashi Koizumi’s film The Professor and His Beloved Equation based on that novel lead you gently into the mystical world of numbers that have captivated great minds like Pythagoras and Descartes over the centuries. What Ogawa and Koizumi achieve is to make an average person look at numbers with respect and realize that numbers were not created by human beings—they existed in the universe, we humans merely discovered them and are beginning to comprehend a small segment of the universe as we know it today. Both the book and the film motivate all and sundry to learn mathematics without being intimidated by numbers and equations. Ultimately, the film suggests a beautiful equation is like nirvana or the bliss of cosmic understanding described by the lines of the American poet William Blake at the end of the film.

Schoolteacher 'Root' resembles the root sign                                 

The mystical connection

The book and the film introduce a young male schoolteacher who is commonly known by the name “Root,” the mathematical symbol, ever since an elderly mathematics professor associated Root’s somewhat flat head and a stubborn tuft of hair to one side (when he was a lot younger) with that symbol. That professor’s memory was impaired following a brain damage caused by an accident, and subsequently could think clearly only for a slice of 80 minutes at a time before forgetting what had transpired before that. He, therefore, pins reminders on his jacket to jog his memory after each segment of clear recollection. For all practical purposes, the professor adopts Root as own child and gradually instils his love for numbers, mathematics, and baseball in the young boy. Root, in his turn on growing up, very gently infuses the same love for numbers and the mystical association between them to his school students.

The professor (Akira Terao) meets Root's mother

                            

How does the film generate unusual interest in the viewer for numbers and mathematics? An introductory conversation between the Professor and his new housekeeper begins with a question about her shoe size, which she answers happens to be 24 centimeters. He happily informs the perplexed young lady that 24 is a “noble” number and a factorial of 4. He then explains how a factorial is calculated, which is in this case 1x2x3x4. He then asks her phone number and is overjoyed because that happens to be the precise total of “prime” numbers up to one billion. Then, as the film progresses, the viewer learns about "perfect" numbers and “amicable pairs” of numbers such as 220 and 284 and why they are called that. All this is not fiction but scientific facts to entertain and instill curiosity in minds to know more. And who discovered the first pair? It was Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, who lived in the 6th century BC. Even this factoid is mentioned in the film. Then you learn about “transcendental” numbers and “imaginary” numbers later in the film. All facts, not fiction!

Young Root is 'adopted' by the professor

                                

And what is the “favorite equation” forming the title of the film? It is a variant of Euler’s equation now called “Euler’s identity.” It is an amazing fact that even today famous contemporary mathematicians call that particular equation/theorem of the Swiss mathematician (1707-83) to be the most elegant or beautiful theorem ever conceived. That is the connection to Blake’s poem ending the uplifting Japanese  film.

While Ms Ogawa has published over 50 books of fiction and non-fiction, in 2006 the year Koizumi released the film, the author brought out a book entitled An Introduction to the World’s Most Elegant Mathematics, in collaboration with mathematician Mashiko Fujihara. But who are the persons responsible for the film The Professor and His Beloved Equation? Director Koizumi was the assistant director to the late Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa on five of his final major films: Ran, Kagemusha, Dreams, Madadayo, and Rhapsody in August and was an uncredited assistant to the director on a sixth one Dersu Uzala. The Kurosawa connection to the Koizumi film continues. The cinematographer Shoji Ueda too was the cinematographer of five of those films, the actor Akira Terao (who plays the professor) was a lead actor in Ranand Madadayo, so too, actor Hisashi Ogawa (who plays the brief role of the housekeeper agent) is a stock Kurosawa actor. Even though Kurosawa had nothing to do with this film, his trusted collaborators were the principal contributors to The Professor and His Beloved Equation. Kurosawa would have been proud because the film apart from mathematics briefly introduces Japanese culture and the essentially Japanese Noh theatre to any uninitiated viewer as well.

 "...as difficult as proving the beauty of a star"

                          

While the film is essential viewing for those who love numbers (and their mystical attributes), mathematics, physics and metaphysics, it perpetuates a minor fallacy. While the film attributes the discovery of amicable numbers, after Pythagoras had discovered the first set, to the European mathematicians Fermat (1601-65) and Descartes (1596-1650). It now well known that the Iraqi mathematician Thabit ibn Qurra (826-901) had invented a method to discover them (ref: Wikipedia on Amicable Numbers). Several Arab mathematicians used that method between the 10th and 17th centuries to discover more amicable numbers but the popular Western belief attributes the findings to Fermat and Descartes.

The philosophy behind a straight line

                                

The Professor and His Beloved Equation may not be widely known as an important film, which it is. When it does get further traction cineastes who don’t read books are likely to recall the film and not the book on which it is based. How many Andrei Tarkovsky fans attribute even a fraction of the brilliance of his films Solaris and Stalker to Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers, respectively? Only a few demarcate a film and its source material.

 

P.S.  The Professor and His Beloved Equation won the best director award at Fajr film festival in Iran and an award for its music at the Mainichi Film Concours in Japan.

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254. US director Abel Ferrara’s semi-autobiographical feature film “Tommaso” (2019), based on his own original script: Trying not to be himself, the director reveals more of himself
The year 2019 saw four directors from four different countries make semi-autobiographical feature films: Spanish director Pedro Almodovar made Pain and Glory, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman made It Must Be Heaven, US director Abel Ferrara living and working in Italy made Tommaso and rookie British director Joanna Hogg made The Souvenir. Each of them found different groups of cineastes being enamored by their creative products using distinctly different approaches to filming the problems they as filmmakers face in real life. Some hide their thinly veiled identity by choosing a nom de plume such as Tommaso (played by Willem Dafoe) in Abel Ferrara’s film which will not fool any astute viewer. Tommaso is a fictional name of a filmmaker resembling Mr Ferrara, developing his own original screenplays for future directorial projects, and he too lives in Italy and is learning Italian and teaching acting to potential actors as he has chosen to live and work in that country. Tommaso is married and has a young kid called Deedee. So does Mr Ferrara. The wife of Tommaso is actress Christina Chiriac, who happens to be Mr Ferrara’s wife in real life. Deedee is played by Anna Ferrara, the director’s own biological daughter. Yet, Mr Ferrara opts to use a nom de plumeTommaso (Willem Dafoe) teaches acting to students in RomeThe approaches of the other three directors in their respective 2019 films are somewhat different. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar made his semi-autobiographical film Pain and Glory with the lead character, a fictional film director named Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, winning the Cannes Best Actor award for the performance) with some obvious parallels to Mr Almodovar’s own life. According to journalist Sabrina Rojas Weiss, writing in Refinery29, Almodovar admitted to Los Angeles TimesThere is a lot of myself there, but somethings belong completely to my life and some do not but could have been.” Joanna Hogg’s film The Souvenir is again autobiographical, recalling her days in a film school through the eyes of a fictional film student called Julie. Only in the case of the Palestinian director  Elia Suleiman, in his admirable work It Must Be Heaven, the director chooses to play himself facing the camera without uttering a word but as a spectator of humorous, semi-fictional events and identifying himself with his initials ES. While Suleiman identifies himself and his thoughts in his film almost completely through visuals, Abel Ferrara chooses to identify his honest thoughts using the spoken words of his nom de plume Tommaso. When Tommaso is picked up by the secret police in Italy for making some comments in public and is forcibly made to confront a senior police official, Tommaso states with certain gravitas: “The temple of all laws must fall. A new temple of truth should be built. Don’t take me literally. What is truth? Truth is you are in pain, you have a terrible headache. You are thinking of suicide. You should take a walk in the park. The trouble is you lack empathy. You care for your dog.” The viewer would initially assume the rant is about Tommaso. You realize it isn’t only when the police official removes Tommaso’s handcuffs and responds to Tommaso with respect, “Are you a doctor?” Ferrara is merely emphasizing the importance of a film director to note details and gestures of people around them as an observant doctor would. Tommaso with his wife (Christina Chiriac, a.k.a. Mrs Ferrera)Ferrara does not limit the film to the present. He reveals a bit of his tortured past in a group therapy session for drug addicts where he recalls he asked his 4-year-old adopted girl child “Are you leaving because I make too much noise?” (a likely scenario from his own life). The very same Tommaso ironically rushes out to quieten a drunk Pakistani shouting in the street outside his apartment in Rome at night because Tommaso’s (read Ferrara’s) real girl child born much later in life is likely getting disturbed by the noise of the drunkard’s rants. Mr Ferrara seems to indirectly state that he has matured over the years, being more responsible for his family. In another sequence in Tommaso, the character hallucinates that his daughter is run over by a car while crossing the street while rushing to hug him.  Tommaso watches his daughter enjoy a cone of gelato If one looks at Ferrara’s move to Italy from the US to make films one of his films made in 2009 is a docudrama called Napoli, Napoli, Napoli (Naples, Naples, Naples). In Tommaso, towards the end, there is a scene of Sophia Loren dancing in her 1960 US film It Started in Naples playing on a video screen to which Tomasso’s daughter Deedee is dancing in tune. These visual connections would be lost on a viewer who does not know much about Ferrara’s life and career. In a very revealing interview to Eric Dahan in Numero, Ferrara states “All my films, alas, say something about me, one way or another. I try not to be me but in the end of course I cannot help it.” Ferrara reveals his own tortured creative life with simple actions in Tommaso. While Tommaso is trying to work on a screenplay for a film project in the night when all his family is asleep, a light bulb of a crucial lamp in his study fails and new bulb that he replaces it with in the lamp also fails as he switches on the electric current. The next morning, an angry Tommaso, is on screen walking down the pavement with the troublesome lamp in hand, leaving it on the sidewalk but not in the trash bin, as his wife and daughter watch his angry actions with concern from a safe distance. For Ferrara watchers, Tommaso is merely one of many films that the director has used Willem Dafoe as a lead actor of preference. Dafoe played the lead in the biopic Pasolini (2014), another Ferrara film set in Italy, 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011), Go Go Tales (2007), New Rose Hotel (1998, sharing lead with actor Christopher Walken) and again in Siberia (2020). The close ties between the director and the actor increases in Tommaso where Ferrara depicts Dafoe playing Tommaso allegorically “crucified” in public in modern Rome creating a visual connect between Dafoe’s role as Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ. Next to the “crucified” Tommaso is a “crucified” African immigrant as a follow up to a sequence where Tommaso offered a group of African immigrants, sitting around an open fire in a garden the previous night, an allegorical “bloody heart” during a “last supper” while speaking the words “Take this. This is all I have.” To appreciate Tommaso, the viewer has to be essentially familiar with Ferrara’s work. If one is familiar with Ferraro’s life and work, Tommaso offers a lot for the viewer. Evidently Dafoe knows this well and gives fine performances in each Ferrara film. Tommaso is no exception. P.S. Tommaso is one of the author’s top 20 films of 2019. The film won the grand jury prize at the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival. Elia Suleiman's film It Must Be Heaven mentioned above has been reviewed on this blog earlier (Click on the name of the film in this post-script to access it.)Feedjit Live Website Statistics
253. Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho’s debut feature film “O Soma o Redor” (Neighboring Sounds) (2012) in Portuguese, based on his original script: A lovely, innovative example of effective, judicious and discreet use of sound in film-making that complements the mood of the screenplay
Film directors often make amazing debut feature films. These debut films can be awesome if they are based on the director’s original scripts rather than an adapted one. Kleber Mendonca Filho’s debut feature film Neighboring Sounds as a director stands out as he has observed and reflected on the history of Brazil and created a tale that mirrors the race conflicts and the closely related economic and social disparity that has existed in recent decades of that wonderful, naturally well-endowed nation’s history. Beyond the interesting tale that director Filho wrote for his debut as a feature filmmaker, he evidently decided to build his tale aided by the importance of sounds in a film that most viewers neglect to notice. It is no coincidence that he chose to title the film as Neighboring Sounds. If a viewer approaches the film casually, the story of the film will be more overpowering than the diegetic sounds captured on the film’s soundtrack. Filho divides his film into three chapters (i) Guard Dogs, (ii) Night Guard, and (iii) Body Guards. The common phrase for all three is “guard.” At the end of the film, a perceptive viewer will mull over the emerging necessity of guards for certain sections of Brazilian society. A view from an empty apartment in the condominium, where a past resident committed suicideA swimming pool would make way for another upscale apartment as the demand increases.The film opens with the camera capturing historical sepia images of dark skinned workers of a plantation in Brazil with a huge imposing mansion in the background. The film then brings us back in full color to the modern-day crowded urban Brazil where fair-skinned Brazilians live in varied levels of upper middle-class comfort, with household help, dogs to guard some households and limited common areas with high walls for children to play and recreate with protection. Some of the inhabitants in the condominium and the locality are very rich, some are comparatively less affluent. In an early sequence of the feature film the viewer is introduced to calm locality in the city of Recife, where the calm exterior is shattered visually and aurally by a car suddenly speeding into view, hitting another car. That is the first taste that Filho gives the viewer that all is not well as it appears. A questioning viewer would wonder what that initial sequence was all about—but it would make sense as you absorb various such later incidents that dot the film.  Most of the inhabitants are rich enough to employ maids and an old security guard that some inhabitants are not satisfied with and want replaced. Perhaps that is why one family in the condominium has a dog and the dog’s barking is a nuisance for another inhabitant who tries to kill the dog for the sake of a quiet night. One gets the impression that there is no crime in the area, only to realize that vehicles parked overnight are targets for thieves who find a market for stolen car music systems. Some residents of the apartments are not as rich as others; the lady above is a single mother of two kids, irritated by a neighbor's dog barking at night and gets her kids to massage her In the very first chapter, Filho’s script introduces the fact there is a very rich family with many close relatives residing in the neighborhood and even the old guard is a trusted man of this rich family’s current patriarch and therefore retained as a guard. Whether he is effective in his work or not, can be indirectly associated with the theft of a car music system. Filho’s film never spoon feeds the viewer. The viewer has to appreciate the mosaic of seemingly unrelated details to appreciate what the tale leads up to. The method employed by Filho brings to mind Lars von Trier’s amazing revenge tragedy Dogville (which also had a dog on the fringes of its tale), another remarkable film where the characters could be extrapolated beyond the limited geographical area presented that film to an entire country. Filho’s urban pocket of Recife (Brazil’s sixth largest city) is an encapsulated world of Brazil today that appears calm but is full of seething anger towards exploiters, past and present.  In the second chapter, when “professional” guards seem to have replaced the old guard and the barking dog, the viewer is introduced to images and sounds of less privileged kids seeming to attack the well-to-do neighborhood residents using the cover of trees and terraces at night. Was that the reason for the guard dog to bark in the night? Filho’s film first suggests the sounds and visuals of these kids scurrying on tree-tops  and roofs in the night as a dream of some residents, until the so-called new guards on duty catch hold of one of the kids hiding on a tree, only to let him go with a warning. The attitude of the guards towards the waif provides an interesting and unusual way to project the later events in the film that the viewer does not anticipate. At day time, Filho introduces a sexual escapade between a guard and a maid in an apartment when the owner has stepped out and alerted the guard of his brief absence merely to guard the apartment. Filho surprises the viewer with a shot of a kid hurriedly departing from the supposedly empty apartment through the open doorway. The kid was evidently disturbed by the sounds of the activity of the guard and the maid who has never been inside that particular apartment. Sounds matter in varied and surprising ways, in Neighboring Sounds, often contrasting the silence that reveal an important detail. Who was the kid? How come the guard was not aware that the empty house had a silent occupant? As the film progresses, those details make sense in the larger canvas offered by the film. In another sequence, the viewer glimpses the elderly don of the complex walking alone in the quiet night, evidently for a swim in the ocean, going past signs warning people of the sharks in the water. The guards watch their new employer with interest going for the swim alone and returning safely. All is calm but the uneasy calm grows on the viewer. A new guard offers professional protection to residents,who have experienced small crimes in the neighborhoodThe night guards are recruited and on the jobFilho briefly takes the viewer and some of his characters away from Recife to the more interior areas of Brazil where the elderly don, his son, and the son’s girlfriend go for a swim near a waterfall and Filho gives the fresh water drenching them to surrealistically turn to the symbolic color of blood. Filho keeps the viewer guessing. the location of the waterfall is close to the large house shown in sepia color at the start of the film  and a sugar plantation that the elderly patriarch's family owns.  And right up to the very end of the film, the film discusses and insinuates bloody events that had happened and are likely to take place, without ever showing them on screen. The bloody waterfall, which is not real, is the closest Filho comes to “violence” shown in the film. there is also a passing mention of a recent suicide by a past inhabitant of the Recife condominium. And yet the film suggests violence in a very discreet way! That is what makes Neighboring Sounds stand out among contemporary films. It presents the simmering anger that results from social inequality over decades, with the “guards” displaying similar intolerant behavior they have  experienced in the past from others. A single mother’s irritation towards barking dogs that is only alerting the denizens to dangers in the night is another subtext of the film offered by the screenplay.The family patriarch (center) shares a meal with his son and the likely future daughter-in-lawThe three visit locations near the patriarch's sugar plantation, and shower at a nearby waterfallThe water surrealistically turns to the color of blood Filho’s film Neighboring Sounds anticipates his co-directed Bacurau (2019). Neighboring Sounds offers more style and sophistication than the later work. The use of sound in Neighboring Sounds does not predict events as most films tend to do—the lack of sound and the abrupt use of sound to aid the script are unusual and remarkable. In some ways, the film  reminds you of the end sequence of Steven Spielberg’s debut film Duel (1971), in which a menacing truck falls off a cliff with a loud metallic groan, as though the inanimate truck had a life of its own. Filho is talented and this Brazilian film is a lot more sophisticated than Bacurau—the latter film having more mass appeal of a modern Western, while the former is more subtle in its message and linkages of disparate events. Neighboring Sounds is an important film of the past decade, especially on the technical front, and is a treat for those who seek well made films. The film indirectly seems to ask if Brazilians today have learnt from the lessons of their history. The viewer can decide that.P.S.  Neighboring Sounds (2012) and The Fever (2019) are two remarkable debut films from Brazil in the last decade. The two films might not boast of the wider appeal of Bacurau(2019) with its violence and some nudity. Quite evidently, Brazilian cinema is on the march long after the days of Cinema Nuovo, mostly in the 1950s up to the 1970s (Glauber Rocha’s Black God, White Devil; Ruy Guerra’s The Guns; Leon Hirschzman’s The Girl from Ipanema; and Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ How Tasty was My Little Frenchman). The two films The Fever and Bacurau have been reviewed on this blog and both are among the author's Twenty Best Films of 2019. Neighboring Sounds has won 38 awards worldwide.Feedjit Live Website Statistics
252. Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovskiy’s debut feature film “Chetyre” (4) (2004), based on a script by post-modern author/dramatist Vladimir Sorokin:  A perplexing, absurdist, and depressing study of contemporary, post-glasnost Russia
“Exhausted by hunger, he ate in secret. He thought he was stealing food; but that was better than stealing from strangers”  -- Narrator of a TV program on dogs, viewed by Oleg in the film 4The film 4 was made in 2004 and won 11 major film awards across Europe, the Americas and Asia. Khrzhanovskiy’s  debut film 4 is no ordinary feature film. Four stray dogs on a Moscow street at night open the film. Four persons (3 customers and a bartender) accidentally meet at a bar late night. The three drinkers (Marina, a female prostitute; Vladimir, a male piano tuner/musician; and Oleg, a male wholesale-meat supplier) construct their alternate fictional professions as they consume alcohol and attempt connecting with each other. Bar scene: (left to right) Vladimir, Marina and OlegAs the film progresses, we realize Marina is one of 4 sisters. Marina (played by actress Marina Vovchenko) meets up with two of her other sisters (possibly played by her real life sisters, if we go by their surnames and physical similarity) in her village. The fourth sister has just passed away. Marina travels with three strangers in a train compartment (they too add up to four). Asked by one of her co-passengers about where she is heading, she responds “To shoot a grenade launcher—my psychiatrist’s advice to clear the head. It helps against suicide.” More allegories, more symbols, more absurd connections. The person who asked her the question returns much later in the film as a thief stealing a watch from a car-accident site.At the early bar sequence, the conversation among the three drinkers are about dogs and humans, after Marina curses a man who has run over a dog at night. “A dog’s life is shit,”says one. “Man’s life is shit” is the terse response. “A dog’s life is comfortable, actually” is a follow-up comment from Oleg, the wholesale-meat seller. “Hit a dog on the road and bad luck follows you; hit a man and good luck follows,’’ adds Oleg. “Dogs are closer to God,” says Vladimir, implying thereby that humans are comparatively less close to God."Dogs are closer to God"Four stray dogs on a Moscow street open the filmDogs are everywhere, following all the characters--at the meat factory, at the village to eat up the dolls (made up of chewed bread!), following the thief who robs a watch off the hand of Oleg, who has just minutes ago crashed his car in an effort to save a stray dog crossing the road (Oleg, at the bar scene earlierin the film, had professed his love for dogs, constituting an Aristotelian structural balance to end the meandering script of 4). There is a Muslim, who sells meat of bizarre round piglets (genetically modified?) and kicks a dog (both animals that devout Muslims avoid dealing with) and is promptly reprimanded for his action by the non-Muslim Oleg, who loves dogs and watches dog programs on TV at home, surrounded by spic and span dog statues and stuffed dogs,.Four planes take off with prisoners (including Valdimir) forcibly trained to be soldiers to fight at some unknown frontier. What’s this strange fascination with the number 4? In one of the comments made at the bar, Vladimir ironically states that 4 legs lend stability to a table.Old women of the village mourn at the fresh graveof Marina's sisterMarina’s village reminds one of the derelict world of Tarkovsky's film Stalker. The population of the village is strange. It is surrounded by barbed wires and caution notices warning trespassers of high-tension electrical cables. But Marina knows how to navigate those barriers. The village seems to have survived in a time warp, complete with imposing but closed Russian orthodox churches and where the poor aged inhabitants sing hymns at burials and sell weird dolls to survive. There is just one male in the village, otherwise populated by females. Most of the women are toothless and old. Even in their advanced age, they talk of sex and continue to be proud of their breasts, when inebriate with vodka. The only two young female inhabitants of the village are Marina’s siblings and one of them has just died and had been adept at making the dolls.  En route to her village, Marina passes a truck/shop storing the genetically modified round piglets. (Everything in the film script is connected, if you are observant!) The odd male in the all-female village commits suicide after perfecting the faces of the last four dolls, using up all his savings. There is a strange connect between the muddy exteriors of Marina’s village and the mysterious mud that gathers on Moscow streets as though there has been a recent flood that require truck-based bulldozers to clear the detritus.The sole male inhabitant of the villagecarry four unfinished dolls (note the mud)Thus the film 4 presents you with animals who behave like humans and human beings who behave like animals. Some of the animals are alive, others are now dead carcasses. And some of the carcasses are possibly the result of banned/mad/state-supported scientific experiments to be sold as prized meat to high-end restaurants that exist but do not seem to have much patronage/clientele. Just a few minutes into the film and any intelligent viewer will know that the tale is a political allegory of Russia today. As this writer reviews the film 4 during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the shrill video messages of Wuhan residents pleading for global help are recalled. In 4,stray dogs are suddenly disturbed by sudden arrival of earth-moving equipment to redo a Moscow street at night that did not seem to require major repairs or reconstruction. The dogs and humans in Russia (and now in Wuhan, China) are at the mercy of forces that are incomprehensible to the respective denizens. And yet life trudges on, in an absurdist reality that reminds you of Ionesco's plays.Vladimir, who was observing fishes, turtles and strange water eels in glass water-tanks, in the film 4 is picked up by the police off the street and later interned in a prison camp and forcibly re-trained to be a soldier to be packed off like hundreds of others to fight an unknown national enemy in 4 huge aircrafts. The well-to-do Oleg has a father Misha who was/is a scientist constantly worried about dangerous microbes and is a fanatic for health safety to the extent of washing his garbage cans each day. Misha loves his dead wife and wants to visit his wife’s grave with his son Oleg. Misha is a scientist who firmly believes in the power of hell. This is where Vladimir Sorokin’s contribution surfaces as the novelist/playwright/scriptwriter is apparently a devout Christian, getting baptized at 25 and refusing to join the Komsomol, the youth communist cadre. Sorokin subsequently won the People’s Booker prize and other international prizes with his works translated from Russian into more than 20 languages. Sorokin’s tongue-in-cheek aside in 4 that perhaps only die-hard chess enthusiasts will spot includes the names of famous Russian chess players Bronstein and Lukin, dropped nonchalantly by Vladmir at the bar scene as the names of famous genetic engineering scientists in the tale he fabricates. There are visuals of streets getting cleaned in 4 by water-spraying trucks and bulldozers clearing mud. At the end of the film, you do see a cleaned-up road. But ironically who is using this clean facility? A dirty thief and a stray dog. No detail in this film is non-allegorical. When the village women eat and relish the meat of a dead pig, there is food for thought. When the pig’s head is thrown into a pig sty for other pigs to hog, there is food for thought. When dolls made of chewed bread are eaten by stray dogs, there is food for thought. These are just some fascinating elements of the film (script by Vladimir Sorokin). Does the film belong to the director Ilya Khrzhanovskiy (his debut feature film) or to Sorokin or to both? The film is audacious and critical of modern Russia, reminding one at times of Joseph Heller's book Catch 22, subsequently made into a feature film by director Mike Nichols. Somewhere, the mad script of 4comes together. It reminds one of another nihilistic recent debut film--this time from China—Bo Hu's An Elephant Sitting Still(2018). Only Bo Hu committed suicide soon after making his film, while Khrzhanovskiy has finally made his second film. The film 4 could well have had an alternate fitting title “4 dogs not sitting still," on the lines of Bo Hu’s film.P.S.  Bo Hu’s debut film An Elephant Sitting Still (2018), a film critical of modern China was reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the name of the Chinese film in this post-script to access the review.). The film 4 won awards at the Antalya Golden Orange film festival in Turkey (Best Director), the Athens international film festival in Greece (City of Athens award), the Buenos Aires international film festival of independent cinema in Argentina (Best Director), the Golden Apricot Yerevan international film festival in Armenia (Jury Special Prize), Rotterdam international film festival in the Netherlands (Golden Cactus and Tiger awards), Seattle international film festival in USA (New Directors Showcase award), Sochi Open Russian film festival in Russia (Jury Special Prize), Titanic international film festival in Budapest, Hungary (Breaking Waves award), Transilvania international film festival in Romania (Transilvania trophy and Best Cinematography) and Valdiva international film festival in Chile (Best Soundtrack). Some 15 years later, the film’s director Khrzhanovskiy has made his second ambitious and controversial feature film DAU in 2019. The DAU film project also has writer Sorokin of 4 to prop up Khrzhanovskiy.Feedjit Live Website Statistics
251. Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu’s seventh feature film “Baglilik Asli” (Commitment) (2019):  An interesting study of the modern educated woman, motherhood, and family ties in a fast developing Turkish economy
The poster captures the essence of the film--the child is the fulcrum of the tale, with the mother almost absent in the frameFilm directors and screenplay writers Semih Kaplanoglu and Nuri Bilge Ceylan are the leading lights of Turkish cinema today. Their contributions have understandably resulted in Turkish films being considered among the very best in the world in recent decades. Unfortunately, Kaplanoglu’s previous film Grain made in 2017 has been totally neglected by most cineastes, even though the film won the top honor at the 2017 Tokyo film festival and was made in English on a subject that ought to interest a larger educated film-going global public. It possibly antagonized the powerful lobby of private sector involved with agricultural genetic engineering that effectively curtailed the film’s distribution and publicity worldwide, similar to the case of the Cannes-award winning European film Little Joe (2019). Grain was a departure for Kaplanoglu, not just for venturing into the world of science fiction but for leaving the recognizable Turkish geographical territory for an indistinguishable one, set in a near-future time frame. Asli (Kubra Kip) has a happy marriage, financial securityand a child--but wants moreSemih Kaplanoglu’s film Commitment marks a u-turn for the director from Grain. InCommitment, he returns to a very identifiable Turkey, its contemporary status, and the Turkish language. Five of his earlier feature films (he had made six)  focused on male figures, markedly in his Yusuf trilogy comprising the films Honey, Milk, and Egg, though women had secondary but important roles in those films.  Only his second film, Angel’s Fall,primarily focused on a woman. In Commitment, too, he returns, after four films, to focus once again on women. Turkey, like Russia, is largely located in Asia and less in Europe. Both countries, however, prefer to be identified as European than Asian (e.g., the denizens of the city of Vladivostok situated in Asia). Turkey, in recent years, has been making a bid to be a part of the European Union, disregarding its Asian connection and heritage.  The richer sections of Turkey’s population are rapidly moving closer to European life styles, while the poorer sections still retain the Asian traditions in their social lifestyles. Asli (right) hires Gulnihal (Ece Yuksel).to take care of her baby while she returns to her job as a bankerIn Commitment, Asli(actress Kubra Kip) is a well-to-do banker in her late twenties or early thirties, who has given birth to her first child and wants to return to job at the earliest, and attempts to regain her pre-childbirth physical allure. She is not always able to take care of her child, dislikes breast feeding her child, neglects the indoor flowers in her house, and cannot cook well enough to please her husband (she serves cold potato salad of the previous day to her husband when he returns from work). For Asli, her career and her looks are more important than her family responsibilities.  Even her gynecologist doctor does not approve her returning to work soon after childbirth and dislikes her requests for medication to reduce her lactation for the sake of maintaining her appearance.  Asli represents the richer middle class of Turkey yearning to mimic European lifestyles and objectives. Kaplanoglu’s Commitment underscores the fact that despite the wealth of the nouveau-riche, the upper middle-class nuclear families in Turkey are clearly missing self-fulfillment.In contrast to Asli, the contrasting socio-economic elements of Turkey are embodied in Gulnihal (actress Ece Yuksel), essentially from a village background. Gulnihal is hired by Asli as a babysitter-cum-domestic help to look after her child as she returns to her life as a city banker. On her return to work, Asli finds that she has been given a less important position in the bank following her return from maternity leave than the one she held before. Yet Asli hangs on to the less-attractive job, despite being downgraded. On the other hand, Gulnihal also works for Asli’s family as she needs the money though she would rather be with her own child, almost the same age as Asli’s. Gulnihal knows her child is in good hands—her mother-in-law.  Gulnihal, a young mother herself, dotes on Asli’s child as her own and even breastfeeds Asli’s child without seeking permission.  Gulnihal brings to the Asli household food prepared by her mother-in-law (a typical Asian family gesture of goodwill transcending economic barriers) that Asli’s husband appreciates assuming it was prepared by his wife. Evidently, Gulnihal is relatively a happy individual unlike Asli who is a lot wealthier than her.Asli's life lacks the true joy of being a mother, enjoying a good marriage, a child, and a job as a bankerThe film is also a study in family relationships.  The film presents multiple subplots relating to the family members of Asli (her parents and siblings and their feelings towards her), the family of Asli’s husband (his parents and their relationship towards him) and finally Gulnihal’s relationship to her husband, mother-in-law and her own child. Asli gifts Gulnihal a jacket--the economic ployof gaining affection of her employeeAdd to all this there are political commentaries relating to Turkey’s recent past history (a newspaper or journal that continues to publish despite its dwindling readership, is one example) that Turkish viewers might comprehend better.Commitment is a film based on an original script written by Kaplanoglu himself. The strengths of the film lie in the script (a male scriptwriter dealing with so many female viewpoints) that is complex and yet a delight for astute viewers, the direction of a very talented filmmaker, the crisp cinematography of Andreas Sinanos and finally a very good ensemble cast. The initial visual of the film (which would perplex the viewer) is replicated at the end where the significance falls into place. This critic viewed the film in a packed auditorium at the International Film Festival of Kerala which possibly did not have a single Turk in the audience. That audience loved the film and was clapping away after the film ended. (The director and crew were not present and, therefore, the reaction of the audience was spontaneous and genuine.) Asli and her husband have a meal at home--the foodbecomes an important tool of non-verbal communicationCommitment was Turkey’s submission for the 2019 Oscars in the foreign language category. But it did not earn the nomination even though the film’s screenplay and direction are commendable. Nuri Bilge Ceylan pips Kaplanoglu in international stature because the former has succeeded in infusing internationally accepted literary connections, while Kaplanoglu (with the exceptions of Grain and perhaps Honey) has made films that Turkish audiences would relate to more than international ones. Despite this, Kaplanoglu and Ceylan are filmmakers, whose every new film is well worth the wait.P.S.  Commitment is one of the author's top 20 films of 2019. It won the Best Director award at the Bosporus (Bosphorus)  Film Festival. Kaplanoglu’s three films Grain (2017), Honey (2010), and Milk (2008) have been reviewed earlier on this blog. Significantly, two other major women-centered films made in 2019, Vitalina Varela and Beanpole were made by male directors/screenplay writers and have been reviewed on this blog. (Click on the names of the films in this post script to access the reviews.)Feedjit Live Website Statistics
The late Hungarian film director Zoltan Fabri speaks to the Indian film critic Jugu Abraham in Budapest, Hungary, in 1982
Zoltan Fabri, 1917-94 (Courtesy: MUBI)Transcript of the interview published in the daily newspaper The Telegraph, (Kolkata, India) on 15 August 1982 Zoltan Fabri is not an unknown name in India. His films have been widely shown in screenings in India, courtesy NFDC, and he holds the distinction of winning two awards at the Delhi International Film Festival of India (IFFI). In 1979, Hungarians won the Golden Peacock for the Best Film and in 1981 his film Balint Fabian meets God was awarded the Silver Peacock for the Best Actor. Fabri is one of three great Hungarian filmmakers—Miklos Jancso and Istvan Szabo completing the trio. Jugu Abraham, who interviewed him in Hungary, found him to be ‘a lovely old man’ with impeccable manners and forthright views. The interview: Q. In India, we see a lot of your films but we hardly know anything of the person behind the camera. I would like to ask you something of your personal life. Your films have shown the protagonists playing very tragic and sombre roles, full of strife and sadness, in Hungary of the Second World War and before. Was your personal life as tragic, as difficult and as sombre as the heroes of your films?A. My parents were relatively poor. My father worked in a bank as a clerk. In the summer, I lived with the peasants. And the reason peasants recur in my films is that I learned very much about their lifestyles. I went to school in town. I went to the College of Fine Arts. I wanted to be a painter. At that time film was not taught in college. I was born a weak child. I had problems with my tonsils which were removed, and I was beset by recurring illness of a weak heart.Q. How much of your life was affected by the World Wars?A.I was born during the First World War I have very few memories of that World War. We lived in misery. I was living in a big house with lots of people living in it. During the Second World War, I was in college, on a scholarship. In college, I would win at poetry recitals and wonder what I would do later in life. I had to choose between painting and directing plays. In my sixth form, I put up Julius Caesar and played Antony. But am I boring you?Q. No, please continue. A. So I joined the School of Fine Arts. At the end of the third year my father tried to find a job for me. He found me a job as a drawing teacher in one of the plush schools. But I decided to leave college. One afternoon, I went to my father, who was shaving, and told him I am going to quit the School of Fine Arts and I intended to join the Theatre College. My father chased me like a mad man with a razor in his hand for 10 minutes. But after a lot of pleading, he agreed to let me try out theatre studies for a year at college. At the end of the year, my father went to the school to find out how I was doing. I was allowed to stay on. I need not elaborate why. I finished the school in 3 years, making it clear that I did not want to be an actor but a director. I wrote scripts for an Ibsen play and even made sets for it. And the play was a great success. The production went through all the Budapest theatres in one year. Two days after getting my degree, I got a letter from the National Theatre that I should go and discuss my contract. In my first play at the National Theatre, there were actors who had been my teachers at the college. Q. Was your private life greatly affected during the Second World War?A. In 1943, I was taken prisoner till 1945. I had no contact with my family at that time. I was single then. I wasn’t married. I returned to find Budapest totally bombed. As I approached my house, I found all our neighbouring houses were bombed but my parents’ flat had survived.  I found them safe. It was a horrible memory to reconstruct things.  I went back to theatre and worked in all Budapest theatres as a director, as a set director and sometimes as an actor. Q. Today if you were to choose between film and theatre which would you choose?A. I would choose film.Q. Which films have been close to your personal life?A. Twenty hours perhaps was one. Unfinished Sentence was almost as if it was written for me. I didn’t come from an aristocratic family but what happens in the family almost happened to me. Q. Do you feel the characters in your films are reflections of your trials?A. in my films, I am speaking about people who somehow have to get to the battlefield of history and they have to pass a trial of human conduct, a probe, a search.Q. What do you feel about your black and white films like Merry Go Round visually? A. In spite of the fact that I never became a painter, one cannot totally bring oneself to reconcile to making films in colour after making films in black and white.Q. Why is it that you delve in the past? Doesn’t speculation of the recent past of your country or its future interest you? Science fiction, for instance.A. I do not think I am suitable for science fiction or the like but I do think of the future. In Unfinished Sentence, I spoke about the future, in a way.  The future became the past in the film. The past and the present are in a very close relationship. You cannot for instance understand the present day Hungary without understanding the past. Consequently, when I make a film on the past, I want to communicate to the present viewer.A still from the Golden Peacock (IFFI) winner "Hungarians"Q. Would you like to comment on the fact that you made Balint Fabian meets God after you made Hungarians?  Hungarians chronologically should have come after Balint Fabian meets God.A. It wasn’t my decision. Studios who wanted me to make Hungarians knew very well I wanted to make a film of Balint Fabian. I told them that chronologically it should be Balint Fabian meets God that should come first. But they considered Hungarians to have a more universal message. So they said “How do you know if you will ever get to finish Balint Fabian? So why not make Hungarians first? “ They were right in saying Hungarians contained the fate of a nation in a delicate and miserable situation, with a limited spectrum of thought and communication. At the same time, the characters in the film thought and expressed in a very universal way without being conscious of it. A defining moment in The Fifth Seal; filming"the most important question of our life" for FabriQ. Why did you pick up the book The Fifth Seal for a film?A. I picked it up in 1965. But there were cultural-political reasons, which were against my plans to film it. First, they said it was an existentialist work.  I said that was not true at all. But they won. I could only make it in 1975-76. It was a great message for me to put on screen. First, I was challenged by the stage-like story—it is almost anti-film. The second part was more appropriate for cinema. What basically attracted me were the four or five petty bourgeoisie characters talking of survival and the extent one can go to survive. As a counterpoint, there is a Fascist who is educating the younger person to emulate the other persons to achieve his own aims. The third part is how neither of the theories will work—neither of the petty bourgeoisie nor of the Fascist. Q. What made you pick up the book? Did you like what was said in the story?A. This thesis anti-thesis leading to synthesis formula I found most intriguing. And the most important question of our life is there. Q. Are you religious?A. I cannot make dogmatic religion acceptable for myself in spite of the fact that I went to a religious school when I was young. I believe in the moral content of religion; for me it is very significant to assess a person’s moral values. At the same time I am not bothered about a person’s religion or whether he practices it.  Morality is most important. Crucial scene from Balint Fabian Meets GodQ. In India, after viewing your films, we get an idea that you are ambiguous in your treatment of religion. What is your personal attitude towards religion?A. In Balint Fabian meets God, it is true that Balint Fabian’s relationship with religion is ambiguous. You can see it as self-sacrifice of a person deeply in love with his wife to meet God. Isn’t that true?Q. Why are Russians kept out of your films?A. I have no idea.Q. Has any filmmaker influenced you other than Marcel Carne and Orson Welles?A. The French directors, of course but Orson Welles influenced me most. Welles could not surpass what he did at 25—Citizen Kane—which can be appreciated and enjoyed even today.Q. Children hardly occupy any place in your films. If they come in, they are only fringe characters. Is there any reason for it?A. Basically, I don’t know why. Q. Why have you specialized in tragedy? Is it something to do with your theatre experience?A. Most probably because my view of life attracts me more to tragedy than to comedy. My mentality of daily life style is serious, not comic. However, in Two Half Times in Hell and in The Tot Family, I approach the tragicomic border.Q. You have worked with Georgy Vukan as the music composer for the last five or six films. Would you like to tell us something about this man who has intrigued me with his music?A. It is a personal relationship I have with him. He is an artist whom I like. He was a discovery of mine, you can say. I used his music when he was 21 years old. Now he is 30 or about that age. Q. What do you feel about Boys on Paul Street made for Hollywood?A. I liked the message of the book. It was not my best film. It was a “noble” film. Q. What then was your best film?A. You can pick between Prof Hannibal, Twenty Hours, The Fifth Seal and Hungarians.P.S. The author's detailed review of Zoltan Fabri's film The Fifth Seal was published earlier on this blog. The Fifth Seal is one of the author's top 100  films ever made. (To access the review, click on the name of the film in this post-script.) The author, who was a staff film critic of the Hindustan Times group of publications in New Delhi, was invited to Budapest to interview Zoltan Fabri and Miklos Jancso in 1982. During the interactions, Fabri expressed his disappointment that US director John Huston's film Victory, in its credits, did not mention Fabri's earlier film Two Half Times In Hell, which was evidently a major source for the US director, a film personality who Fabri always admired. The opening title sequence of Fabri's "The Fifth Seal" with the music of Georgy Vukan: Feedjit Live Website Statistics
250. Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin’s debut feature film “A Febre” (The Fever) (2019) in Portuguese language:  Promising debut, treading the path of filmmaking taken by Portuguese director Pedro Costa
Two films made in 2019 mark the resurgence of Brazilian cinema: Dornelles’ and Filho’s joint effort Bacurau (a Cannes film festival winner) and debutant Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever (a Chicago international film festival winner).  The following citation for the Chicago win is a good encapsulation of the merits of the second film, The Fever:""The Silver Hugo for Best Director goes to Maya Da-Rin for her debut fiction feature The Fever. The film drifts between dream and reality, portraying with both tenderness and precision the world of an indigenous father and daughter in the north of Brazil. It takes us into the family and their hearts, but never forgets the importance of the political context."  Citation for the award from the Chicago International film FestivalJustino (Regis Myrupu), a denizen of the Amazon rainforest,chooses to work as a security guard in Manaus, where instead of trees, he is surrounded by steel containers shipping goods Director Maya Da-Rin was into ethnographic documentary filmmaking in Brazil before she decided to make her first fictional feature film The Fever. Ms Da-Rin has had sufficient interactions with the indigenous native tribes of Brazil while making her ethnographic documentaries that preceded this feature film. Those interactions gave her the idea to write a script for a feature fiction film focussing on the migration of the forest dwelling tribes to nearby cities for the sake of jobs, education and healthcare. One of Da-Rin’s two co-scriptwriters is a full time anthropologist Pedro Cesarino. The Fever is tale of Justino (Regis Myrupu), a Desana tribal who comes to the city of Manaus on the banks of the Amazon River, in the middle of the rain forest, to work as a guard at a river port where containers are berthed before or after being transported across oceans. Manaus has evolved as a major duty free zone port city in Brazil.The genesis and the creation of Da-Rin’s film are very similar to Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela.another 2019 film, this time from Portugal. Both films are distinguished by their original screenplays developed by their respective directors after discussing with people about their own experiences that ultimately get projected so realistically in the films. Both films are in Portuguese language: one made in Brazil, the other in Portugal. Both films mainly rely on non-professional actors who incidentally have been rewarded internationally for their performances. Both films have most sequences shot at night time with an obvious absence of natural light. Both films were major winners at the 2019 Locarno film festival in Switzerland. The two films underscore the effectiveness of directors to conceive of films by talking to people and developing their films from ideas that emerge from real conversations with people living on the margins of contemporary society,Justino with his daughter, who aspiresto be a doctorThe fever in the film relates to a realistic medical condition that affects Justino, the guard working in Manaus. Medical tests conducted do not reveal any known disease. Justino is a widower and a Christian (most Desana tribals are apparently Christians)  living with his daughter, who is studying medicine and a recent recipient of a scholarship for further medical studies in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, to become a  medical doctor. The scholarship means a great deal for the young lady but this development hurts her father as he realizes that he will be deprived of her company in Manaus for the next 5 years.  The fever is perhaps also linked to Justino’s brother’s social visit to Manaus making both brothers recall their early lives as happy hunters in the Amazonian rain forest, content hunting for fresh food in the forest rather than shop for food in the supermarkets. Justino’s brother wants Justino to return to the forests but Justino does not seem to agree, claiming that his employers won’t let go of him and even has a plastic smile when says he “will be fine” after his daughter departs for Brasilia.Da-Rin’s film explores at a secondary level the true relationship between the employer and the employee, Justino. Even though he has been an ideal worker for a long while, the Human Resource department summons him to state that he could be fired without compensation as he has been found dozing at work. The film explores racism, too.  A greenhorn guard joins Justino’s shift and decides to call him “Indio” rather than Justino. It is this work scenario that Justino describes as one where “his employer won’t let him go.”Justino (extreme right) with his brotherand family enjoying food from the rainforestAt a third level, there is the psychological beckoning of Justino by the rain forest and its fauna. The food that Justino’s brother brings with him to Manaus attracts Justino’s taste buds by its taste, encouraging him to consider returning to the forest. The strange sounds of fauna heard on the forest edges of Manaus city at night seems to communicate with Justino. But the viewer is never shown the mysterious animal  by the director.  A section of the Manaus population alleges that the animal killed a pig. It is possibly the same animal that made a hole in the fence of the port’s facilities that Justino meticulously guards. The mysterious animal also seems to be trying to connect with Justino.The fever is a metaphor transcending medical knowledge in this film. It suggests a connection between animals, spirits and humans that the rainforest tribes believe in and the fever seems to attract Justino back to the forest. Whether Justino does return or whether he dreams of his return is for the viewer to figure out.  The film ends with a song sung on the soundtrack that ambiguously states: “This is why I have come to talk to you. Like our ancestors, we must live with strength and courage”At the Locarno film festival, the film’s director Da-Rin indicated her antipathy towards the Bolsonaro regime that is cutting down the rainforests to encourage industry and corporate farming, at the cost of precious natural genetic resources and disrupting the world of the tribes who lived in harmony with rainforest for centuries. Films like Vitalina Varela and The Fever open up exciting, reflective cinema for serious film viewers while encouraging a new method of developing original scripts and the employment of non-professionals as actors who go on to win awards. These films are indeed  different from the usual.P.S.  The Fever is one of the author's top 20 films of 2019. Much of the dialogues quoted above are from memory of a single viewing and are approximations. The film won the Best Actor award for actor Regis Myrupu and the FIPRESCI prize for the best film at the Locarno Film Festival; the Silver Hugo Award for the best director at the Chicago International Film Festival; the Best Latin American Film Award at the Mar del Plata Film Festival (Argentina); the Roberto Rossellini  award at the Pingyao International Film Festival (China); and the Silver Alexander Award as the Special Jury Prize at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Greece).The Brazilian film Bacurau and the Portuguese film  Vitalina Varela have been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the names of the films in this post-script to access the reviews.) Feedjit Live Website Statistics
249. Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s seventh feature film “Vitalina Varela” (2019): Stunning, austere, melancholic docu-fiction film that highlights the power of cinematography, sound management, lighting, acting, drama and art direction, presenting an aesthetic alternative to Hollywood and Bollywood films
Film director Jean Luc Godard  had said “In the temple of cinema, there are images, light and reality. Sergei Parajanov was the master of that temple.”  Parajanov, the late master filmmaker from Russia, underscored the importance of bright colours and realistic sound, while Pedro Costa’s  Vitalina Varela goes a step further, accentuating darkness, dark skin, and shadows with muted indirect lighting in a “colour” film, aided with natural sound. When you do see bright images in Vitalina Varela, as at the end of the film, it is not just real bright light and colours, it presents a metaphoric change in the film’s narrative structure.The award-winning actress plays herself in the film about herselfVitalina Varelais distinctly different from the Oscar nominees of 2019 or well known commercial films with renowned actors. Vitalina Varela is an unusual film with a title that has the name of its lead actress. The film narrates the real story of its lead actress, a Cape Verdean immigrant arriving without papers in Portugal following her husband’s demise.  (She acquired the formal  papers authorizing her stay in Portugal halfway into the production of this film, several years after her actual arrival.) Its director Pedro  Costa, and his close-knit committed production team of cinematographer  Leonardo Simoes, sound mixers (Joao Gazua and Hugo Leitao), production manager, and stock actors can be proud of their low-cost final product that offers higher aesthetic values than the multi-million dollar products from either Hollywood or Bollywood. It is definitely one of the remarkable films made in 2019, if not the decade, at least for audiences less addicted to conventional action and sex that makes a majority of contemporary films make money at the box office. While the film is made by a white (Caucasian) Portuguese crew,  all the  characters in Vitalina Varela  are dark-skinned Africans from Cape Verde. Half of a film festival audience viewing Vitalina Varela  (in which this critic was a spectator) walked out of the film screening halfway, while the other half stayed rooted in their seats right up to the end of the film and stood up to applaud the film, even though none of the filmmakers were present at the screening.  (This critic recalls that in 1979, when an Andrei Tarkovsky film retrospective was screened in New Delhi, during an international film festival, some spectators who had paid for their tickets tore up their seats at the Archana theatre where the films were screened in frustration as they could not comprehend or appreciate Tarkovsky's cinema. Today, ironically the same films, are likely to be treated with awe and respect.)Ms Varela, the lead actress of  Vitalina Varela, has little or no acting experience. She emotes and reconstructs with staggering dignity the world of her recent widowhood and love for her late husband, Joachim, who chose to live the demanding  life of an immigrant in the Fontainhas sector of Lisbon, Portugal, for some 25 years, retaining for his memory Ms Varela’s wedding photograph, carefully preserved in a photo frame in his ill-lit, shanty dwelling. This award-winning performance of the actress is comparable to the very best in the world, thanks to Costa’s perseverance and extended committed interaction with her developing the film from scratch for several years prior to the shooting of the film. The priest (Ventura) and the widow (Vitalina Varela), in the church without any other worshippersThe most amazing part of the film Vitalina Varela is that there was no prior written script (just as in most  of Terrence Malick’s films) making it all the more difficult for Costa to  attract producers. The spoken words are essentially recollections of Ms Varela’s life and her second interaction in Lisbon with a real Cape Verdean  priest (played in the film by Ventura, a regular actor in several of Costa’s films), who buried Ms Varela’s husband Joachim, just days before her arrival in Portugal. The concept of the film itself emerged from  Costa’s, his wife’s, and his team’s interactions for 4 years with Ms Varela. Costa has explained that the film evolved with those extensive interactions and the award-winning performance Ms Varela was her honest outpouring of grief and loving memories of her husband who had promised her a palace in Lisbon decades ago, only to find it was a mere shack, which included some clues left behind in the derelict abode of the late husband’s recent lover. The evolution of the film has several parallels with the 2019 Brazilian film The Fever, which also was made after its director Maya Werneck Da-Rin's extensive interactions with indigenous Brazilians.Contemporary Russian maestro Aleksandr Sokurov made unforgettable, poetic  films: Mother and Son (1997) and Father and Son(2003). Had Sokurov made Vitalina Varela, he would possibly have titled it as “Wife and Husband.”  Vitalina Varela is a recounting of real events of Varela’s arrival in Portugal from Cape Verde island in the Atlantic, off the African continent (and a former Portuguese colonial territory), a few days after the death and burial of her husband Joachim, originally a bricklayer, more recently a person who survived by doing odd jobs. Like Sokurov’s elegiac Mother and Son, Costa’s Vitalina Varela is essentially a monologue of Vitalina seemingly speaking to her dead husband about her memories with him, comparing the stone house in Cape Verde they built together decades ago, with the tin shanty house in Lisbon.  The Lisbon “palace”  that Joachim promised her decades ago that she occupies following Joachim’s  passing is a shanty house with a leaking roof.The priest (ventura) metaphorically "carrying the cross on his shoulders": director Costa and cinematographer Simoes at their bestThe only real dialogues in the film are those between the priest—a real character, a priest of a derelict church in Lisbon, reeling under his guilt of turning away a busload of Cape Verde Christians, who had approached him while he was a priest in Cape Verde to baptise a child without proper papers. The busload of Christians he turned away were killed in a road accident a short while later and the priest carries that cross of his action of refusing to baptise the child to this day.  Costa’s film brings together two individuals from Cape Verde, both suffering from recent tragedies, both religious individuals, both alone in a new country where even God seems to have forsaken them.  One line spoken during  the interaction between the two is evocative: “I had the cross of Christ on my shoulders. I couldn’t move. When I fell, I was free.” A fascinating religious commentary, indeed, in a film that did not have a prior written script.In Vitalina Varela, the spoken words are less important than the visuals.  A striking point in the film is the arrival of Vitalina in Lisbon.  A plane arrives on the tarmac of the airport and the sole V.I.P. to emerge from it is Vitalina. The “V.I.P.’s” bare feet are shown as she climbs down the steps from the plane. (A cineaste would recall the Japanese director Mikio Naruse’s  classic 1960 film When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (with proper shoes) and the inverse relationship of the wet, bare feet shown in Vitalina Varela descending from the plane in this sequence.)  You would expect lights in an airport at night—but the scene is dark, the person is dark skinned, and wearing clothes appropriate for mourning. The “V.I.P.'s" reception committee are made up of fellow Cape Verdean immigrants working as cleaners/support staff at the airport, one of whom honestly tells her “Vitalina, my condolences. You are too late. Your husband’s funeral  was 3 days ago. There is nothing for you in Portugal. His house is not yours. Go back to Cape Verde.” Some reception for a widow!A rare bright shot in the film is at the grave of JoachimJust as Parajanov emphasized light in his films, Costa and his cinematographer Leonardo Simoes emphasize the importance of light by erasing it and using it sparingly to accentuate its importance. This is a colour film that appears to show more black (or lack of light) in most of the sequences with indirect lighting often behind the actors to give a silhouette. It fits with its the subject matter—it is a film dealing with death, sorrow, loneliness, African immigrants struggling to survive in Europe, lack of money and love. Even in daytime, much of the scenes are shot in shadows. Each of these dreamlike shots is aesthetically crafted in austere surroundings and a pleasure to perceive.  There are unforgettable sequences of tired immigrant workers returning home at night, hardly speaking to each other, in dimly lit streets close to cemeteries. You are reminded of sparse visual stage settings crafted by playwrights Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco for their works. And natural sounds and bleak visuals, "speak" as much as humans do in this film.Vitalina interacts with another woman,who has burdens of her ownUltimately Vitalina Varela is a film about a widow and the spoken words are bound to reflect a feminine viewpoint. In a response to the priest, who has kind words for her dead husband, Vitalina acerbically responds with criticism that is considerably true ”Men favour men. When you see a woman’s face in the coffin, you can’t imagine her suffering.” Suffice it to say that the film captures all this and more.The citation for the film’s Silver Hugo award at the Chicago film festival  sums it all: “..for a ravishing and masterful vision between horror and melodrama, spirituality and desperation that blew the jury all away."P.S.  Vitalina Varela is one of the author’s top 20 films of 2019. Much of the dialogues quoted above are from memory of a single viewing and are approximations. The film won the Golden Leopard award for the best film and the Best Actress award at the Locarno Film Festival; the Silver Hugo Award for the best feature film at the Chicago International Film Festival; the Best Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography Awards at the Mar del Plata Film Festival; the Grand Prize of the Jury at the La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival (France); and the Best Cinematography Award at the Gijón International Film Festival (Spain). The Brazilian film, The Fever, mentioned in the review, is also one of the author's top 20 films of 2019. Feedjit Live Website Statistics
248. French director Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature film “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu” (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) (2019) based on her original screenplay:  An awesome film built on impeccable direction, intelligent screenplay, magnetic performances, cinematography and choice of music
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire may be described by some as a feminist film that tells a tale of four women characters in 18th century France devoid of any significant male characters, and made by a female director and a female cinematographer.  At the end of this remarkable film, you tend to discount the female element. You are stunned by the sophisticated quality of cinema the film offers that makes you discount the overwhelming female gender quotient.  The following two citations of awards bestowed on Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire amply describe the worth of the film."The Gold Hugo for Best Film goes to Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma. The film portrays not only the exuberance of falling in love and the all-consuming nature that is love, but also the beauty of women's solidarity and the attempt to fit in a world that rarely seems to be made for them. The strength of the filmmaking combined with amazing acting, photography, and music set the jury on fire."(Citation for the Best Film Award at Chicago International Film Festival.)"This is a work, which excels in its audio-visual storytelling. Channelled through a strong female voice, it is at once narratively compelling and aesthetically striking. The film transports us to an age even more firmly in the grip of men than our own, to tell the tale of a handful of women. We follow their fascinating and deeply moving story, as they find intimacy and succour in one another, and a way to live out their dreams of freedom and fulfilment, to satisfy the longing to be a complete human being. In keeping with the best of period drama, our winner speaks to timeless human themes in a rich and stylistically self-assured visual register. With elegance, sophistication and courage, the film explores how love and vitality can - at least momentarily - throw off the shackles of an oppressive social order. Exquisite acting performances and cinematography, combined with a soupcon of mythological symbolism, add up to a work of serious artistic merit."(Norwegian film critics award citation.)Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is an enigma in the early parts of the film, not suicidal but enjoying her freedom to run to the  edge of the sea after her long years in the nunnerySciamma’s original tale of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is of a female painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) contracted by a countess (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her second daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) on an island in Brittany, France. The portrait is intended to be a wedding gift for Héloïse’s impending marriage to a wealthy man in Milan, who was earlier meant to marry Héloïse’s sister who suddenly died before the marriage could take place. Héloïse, we learn, was recently brought by her mother to the island from a nunnery where she was educated by the nuns. Héloïse, we further learn as the film progresses, is not looking forward to the prospect of her impending marriage and has deliberately disfigured an earlier portrait of her done by another painter for her impending wedding and has subsequently become a recluse with only Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), the maid, as her regular contact. Therefore, the countess briefs her newly hired painter Marianne that she has to paint her daughter Héloïse’s portrait without letting her know that her portrait is being painted and without revealing that Marianne is actually an artist commissioned to paint her portrait and not a mere hired companion for Héloïse, the official excuse for her  presence on the island.  Sciamma’s screenplay, in the early stages, focuses on Marianne’s intense creativity as a portrait painter in capturing the features of her subject first in her memory only to paint the portrait in secret, which she does in the absence of her subject. Héloïse. in turn. is surprised why Marianne is looking at her so attentively.  The entire process is cleverly captured on film by lady cinematographer Claire Mathon.  In this process, director and screenwriter Sciamma and cinematographer Mathon make the viewer fall in love with the duo on screen, with minimal dialogue spoken between the two characters. Sciamma and Mathon are the true “painters” in the film!Marianne (Noémie Merlant) paints the portrait of Héloïsefrom memory of the details she found while staring at herThe minimal dialogue in the film’s script can be assessed by the fact that Héloïse’s name in the film is revealed only halfway into the film. Early in the film, as Marianne is transported by boat to the island her crate of canvas sheets falls into the sea and Marianne jumps into the sea to retrieve it. Initially the viewer would tend to consider it as Sciamma’s design to introduce and develop Marianne’s character. On deeper reflection, Sciamma’s script and direction add another aspect to that scene: the fact that no male person on the boat bothered to jump into the sea to retrieve the floating crate. Having introduced the psychological development of interest between Marianne and Héloïse, Sciamma moves on to introduce the physical and, ultimately, to the emotional interest that develops between the two ladies with time. A key element used by Sciamma to aid this development is music, carefully but sparingly used. Héloïse, in the nunnery, had been exposed to choir singing and organ music. Little else. Marianne introduces Héloïse to harpsichord and Vivaldi’s compositions.  Music is used in key sequences with elan. During the bonfire sequence, when Héloïse’s dress catches fire literally and figuratively, the women around the bonfire sing a cappella song. The final sequence in the film and definitely strongest in the entire film is that of the married Héloïse listening to Vivaldi’s second concert “Summer” in his famous four part concerti composition The Four Seasons. One can anticipate that over time that the ending will count as one of the most evocative film endings in the history of film, combining the effects of good scriptwriting, camerawork, direction and performances of the key actors without a word spoken. The stares for a professional cause that kick off a vibrant relationshipThe fire is real, but the fire in the film's title is metaphorical. Cinematographer Claire Mathon captures the rare moment as the painter Marianne will recall the magical moment Sciamma’s intelligent script suggests parallels with the mythological tale of Orpheus using music to lure his wife Eurydice back from the dead (the nether world of Hades) with a condition made by the gods that the Orpheus does not look at his wife. In the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the married Héloïse does not appear to look at Marianne while listening to a Vivaldi concert, music that Marianne had  made Héloïse appreciate prior to her marriage. Héloïse discovering new aspects of life from Marianne: music. love, painted images, impending marriage,,There is a sub-plot of the maid Sophie finding out she is pregnant out of wedlock and the subsequent secret abortion conducted by Marianne and Héloïse, when abortion was illegal in the 18th century France.  The role of the countess stresses another typical type of strong-willed woman in those times in France.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire uses the four female characters developed and presented by a predominantly women crew, each of the four characters contrasting and complementing the other. Whether one likes the subject of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is personal choice but most viewers would appreciate the high quality of filmmaking on display.  It is a film that distantly recalls Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film The Draughtsman’s Contract.Trust and love blossoms between painter and subjectThe countess (Valeria Golino) (facing camera) presentsthe typical 18th century lady, a lesser developed character of the quartetCéline Sciamma’s ability as an original script-writer and director brings her in the august company of two other top-notch contemporary female directors: Claire Denis from France (Beau Travail and L’intrus) and Anne Fontaine from Luxembourg (Dry Cleaning). The entire trio have consistently made remarkable films independent of each other.P.S.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the author’s top 20 films of 2019. The film won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival; the Gold Hugo Award for the best feature film at the Chicago International Film Festival; the Rare Pearl  award at the Denver International Film Festival; the Best European Screenwriter Award at the European Film Awards; Art Cinema Award at the Hamburg Film Festival: and the Felix Award for the best fiction film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival. Claire Denis’ film L’intrus (The Intruder) (2004) has been reviewed on this blog earlier.Feedjit Live Website Statistics
247. Russian director Kantemir Balagov’s second feature film “Dylda” (Beanpole) (2019):  A Russian Nobel Prize winning work of literature inspires a complex film on the varied tribulations of an unmarried woman
Three very interesting and complex films on women with screenplays written by the film’s own directors are those made by male directors. One of those three would be Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole.  Balagov has admitted that his main source of inspiration was Nobel Prize for Literature winner Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexeivich’s 1983 book War doesn’t have a woman’s face. The other two films of similar artistic strengths and flavour about unmarried women are the American films: Joseph L. Manckiewicz’ The Barefoot Contessa (1954) with Ava Gardner (in arguably her best role) and Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978) with Jill Clayburgh (in one of her best roles). Balagov, unlike the two US director-cum-screenplay writers, co-scripted his film with another male scriptwriter, Aleksandr Terekhov. Both Balagov and Mazursky present a quixotic emancipation for their lead characters, while in Manckiewicz’ case the liberation, unfortunately, leads to tragedy.Iya (Victoria Miroshnichenko) the Beanpole  (Note the use of white in this shot)Iya, the Beanpole, in another contrasting shot. (Note the use of greenand the deliberate camera angle to capture it)Balagov’s film Beanpoleis not a war film though it is indeed a tale of soldiers just as Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) is not a typical war film but rather a film on the “war” within the soldiers’ minds in a war setting. Likewise, Beanpole is an exquisite film on the psychological, social and medical “wars” female soldiers fight, on their return from the frontline for their aspirations for a emotionally fulfilled life.  Balagov is a self-confessed admirer of Russian film maestro Alexander Sokurov and the deft use of the camera, lighting, and visual composition in Beanpole will recall the typical Sokurov touches. (The use of colour and lighting in Beanpole is far superior and intelligently chosen compared to the Oscar nominees of 2020.) Iya and Masha and the subtle use of contrasting colours in their garmentsVictoria Miroshnichenko plays the gangly, former Russian World War II soldier Iya, euphemistically called “Beanpole” because of her lanky height and simplicity. More importantly most characters in the film are aware that Iya is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   As the film progresses, the viewer will note that “Beanpole” in the film is quite the opposite of the intelligent PTSD afflicted Will (Ben Foster) in the interesting US film Leave No Trace (2018). The PTSD afflicted Iya, who dotes on her military colleague and friend Maya’s toddler son Pashka, unwittingly suffocates the child during a seizure, a fascinating sequence in Beanpole. Two inseparable friends: Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) (left)  and Iya the BeanpoleGoing by the title of the film Beanpole, one would assume the tale is on Iya’s life. But co-scriptwriters Balagov and Terekhov have scripted a tale of two military women, the simple-minded Iya (Beanpole) afflicted with PTSD and her close street-smart friend and colleague Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), who has lost her son Pashka while he was in the care of Iya and cannot conceive another child due to war injuries.  The film ignores Masha’s past as it concentrates on her two current objectives: one, to get married to a loving husband, and two, to bring up another child to replace the dead Pashka to fulfil her motherly instincts.A fascinating and powerful interaction: Sasha's mother meets Masha, her aspiring future daughter-in-law over a formal mealMasha does find her ideal “future” husband in another military man Sasha, who is smitten by Masha and intends to marry her.  But Masha’s dream of marriage is short-lived following a fascinating encounter with Sasha’s mother over a formal dinner.  That dinner sequence depicts a war without bullets fired or tantrums exhibited by either woman. The iciness in the conversation and camera positioning will probably not be forgotten in a long while by any astute film viewer. Sasha’s mother was simply magnetic in delicately underscoring the social differences between her son and her future daughter-in-law. The build-up and the eventual break-up of Masha and Sasha are not of two individuals in love but indicative of the differences between the artificial social equality in the military with its uniforms and the real world where money and class matters either in Leningrad (now St Petersburg, where Bolagov and Sokurov have spent most of their lives).Masha identifies the possible sperm donor for Iya's future child,as a replacement for Masha's dead child Pashka(Note the colour of clothes and the background in the shot)Balagov’s Beanpole trudges onward to grapple with Masha’s second objective of bringing up a child that she can call her own to replace her dead child Pashka. The film then presents a new complex scenario. Masha cannot conceive a second child due to a war injury. Masha gets her close friend Iya, who is not interested in having sex with men, to conceive a child to fulfil Masha’s emotional needs following the death of Pashka. The outcome is not as important as are the effects of war on men and women alike off the battlefield that Beanpole presents as a larger picture. Beanpole mirrors Alexeivich’s 1983 Nobel-prize-winning literary work that explored the myriad problems faced by women soldiers after a war concludes.  There is hardly any political undercurrent in Beanpole except when 6 year old Pashka is asked to bark like a dog by friendly elders and is stupefied and unable o respond.  An elder comments that there are no dogs left in Leningrad for Pahka to know how they bark because they have all been eaten—a rare indirect political comment of the food situation within the film.  Beanpole is thus essentially a social and psychological commentary on the plight of women soldiers after a war, either traumatised or injured for life.The camera accentuates white in this shot by intentionallyincorporating the floor to add white colour to the shotBeanpole is a significant film as it introduces a major new talent among contemporary Russian filmmakers in Kantemir Balagov, who writes his own original screenplays, and deserved his Best director award at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.  The various honours at other film festivals for its cinematography (Kseniya Sereda) and the performances of the two female leads confirm the intrinsic worth of this film. A remarkable cinematic work of 2019 from a promising 29-year-old man making his second feature film!P.S.  Beanpole is one of the author’s top 20 films of 2019. The film won the Best Director award and the FIPRESCI prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival; the Silver Apricot Award at the Yeravan Film Festival of Armenia; the Best Film award at the Montreal Festival of New Cinema; the Impact Award at the Stockholm Film Festival; Achievement in Cinematography and Best Screenplay awards at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards; the Special Jury Prize at the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival;  the FIPRESCI prize at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (USA); and the Best Actress award at both the Antalya Golden Orange Festival (Turkey) and the Sakhalin International Film Festival (Russia). Two films mentioned in this review The Thin Red Line and Leave No Trace have been reviewed earlier on this blog (click the names of the films to access the reviews).Feedjit Live Website Statistics
- Connie Wilson

Two new documentaries detail the gradual death of journalism in this country and the rise of digital journalism in India. Both agree that newspapers—whether print or digital—can make a difference and that, without them democracy is at risk. Rintu Thomas ad Sushmit Ghosh shepherded “Writing with Fire” through to completion and this story of women […]

The post “Storm Lake” & “Writing With Fire:” Journalism Under Fire (Documentaries) appeared first on Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson.

- Connie Wilson
Salaries for James Bond Films Through the Years

Who was the highest paid actor who played James Bond? (Answers from the unofficial M16 James Bond site ) The pay has gone significantly up after each Bond movie. Sean Connery Dr. No : $17,000 From Russia With Love : $250,000 Goldfinger : $500,000 Thunderball : $750,000 You Only Live Twice : $750,000 + 25% […]

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- Connie Wilson

Daniel Craig makes his final outing as Bond memorable. The log-line says: “James Bond has left active service.  His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.” During a pandemic, […]

The post “No Time to Die” Is Worth the 18-Month Wait appeared first on Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson.

- Connie Wilson

“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel to the well-loved television series “The Sopranos.” We could justifiably expect to learn all about the early years that shaped young Anthony Soprano, played in his youth by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini. The elementary-school-aged Tony is played by William Ludwig, who is also good […]

The post “The Many Saints of Newark” Strolls Down “Sopranos” Memory Lane appeared first on Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson.

- Connie Wilson

  Velvet Underground Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min. Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).   “Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic […]

The post Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit appeared first on Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson.

- Connie Wilson
Cancun, Mexico, September 18th-October 2nd, 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve been around to post. I was in Cancun and these pictures will give you a rough idea of what I’ve been doing.   Aside from a sun burn I sustained 2 days before we left, the 2 weeks were uneventful. We learned that the Royal Sands is putting in […]

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- Connie Wilson

There are three books in the “Hellfire & Damnation” series, all short stories that illustrate the 9 Circle of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno” and give examples of each. As New York Times best-selling author Jon Land said of the books: “Hellfire & Damnation‘ is a remarkable collection of somber, noirish, flat-out scary and altogether satisfying […]

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- Connie Wilson
“The Night House:” Great Psychological Thriller from Director David Bruckner

“The Night House,” a 2020 break-out success at Sundance that Searchlight Pictures bought for $12 million, is playing now at 2,150 theaters for a 45-day run, which is almost over. So far, it has garnered about $8 million worldwide. The studio showed its faith in the film by not releasing it to streaming first and […]

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- Connie Wilson
“The Color of Evil” Trilogy Will Leave You Wanting More

The trilogy “The Color of Evil” traces the actions of a group of high school students in small-town America (Cedar Falls, Iowa). Jonathan Maberry, “New York Times” best-selling author and multiple Bram Stoker Award winner described it as: “old-school psychological horror, artfully blended with new-school shocks and twists…Bravo!” Tad McGreevy has a power that he […]

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- Connie Wilson

  The budget for Hugh Jackman’s new film “Reminiscence” was $68 million. For this, you get a peek at Miami “after the flood” caused by global warming. This is a futuristic world in which a machine designed, originally, to interrogate prisoners via their dreams, is now used in the post-war society as a way to […]

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“And Then There Were None” - René Clair (1945)
And Then There Were None (1939) is not only English mystery writer Agatha Christie’s most popular novel, it is the most widely read mystery novel ever written, with more than 100 million copies sold [1].  This novel (which was originally titled Ten Little Niggers but was soon changed to And Then There Were None) was refashioned by Christie in 1943 into a stage play with an altered, more upbeat, ending; and it is this play that has served as the basis for numerous film and TV adaptations around the world over the years.  However, the most famous of these adaptations was the first – the 1945 American film And Then There Were None directed by René Clair.What makes Christie’s story so irresistibly enticing?  It is undoubtedly the story’s foundational proposition – ten strangers stranded in a lone mansion on a small island are facing the prospect that an unknown member of their group is intent on killing all the others, one-by-one.  As the murders proceed, the surviving parties (and the viewers) must continually revise their suspicions as to who might be the fiendish perpetrator.  Since everyone is ultimately under suspicion, the atmosphere for paranoia is intense.  As such, this turns out to be one of the ultimate claustrophobic whodunits.     René Clair, the film‘s director, was a famous French filmmaker and something of an auteur, but he spent the  war years of  World War II self-exiled in the U.S., where he had the opportunity to direct a number of Hollywood films (e.g. The Flame of New Orleans (1941), I Married a Witch (1942), It Happened Tomorrow (1944), and finally And Then There Were None (1945)).  So not surprisingly, this film’s production was very much a standard Hollywood product, with the script, cinematography, editing, and music all handled by Hollywood veterans Dudley Nichols, Lucien N. Andriot, Harvey Manger, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, respectively.  Even so, the uniqueness of Agatha Christie’s story has made the film largely stand out as something of an art-house favourite over the years [2,3,4,5,6].The film begins with eight people, all mutually strangers to each other, being delivered in a small boat to an isolated island off the English coast.  We will soon learn their identities:Judge Francis Quinncannon (played by Barry Fitzgerald), a legal authorityDr. Edward Armstrong (Walter Huston), a medical physicianWilliam Blore (Roland Young), a police detective General Sir John Mandrake (Aubrey Smith), a military officerPrince Nikki Starloff (Mischa Auer), an upper-class wastrelEmily Brent (Judith Anderson), an older upper-class womanPhilip Lombard (Louis Hayward)Vera Claythorne (June Duprez)They are all guests of a Mr. Owen whom they have never met.  When they arrive on the island, they are taken to a lone mansion tended to by two newly hired servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, who have also never met Mr. Owen.  When the guests sit down for dinner, they notice a flamboyant centerpiece on the table featuring ten figurines of (American) Indians.  This odd centerpiece, which can evoke the macabre children’s nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians”, will serve as a physical metaphor for the gruesome events to follow.  Then Mr. Rogers, following instructions he had received from Mr. Owen, plays a phonograph record having a recording addressed to the newly arrived guests.  The recorded voice asserts that, based on inside information, it knows and spells out how each of ten people in the house – the eight invited guests and Mr. and Mrs. Rogers – is individually responsible for the deaths of one or more innocent people.  Essentially, they are all unconvicted murderers.  And so, according to the voice on the recording, they all deserve to be executed.Naturally, this announcement is disruptive to the equanimity of the group, who are in the initial stages of getting to know each other.  There are various angry denials, as well as confessions of some degrees of guilt.  But they all feel that they are now the targets of revenge for their alleged past deeds.Then the sequence of mysterious deaths begins.  The first one happens quickly.  After Prince Starloff sits down at the piano in the drawing room and plays and sings the children’s nursery song “Ten Little Indians”, he takes a sip from a cocktail drink and then keels over, dead.  The cocktail drink was mysteriously poisoned.  In this and in the subsequent death cases, the identity of the  perpetrator of the vengeful murder is unknown.  But each occasion is accompanied by an equally mysterious disappearance of another Indian figurine from the dining room table.  And the circumstances of each death weirdly reflect the circumstances of the corresponding Indian disappearance mentioned in the nursery rhyme.  At first the life-threatened guests believe that there nemesis is somewhere on the island outside the mansion.  But after thoroughly investigating this possibility, they conclude that their existential antagonist is a disguised member of their own group.Most of the guests are stereotypes of their professional backgrounds, and so they stereotypically apply their accustomed skills to finding who is the murderer.  Thus Judge Quinncannon sees things from a legal perspective;  Dr. Armstrong sees things from a medical perspective;  General Mandrake sees things from a military perspective; and Detective Blore just wants to collect all the evidence.  Although some viewers may like this heterogeneous problem-solving admixture, I found it a bit too artificial for my taste. So the sequence of surreptitious murders continues to play itself out, with the identity of the cold-blooded killer being continually restricted to one of a set of candidates among the declining number of surviving guests.  Eventually the viewer does learn who it is, and I will leave it to you to see the film and find out for yourself.Enticing as this challenging many-suspect whodunit might seem, though, the film And Then There Were None doesn’t live up to its potential for several reasons:For one thing, there don’t seem to be potential motivations for the murders committed on the island, and this leads to an absence of suspicions.  I believe murder mysteries are best outfitted with threatening suspects whose suspected motivations can help drive the narrative. This problem here likely stems from the overly simplified and stereotyped characterizations of the guests in this story.  Two of the guests, Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard (whose real name later turns out to be Charles Morley), are much younger than the other guests and very glamorous compared to the others.  This makes it too obvious that they are innocent parties and that they are likely to be the protagonists in identifying the true culprit.   And finally, the film makes too light of the notion of death and basically adopts a mocking attitude toward the loss of life.  This may help lighten the dark tenor of the story, but the film dialogue goes too far in this direction.  In fact the incessant flow of superficial wisecracks in this area wears pretty thin before we come to the end of the story.So And Then There Were None may offer you an interesting mind diversion sometime, but it is a story that could have been fashioned into a more compelling cinematic experience.★★½Notes:“And Then There Were None”, Wikipedia, (30 September 2021).     Bosley Crowther, “SHE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'And Then There Were None,' With Barry Fitzgerald, at Roxy, Appears Opportunely as Goblins Pay Annual Visit Universal Offers a Refashioned Drama of Pirandello in Film 'This Love of Ours,' New Bill Showing at Loew's Criterion At Loew's Criterion”, The New York Times, (1 November 1945).    Variety Staff, “And Then There Were None”, Variety, (31 December 1944).    Leonard Maltin (ed.), “And Then There Were None”, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, PLUME, Penguin Press, (2005). Jeremy Arnold, “And Then There Were None on Blu-ray”, Turner Classic Movies, (18 September 2013).    Jay Carr, “And Then There Were None - And Then There Were None”, Turner Classic Movies, (9 January 2014).   
Films of René Clair:And Then There Were None - René Clair (1945)
“Nomadland” - Chloé Zhao (2020)
Nomadland (2020) is an award-winning drama whose approach to the realism of its subject matter is both original and also something that underlies the film’s themes.  This film is a story about “vandwellers” in America – people who live in campervans, RVs, mobile homes, or modified buses and have no fixed abode.  Although the film is a work of dramatic fiction, it is closely based on a nonfiction book that documents the lives of these wandering vandwellers, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (2017) by Jessica Bruder (in fact Jessica Bruder is credited as a “consulting producer” for the film).  Moreover, almost all of the people who appear in this film are real-life nomadic vandwellers with no prior acting experience.  They are just playing themselves.  However, Nomadland is not an example of fly-on-the-wall cinema verite.  It is a carefully crafted drama, with masterful cinematography by Joshua James Richards and haunting sound-track music by Ludovico Einaudi.  Neither is it quite appropriate to categorize this film as another example of Italian neo-realism, because there are certain distinguishing aspects of this film that make it rather unique.  For one thing the film was written, directed, edited and co-produced by Chinese-born American Chloé Zhao, and although Ms. Zhao received a film education at NYU film school, she brings her own original, externally-based eye to the aspects of American life that she writes and films about.  In the context of this film, she seems fascinated by a phenomenon of growing general alienation that is starting to emerge among many ordinary people in America.  And as this film shows, many people have no choice but to accept it.  So alienation is clearly one important aspect of Nomadland, but there are also other thematic elements present, as well, and these all collectively contribute to reasons for why Zhao’s film has been so remarkably well-received.  On the awards front, Nomadland had almost a clean sweep.  The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (and nominations in three other categories) at the 93rd U.S. Academy Awards.  It won the Golden Lion (best film) at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.  It was chosen as Best Film at the 74th British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs).  And at the 78th Golden Globe Awards, it won an award for Best Motion Picture – Drama and an award for Best Director.  And among top film critics, Nomadland has been widely praised [1,2,3,4,5,6,7].The meandering story of Nomadland is concerned with a sixtyish woman, Fern (played by award-winning actress Frances McDormand), who has just embarked on a new life as a nomadic vandweller.  She and her husband had worked for years at a gypsum plant in small company-town Empire, Nevada.  But now the gypsum company has shut down, and her husband has just died, leaving the childless Fern alone and with no means of support.  So she purchases a van and converts it into something she can live in while she travels about looking for work.  When asked if she is homeless, she responds with no, she is “houseless”.  The entire film then focalizes exclusively on Fern as she travels about the western United States in search of odd jobs that she can use for support.  However, Fern is so laid-back and laconic that much of what we learn in the film about vandwellers comes not from Fern, but from the fellow vandwellers that she meets and interacts with.  And as I mentioned, virtually everyone Fern meets is a real-life vandwelling nomad.  Nevertheless, Frances McDormand’s pensive performance as Fern is crucial to the success of the film.  As the film proceeds, we want to know more about what Fern is thinking and feeling.After Fern heads out on the road from the shutting down town of Empire, she secures a seasonal job at a massive Amazon fulfilment center (warehouse for third-party shipping).  Although the workers don’t appear to be mistreated, the sheer size of the operation makes everyone on the floor like a tiny cog in a gigantic machine.  This is a telling visual metaphor for the impending gig economy and streamlined supply chain that so many ordinary people are now facing.One of Fern’s coworkers at the warehouse, Linda, convinces her to come to a meet-up for vandwellers in the Arizona desert.  The event is hosted by Bob Wells, a charismatic real-life nomad who seeks to organize cooperative support for his fellow vandwellers.  Although some  vandwellers are middle-class retirees who have embraced this way of life in order to fulfill their love for freedom and the open road, most of these people are like Fern – forced by poverty to live in a van.  At Wells’s meet-ups these people can share tricks and info about how to get by on the road.Later Fern meets and becomes friends with a congenial elderly woman nomad, Swankie, from whom she learns more about survival under impecunious circumstances on the road.  Swankie also tells her that she, herself, has terminal cancer, but she wants to close out her life on the open road rather than in a hospital.After the extended encounter with Swankie, Fern is shown working in the Black Hills, South Dakota, where she runs into Dave (David Strathairn, the only other actor in the film with significant professional acting experience), a mild-mannered elderly nomad she had seen earlier in Arizona.  They go on to meet on several further occasions, and Dave politely indicates to Fern that he is interested in having her stay with him in a long-term relationship.  But ultimately Fern resists the temptation and decides to stick to her life of independence on the open road.There is also an occasion when Fern’s van has a serious breakdown, and she has to go ask her married sister in California for a loan in order to pay for the repairs.  When Fern goes to her sister’s upper-middle class home, we can see the contrast in the two sisters’ lifestyles; and we hope the encounter will shed some light on the taciturn Fern’s background.  But it becomes clear that the sister has always been as much in the dark about Fern’s thoughts and feelings as we viewers are now.  Anyway, the sister does loan the money to Fern, and the van gets fixed.Fern has further encounters with Bob Wells and other van-dwelling nomads, before eventually returning for one last nostalgic visit to Empire, Nevada, which is by this time almost a ghost town.  Then at the end of the film, she heads back out on the road.So overall, Nomadland is a bleak, moody film that effectively conveys inescapable feelings of loneliness and a sense of loss.  But there are three connected thematic elements in the film that linger in my mind and warrant further comment:Is the Gig-Economy the Future of Labour?What Role Does Narrative Play in Nomadland?To What Degree is a Self Defined by Narrative?These are not items really explicitly addressed in Nomadland, but they were tangentially evoked when I watched the film.1.  Is the Gig-Economy the Future of Labour?Watching Nomadland made me wonder whether the traditional nature of U.S. socioeconomic society is collapsing (and since the U.S. is at the forefront of social evolution, this applies eventually to everywhere else, too).  With management increasingly centralized and specific jobs increasingly objectified and compartmentalized, the labour environment is more and more moving towards a gig-economy.  For digital workers, this can mean more and more digital nomads – people who can perform their jobs from remote locations and can therefore live anywhere.  But for hands-on gig workers, such as those depicted in Nomadland, it means that anyone looking for work must travel to the site of the job location and secure the gig-job.  In other words, they have to be nomads.The positive side to all this is that there are likely to be available jobs for itinerants.  But of course the downside is that the jobs are reduced to lowest-common-denominator specifications and are often low-skilled and low-paid.Chloé Zhao doesn’t take up this general social issue and its ramifications at all in Nomadland.  But what she does show is the lifestyles of the nomads and their various ways of dealing with the inherent loneliness in “nomadland”.2.  What Role Does Narrative Play in Nomadland?Almost all films (as well as dramas, stories, and novels) have a narrative that provides a structure for the events depicted.  The metastructure of these narratives is often characterized metaphorically as a journey.  There are one or more protagonists on such a “journey” who are struggling to reach a desired “destination”, and there are usually other agents along the way who assist or stand in the way of progress.  Much has been written about the narrative-as-journey metaphor [8,9,10,11,12], notably the more formalized characterization of it known as the “hero’s journey” [13] that was popularized by Joseph Campbell [14].In the present context concerning Nomadland, we don’t have to delve into the various narrative characterizations, because in this case, I don’t see that the film even has a narrative.  Although one might at first think Fern is on some sort of journey, nether the destination nor the overall scheme of that journey is ever specified.  We never know what the wandering Fern wants or is thinking.  All we get is a random sequence of scenes depicting haphazard encounters that have no clear outcome – at least no outcome with respect to a given quest.  We never really learn much about what goes on inside Fern’s head or indeed who she is.  But then maybe that is the point.  Fern’s lack of a narrative is what this film is about.3.  To What Degree is a Self Defined by Narrative?It is often claimed that we basically model all the people we meet in terms of the narratives we construct about them, and this is how we to know and understand them [9,10,11].  It is in terms of these narratives that we know them.  We even think of ourselves in terms of the narratives constructed by ourselves and others about ourselves.  So is it really true, is that all there is to the self – the narrative that has been constructed to characterize it?  Are you and I just the stories we have constructed about ourselves?  There is dispute on that score.Some philosophers, usually objectivists, maintain that, yes, that is all there is to the self – the narrative story (or stories) that provides a comprehensible, temporally-oriented scheme of who you are.  They argue further that any idea that there is some inner being constituting the true self is a self-deceptive hallucination.  The only existing selves, they insist, are the fabricated narratives that have long been constructed (since caveman days) to facilitate human interactions extended over time.But there are other thinkers, both esteemed Western philosophers [15] and respected Eastern sages [16,17], who hold that there are really two essential aspects of the self:an outer, worldly, narrative-based self an inner self that is founded on core-consciousness According to this second, more nuanced scheme, it is the inner, core-consciousness-based self that is the true being that identifies who you are.  And this is the self-perspective that I find more natural, and I would guess that Chloé Zhao thinks this way, too.  It usually follows under this scheme that when a person’s inner core-consciousness gets the feeling that its constructed narrative-based self is somehow unfulfilling and leaves it disconnected from meaningful interactions in the world, it then feels alienated.  This sense of alienation can be difficult to articulate, but it lies as a root element of existentialist thinking, and it has been eloquently expressed by such writers as Albert Camus [18] and Jean-Paul Sartre [19], as well as in a number of memorable films [20].  And it is Fern’s alienation that is the artistic key to Nomadland.As I mentioned, the film Nomadland doesn’t really seem to have its own narrative, and that comes down to the fact that the film’s main character, Fern, doesn’t appear to have a narrative-based self at all.  It’s not just an unsatisfactory narrative-based self, as it often is with some people; here in Fern’s case, it is a virtual narrative void.  She doesn’t appear to have had much meaningful interaction with her family when she was growing up.  And now that her husband has died and she has lost her longtime job and home, there is nothing left of her adult life on which to base her narrative self.  Her life is empty.  And that is what makes the film problematic.  Can a film succeed without being driven by a narrative journey?  In the case of Nomadland, I would say it more or less does succeed.   Even though I am aligned with the philosophical position that the narrative self is not the most intrinsic aspect of the self, having only a severely diminished narrative-based self, like Fern, would be an existential problem.  And it is Fern’s existential problem that is on display in Nomadland.  We viewers want to know more about what Fern is thinking and feeling in response to her barren circumstances, but her contemplative reticence gives us little to chew on and leaves us wanting more.  Frances McDormand’s subtle, laid-back performance as Fern is crucial here.  We follow her gaze and guess about her feelings all the way, but our fascination persists.  And that is what lies at the heart of Nomadland.★★★½Notes:A.O. Scott, “‘Nomadland’ Review: The Unsettled Americans”, The New York Times, (18 February 2021, 26 April 2021).    Brian Tallerico, “Nomadland”, RogerEbert.com, (19 February 2021).    Beatrice Loayza, “Nomadland finds beauty on the rugged, ruthless open road”, Sight and Sound, British Film Institute, (28 April 2021).    MaryAnn Johanson, “Nomadland movie review: ain’t that America”, flick filosopher, (6 May 2021).    Murtaza Ali Khan, "’Nomadland’ Review: An inspiring tale of survival that presents the modern-day American West in a new light”, A Potpourri of Vestiges,, (4 April 2021).    Marjorie Baumgarten, “Nomadland”, The Austin Chronicle, (19 February 2021).    Chris Barsanti, “Review: ‘Nomadland’ Is a Sorrowful Lament for Lives on America’s Fringes", Slant Magazine, (12 September 2020).    Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morrison, Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory),  (1990), Northwestern.Jerome Bruner, "The Narrative Construction of Reality", Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21, (1991).Jerome Bruner, “The Narrative Construction of Reality”, Narrative Intelligence (2003), Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers (eds.), John Benjamin Publishing Co.Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vols. I- III, (1983-1985), University of Chicago Press. Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, 2nd Edition, Michael Wiese Productions (1998).“Hero’s Journey”, Wikipedia, (17 September 2021).      Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1st edition, Bollingen Foundation (1949), 2nd edition, Princeton University Press (1990), 3rd edition, New World Library (2008).Dan Zahavi, "Self and Narrative: the Limits of Narrative Understanding", Narrative  and  Understanding  Persons, D. D. Hutto  (ed),  Royal  Institute  of  Philosophy Supplement 60, Cambridge University Press, pp. 179-201, (9 August 2007).   Paramahansa Yogananda, God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, Self-Realization Fellowship, (1 September 2001).  Ching Hai, I Have Come to Take You Home: A Collection of Quotes and Spiritual Teachings from the Supreme Master Ching Hai, Sophie Lapaire and Pamela Millar (eds.), SMCHIA Publishing Co., (1 January 1995).   Albert Camus, The Stranger (L'Étranger), Gallimard, (1942).  Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea (La Nausée), Éditions Gallimard, (1938).The Film Sufi, “Existentialism in Film 1", The Film Sufi, (15 July 2008).   
 Films of Chloé Zhao:Nomadland - Chloé Zhao (2020)
“Fantastic Fungi” - Louie Schwartzberg (2019)
Fantastic Fungi (2019) is an entertaining documentary film that explores various aspects of  ubiquitous but often overlooked participants in our biosphere – fungi, and in particular, their usually above-ground fruiting components, mushrooms.  This film brings to the viewer’s attention the fact that fungi are absolutely crucial to the sustenance of life on earth. The film was directed and photographed by Louie Schwartzberg, whose demonstrated expertise in time-lapse cinematography and CGI (computer-generated imagery) is a spectacular feature of the film.  In fact the time-lapse imagery is so frequently occurring and dazzling that it may perhaps sometimes distract the viewer from some of the film’s other virtues.  Fantastic Fungi was written by Mark Monroe (among whose earlier writing credits is the fascinating documentary The Cove (2009) [1]), and it was edited by Kevin Klauber and Annie Wilkes.  There are numerous voiceover narrations from the various talking heads in this documentary, but one special narrative element is provided by previously Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson, who serves here as the unseen metaphorical voice of the fungi kingdom.  I am not sure how well this particular narrative innovation works in this case, but it does provide an unusual twist to the presentation.  Another aspect of the production that deserves comment is the music by Adam Peters.  Unfortunately, I found much of the music to be littered with rumblings and  mostly distracting from the viewing experience.  In any case, the film has been largely well-received by a range of critics [2,3,4,5,6,7].Although Fantastic Fungi rambles back and forth between various topics about fungi, we can say that the film covers roughly four general areas of interest:The science of fungiFungi in ancient mythologyThe impact of hallucinogenic drugs that have been derived from FungiPractical and medicinal uses of fungiThroughout much of this journey, we are shepherded by Paul Stamets, a lifetime amateur mycology (the science of fungi) enthusiast.  Despite having limited formal training in mycology, Stamets’s passion for the subject and hands-on explorations have enabled him to make a number of discoveries and contributions to the area.  And as the film demonstrates, he is a rather glib communicator on the topic.  1.  The Science of FungiIn this topic area the viewer is given some interesting scientific information about fungi.  The expert narrators concerning this material are, for the most part, Michael Pollan and Eugenia Bone, who are food journalists, and Professor Suzanne Simard, who conducts research on fungi at the University of British Columbia.Fungi are a primitive form of life that predates plants and animals.  Indeed the oldest fossil remains of life are those of fungi dating back 2.4 billion years ago.  And of course fungi are still prospering today, and there are now several million fungi species, more than six times the estimated number of plant species.  A fascinating and most important structural component of fungi are the thin filamentary hyphae that exist mostly below ground and serve as the roots of the fungi.  They spread out into incredibly complex network structures that are known collectively as mycelia, and they can form even more complex mycorrhizal networks with plants that a mycelium network may connect to.  The expert commentators in the film liken the complexity of these network mycelium structures to that of the human brain, and it seems that these mycelium networks can facilitate the exchange of nutrients and information between the nodes (plants and/or fungi) that are interconnected in these networks.  For more information concerning how these mycorrhizal networks facilitate the essential vitality and harmony of nature, I recommend you see Suzanne Simard’s TED talk, "How trees talk to each other" [8].2.  Fungi in Ancient MythologyIt seems that fungi have been known and cherished since very ancient times – even to ancient hominids that flourished before the appearance of Homo sapiens.  This was presumably due to the powerful mind-altering properties of some mushrooms.  The film has some commentary about this and refers to and shows some ancient temples in this regard.  Reference is also made to the Stoned Ape Theory that was proposed by Terence McKenna in 1992, which advanced the idea that the movement from the early human species Homo erectus to the current species Homo sapiens was connected with the hypothesized increased consumption of psilocybin mushrooms (“magic mushrooms”) about 100,000 years ago.  This allegedly gave consumers of those mushroom improved acuity and cooperation capabilities that ultimately provided them with evolutionary advantages.  Thus, so this story goes, the consumption of magic mushrooms led to the emergence of Homo sapiens.3.  Hallucinogenic DrugsAt the beginning of the 1970s, 15-year-old Paul Stamets became inspired by reading some writing by an advocate of alternative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, about altered states of consciousness.  This was when Timothy Leary, LSD, and other hallucinogenic drugs derived from mushrooms were in their heyday.  Consequently Stamets was eager to try out some psychedelic mushrooms.  So he consumed a whole bag of magic mushrooms, and the resulting experience that he had changed his life.  For one thing, it instantly cured his til-then lifelong stuttering problem.  In addition, it launched his unquenchable fascination with the mind-bending possibilities of fungi.  However, about this time there was a decades-long U.S. governmental suppression of psychedelic drug research (1970s - 2000), which hindered work in this field  by Stamets and others.  So Stamets started his own mushroom business and moved to Canada.  In some respects this film is intended to renew a wider scientific interest in this area, such as existed in the 1960s and 70s.4.   Medicinal Uses of FungiA fascinating element of Fantastic Fungi is its discussion of some of the promising medicinal uses of fungi.  However, because of time constraints, only a smattering of this material can be offered.  A key item with respect to this topic is the fact that the human brain has neuroplasticity.  That is, the neuronal structure of the human brain can change and grow throughout the course of a person’s life.  But to facilitate this activity, the brain needs assistance to generate new neurological pathways.  And this is where mushroom-derived chemicals such as psilocybin can play an important role in the brain’s chemistry.  This is an ongoing topic of current research.Overall, there is an important message we can take from Fantastic Fungi.  We learn that fungi are fundamental instruments for the regeneration of life, and that as Paul Stamets tells us, “the entire ecosystem is infused with fungi.”  Our reductive scientific models of the natural world have too often focussed on the individual entity or agent, and they have thereby overlooked the intertwined, multi-generational nature of life, in connection with which fungi play a fundamental role.  Indeed what is emphasized here in this film and the essential point we come away with, in fact, is how fungi underlie and facilitate a most crucial aspect of the world, something that Buddhist and other spiritual masters have long taught – the interconnectedness of all living beings.★★★Notes:The Film Sufi, “‘The Cove’ - Louie Psihoyos (2009)”, The Film Sufi, (26 July 2009).    Rex Reed, “Charming Documentary ‘Fantastic Fungi’ Explores the Miracle of Mushrooms”, Observer, (15 October 2019).    Matt Fagerholm, “Fantastic Fungi”, RogerEbert.com, (11 October 2019).   Jeannette Catsoulis,”‘Fantastic Fungi’ Review: The Magic of Mushrooms”, The New York Times, (10 October 2019).    Josh Kupecki, “Fantastic Fungi”, Austin Chronicle, (6 December 2019).    John Defore, “‘Fantastic Fungi’: Film Review”, The Hollywood Reporter, (8 October 2019).   Robert Abele “Review: Mushrooms are the new superheroes in documentary ‘Fantastic Fungi’”, Los Angeles Times, (24 October 2019).       Suzanne Simard, “How trees talk to each other”, TED, (31 August 2016).   
Films of  Louie Schwartzberg:Fantastic Fungi - Louie Schwartzberg (2019)
“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” - Werner Herzog (1972)
Werner Herzog, one of the most versatile and creative film directors, has had a remarkably successful career spanning across a number of genres over more than fifty years.  However, I would say one of his greatest works came relatively early on in his career, with his third fiction feature film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, 1972).  This is a historical drama set in 16th century Peru and concerns the activities of some Spanish conquistadors in search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado [1].  But the film’s subject matter stretches far beyond its overt topic of Spanish conquistadors in South America and extends off into vistas relating to Herzog’s characteristically gloomy view of human existence as a whole.  You might think that such a film focussed on a pessimistic view of humanity would not attain widespread popularity, but Herzog’s unique cinematic vision led to the fashioning of one of the all-time great films.  Upon its release, ,Aguirre, the Wrath of God quickly acquired cult status, and it is said to have directly influenced subsequent important works, such as Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) and Terrence Malick's The New World (2005).  And over the years, the critical appreciation of the film has only grown [2,3,4,5,6,7].Actually, the making of Aguirre, the Wrath of God has acquired a somewhat legendary status in its own right [5,6,7].  Herzog took a small film crew to shoot on location in Peru.  But the harsh, life-threatening shooting conditions in the Amazon rainforest and Herzog’s customary extemporaneous shooting style (he often made things up as he went along, which meant that the film had to be shot in narrative sequence) made things almost impossible for the frazzled crew.  In addition, there was the further matter of working with hot-headed lead actor Klaus Kinski, who was characteristically stubborn and maniacally volatile.  Nevertheless, Herzog somehow got a brilliant performance out of Kinski, and in fact this film was the first of five Herzog-Kinski collaborations.  (How Herzog managed to work with the temperamental Kinski over the years is covered in some detail in Herzog’s later documentary film My Best Fiend (1999)).  Despite these trying and dangerous production conditions, however, the resulting film that Herzog and his team produced was masterful all across the board.  The acting from a diverse collection of actors was excellent, and the cinematography was superb.  Indeed the cinematography fashioned by Herzog and cinematographer Thomas Mauch plays a key thematic role in the film.  Equipped only with a 35mm camera Herzog had stolen from the Munich Film School, they managed to convey the dense imagery of the Amazon rainforest as a symbol of the oppressive and entangling nature of man’s unfeeling natural environment.  Thus Nature, itself, was rendered to be a cruel player/antagonist in this story.  Moreover, because of Herzog’s extemporaneous filming style, skilled post-production work in the editing room on the part of Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus was undoubtedly crucial to the film’s smooth narrative flow.The story of Aguirre, the Wrath of God is based on a real historical figure, Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre (1510-1561), who was active in Spanish colonialist activities in South America during the 16th century.  However, Herzog massaged various facts and events from that era to come up with his own, more streamlined storyline that has many fictional elements.  In particular in Herzog’s version, several separate historical sequences of events have been combined into a single expedition.  So in this (Herzog’s) story, Aguirre is part of an expedition undertaken by Hernando Pizarro, (one of the famous conquistador Pizarro brothers), who,  after the conquest of the Inca empire, led an expedition of several hundred Spanish soldiers over the Andes mountains in order to go down the Amazon river in search of the fabled city of El Dorado.  But, as I mentioned, Herzog’s refashioned story is not so much one concerned with historical accuracy as it is one constructed instead to evoke Herzog’s grim vision.  In fact the expedition depicted here in Aguirre, the Wrath of God can be considered to be Herzog’s vivid nightmare of a willful descent into Hell.The narrative of Aguirre, the Wrath of God can be viewed as made up of three unequally lengthed sections.  1.  Descent into the MaelstromIn 1560 Gonzalo Pizarro (played by Alejandro Repullés) leads several hundred armored Spanish conquistadors and a similar number of Indigenous slaves down a steep mountain path in the Andes towards the Amazon River.  They have heard that somewhere along that river is their hoped-for destination, the legendary city of El Dorado.  The heavily forested path is so steep and narrow that it seems almost impossible for them to make the journey, themselves, not to  mention transport their cannons and provisions, too.  How Herzog and Thomas Mauch managed to film this harrowing sequence must have been a story in itself.  As the single-file descent, which includes equipment accidents and injuries, proceeds, it almost looks as if Mother Nature is enshrouding her new captives in green leafy burial garments.  When they reach the river, Pizarro, assessing that their slow progress has left them very low on provisions, decides to have a group of forty men take four constructed rafts and go on an advanced scouting mission down the river.  If they don’t return within a week, they will be presumed lost, and the rest of the party will travel back up over the mountains to their main fortress.  For this scouting mission, Pizarro selects Pedro de Ursúa (Ruy Guerra) as the commander and Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as second-in-command.   Also assigned are Fernando de Guzmán (Peter Berling) as a royalty representative and Brother Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro) to bring religion to the natives.  And accompanying them, surprisingly, will be Ursúa's fiancé, Doña Inés (Helena Rojo) and Aguirre's 15-year-old  daughter, Flores (Cecilia Rivera). 2.  The Ursúa-led MissionThe scouting mission sets off, but one of the four rafts gets stuck in an eddy and is unable to get free.  The others of the group stop and make camp, but they are unable to help their comrades trapped in the whirling eddy.  Then overnight the men on this trapped raft are mysteriously shot and killed. Ursúa wants the dead bodies to be brought back to camp for proper burial, but Aguirre, not wanting to be delayed, conspires to have the raft and bodies destroyed by cannon fire.  Up to now Aguirre’s presence has been relatively minor, but from hereon we see his malevolence coming to the fore.During the night, the river rises and sweeps away the remaining rafts.  Ursúa has now had enough and orders the end of the scouting mission and that they should all return to Pizarro's group.  But the greedy Aguirre doesn’t accept this and leads a mutiny against Ursúa.  Aguirre gains support among the men for his mutiny by pointing out that Cortes conquered Mexico and achieved wealth and power by staging a mutiny.  When Ursúa tries to thwart the mutiny, he is shot, but not fatally, and Aguirre takes over as the leader.  Inés proceeds to care for the seriously wounded Ursúa.  When she appeals to Brother Carvajal to intercede against Aguirre’s rebellious takeover, he cynically informs her that the Church has always backed the strong.3.   Aguirre Takes OverAguirre has the soldiers elect the indolent Fernando de Guzmán (because the man is a royal ornament) as the new leader of the expedition, and then goes even further and has Guzmán identified as the new imperial emperor.  But of course the swaggering Aguirre is the real man in charge.  In fact the very way that Aguirre swaggers and struts, as performed by Kinski, seems to be an  instrument of control in itself. Aguirre orders a new, larger raft to be built, and his deranged descent into Hell continues.  With precious food supplies running out as they drift downstream, greed, jealousy, and eventually madness begin to take over.  When their raft is approached peacefully by an inquiring Indigenous couple in a canoe, Brother Carvajal has the visitors killed for allegedly insulting God.  The sight of the portly Guzmán gorging himself on their scant food supplies leads to some of the men to secretly kill their new “emperor”.  To the real man in control, Aguirre, this hardly matters.  He simply declares himself to be the new emperor, and he orders Ursúa, whose life up to this point  had been preserved by Guzmán, taken ashore and hanged.  But the isolation of he group continues, and their attempts to engage with the Indigenous people gets nowhere.  Apart from that one friendly but ill-fated approach by the native couple in a canoe, these people are basically invisible to the invading conquistadors.  But their presence is felt by occasional salvos of lethal arrows that are frequently directed at them from behind bushes and trees.  Gradually, Aguirre’s people are getting picked off one-by-one by an invisible mortal force.And as crazed desperation sets in, the starving men begin to wonder what is a hallucination and what is real.  Are these silent deadly arrows appearing suddenly from out of nowhere real, or are they imaginary?  At one point they all stare in amazement at a large wooden ship perched in the highest branches of a tall tree.  (To many viewers, this weird image will seem to be an eery foreshadowing of the later Herzog-Kinski movie Fitzcarraldo (1982)).Eventually everyone besides Aguirre on the slowly drifting raft is dead, even Aguirre’s teenage daughter, Flores, towards whom he had incestuous urges and whom he wanted to make his queen.  The movie ends with the crazed figure Aguirre continuing to rant and rave his mad dreams of power, with the only ones available to hear being a band of monkeys who have boarded the raft. These closing images of self-destructive greed and madness are so powerful that they linger in the minds of many viewers long after seeing the film.  In fact it is the visual images, rather than dialogues, that are the cinematic keys to Herzog’s greatness.  As mentioned, Herzog tends to make up the spoken words on the fly during the shooting of his films.  The focus of his narrative imagination is the stream of visuals that he has in his mind.  Even principal actor Klaus Kinski, in the role of Aguirre, doesn’t have that many lines to speak in the film.  The key to Kinski’s performance is his physical posturing throughout the film.  Kinski is constantly shown leaning at an angle, but not usually holding onto anything for support.  This leaning posture is suggestive of someone engaged in momentary pondering just prior to some firm, impending negative action.  Thus Aguirre’s visual imagery suggests a man always on the verge of something emphatically contrary.  And that threatening imagery is what we remember about him.So what is Herzog’s message in Aguirre, the Wrath of God?  I would say it is based on two relatively somber themes that have long underlain his work:His concern that so much of European (i.e. Western) civilization has been based on greed and selfish utilitarianism.  This egoistic focus has fuelled exploitative Western imperialism and colonialism across the globe and continues to this day.  It was this that drove Aguirre’s desire to go to any lengths to find and plunder the legendary city of El Dorado.  His glum recognition that the natural world, i.e. “Nature”, is devoid of the human values of beauty and harmony that we sometimes attribute to it.In support of my assertions here, I offer the following quotations from some of my reviews of other Herzog films.From Lessons of Darkness (1992) [8]:  “The demonic forces that lurk inside the hearts of men seem to be beyond civilized understanding or rational control.  These issues of cruelty and madness are as elemental as fire, itself . . .“  From Heart of Glass (1976) [9]:    “Man’s efforts to understand the universe and build a humane civilization are doomed to failure in the face of his own depravity and the incomprehensibly vastness of great Nature. The universe is infinite and brutal, unmindful and unaffected by our puny efforts to find truth and beauty. Our so-called civilisation has tried to tame nature, but it is based on reductionist mechanism and increasingly drives us further away from any chance of harmony within it. “  And from Herzog, himself, (from my review of Into the Inferno (2016) [10]):“I don’t see [the jungle] so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It’s just – Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course, there’s a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing. They just screech in pain.” [11]    and  “There is a harmony [in nature] . . . it is a harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.” [12] So I would say that Herzog’s two rather pessimistic notions have been present throughout his work.  And in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, both of these sentiments are on full display and symbolically facing each other – Aguirre, the self-centered and exploitative European, is fighting a losing battle with an even more unfeeling and exploitative force: Nature, itself.  Indeed these two notions have probably been no more vividly and aesthetically expressed than here in Aguirre, the Wrath of God.★★★★Notes:“El Dorado”, Wikipedia, (27 August 2021).   Peter Bradshaw, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, The Guardian, (17 August 2001).    Peter Bradshaw, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God - review”, The Guardian, (6 June 2013).     Fernando F. Croce, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog / West Germany, 1972): (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)”, Cinepassion.org, (n.d.).    Jeffrey M. Anderson, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Herzog's Mad Journey”, Combustible Celluloid, (1999?).    Bruce Bennett, “An Infamous Mutiny, A Descent Into Madness”, The New York Sun, (20 October 2006).    Roger Ebert, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, RogerEbert.com, (4 April 1999)..    The Film Sufi, “‘Lessons of Darkness’ - Werner Herzog (1992)”, The Film Sufi, (30 May 2010).    The Film Sufi, “‘Heart of Glass’ - Werner Herzog (1976)”, The Film Sufi, (6 September 2008).    The Film Sufi, “‘Into the Inferno’ - Werner Herzog (2016)”, The Film Sufi, (11 November 2019).    Werner Herzog, “24 Wonderfully Bonkers Werner Herzog Quotes”, (Compiled by Nico Lang), Thought Catalog, (24 April 2013).   from Les Blank’s film, Burden of Dreams (1982), which is about the shooting of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982).
“Black Orpheus” - Marcel Camus (1959)
Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro, 1959) is a wondrous film with a rich range of thematic features – romance, tragedy, music, dancing, life in Brazilian pardo favelas (poor, mixed-race neighbourhoods), and the evocation of a Greek mythological legend.  Each of these layers of Black Orpheus adds further richness to what is ultimately a spectacle of sensuality and passion. And it is for this reason that Black Orpheus seems to be relatively beyond routine comparison with other films.  The film was directed and co-scripted (with Jacques Viot) by Frenchman Marcel Camus, but it was shot in Brazil with an almost exclusively Brazilian cast of nonprofessional actors and released in Brazilian Portuguese.  It was based on Vinicius de Moraes’s Brazilian stage play Orfeu da Conceição (1956), which, itself, was a modernization of the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.In that legend, Orpheus, the son of the god Apollo and an irresistible lyre player, falls madly in love with and marries the beautiful nymph Eurydice.  However, shortly after their marriage, Eurydice is bitten by a poisonous snake (an incarnated symbol of death) and dies.  Orpheus is inconsolable and decides to try and descend to Hades, the underworld, to see his beloved.  With his magical lyre-playing, Orpheus secures permission from the gods to escort Eurydice back to the world of the living, but with one condition: while walking out from the dark underworld, Eurydice must follow behind Orpheus, and he must not look at her before they come out into the light.  In the event, however, Orpheus cannot resist the temptation to turn and look at her, and he loses her forever.In this modernization of that Greek legend, the setting is Rio de Janeiro during their famous Carnaval festival, which is held just before the Lent period prior to Easter and which features massive displays of singing and dancing.  The Brazilian Carnaval very much forms the colorful backdrop to this story, and the film’s excellent production values reflect and reinforce the festive  mood summoned by this festival.  In particular, both the cinematography by Jean Bourgoin and the film editing by Andrée Feix are very effective in this regard.  But even more special attention should be directed to the music by Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Carlos Jobim.  I especially liked two songs composed by Luiz Bonfá,  "Manhã de Carnaval" [1] and  "Samba de Orfeu", that were so good that their presence could even have been accentuated in the film.  They still ring in my memory.The story of Black Orpheus has three main sections to it.1.  Orpheus and Eurydice meetIn the beginning of the film, Eurydice (played by Marpessa Dawn) arrives in Rio de Janeiro looking for the home of her cousin Serafina (Léa Garcia).  She takes the trolley north to the end of the line, where the tram driver Orfeu (“Orpheus”, Breno Mello) notices his tram’s lone occupant and introduces her to station master Hermes (Alexandro Constantino), who gives her directions to Serafina’s home area up in a favela in the surrounding hills.  After she departs, Orfeu is then shown with his possessive fiancé, Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira).  Mira is glamorous but very jealous about any women with whom Orfeu associates, especially since Orfeu can be clearly seen to be something of a playboy.  Then Orfeu goes back alone to his own hut that is in the same favela and next door to where Serafina happens to live.  There he is greeted by two neighbour boys, Benedito (Jorge Dos Santos) and Zeca (Aurino Cassiano), who love Orfeu’s guitar playing and who believe Orfeu's story that his entrancing                 guitar music makes the sun rise every morning.  Orfeu then plays and sings for them the beautiful song “Manhã de Carnaval”.Meanwhile Eurydice has found Serafina’s hut and has been explaining to why she has come to Rio.  It is not for the Carnaval, but to escape and hide from a mysterious stalker who she thinks is trying to kill her.  Afterwards, both Eurydice and Orfeu are delighted to discover that they are next door neighbors.2.  Carnaval Dancing  It turns out that Orfeu, Mira, and Serafina are all skilled samba dancers and will have prominent roles in the Carnaval street dancing coming up.  Eurydice is a good dancer, too.  At a rehearsal coordinated by Orfeu, the many participants all dance madly to the rhythmic music, and this is beautifully shown by the coordinated cinematography of so many dancing feet, including one breathtaking shot lasting 50 seconds.  However, during these festivities Eurydice’s silent pursuer, dressed in a skeleton costume, shows up and threatens Eurydice.  Orfeu comes and chases away this stranger (Adhemar da Silva), whom we shall call “Death”, and Orfeu protectively allows her to stay at his place for the night.  In the process, Orfeu and Eurydice fall in love.Later at the Carnaval festivities, Serafina gives her own dance costume and mask to Eurydice so that the girl can dance with Orfeu without Mira knowing.  But Mira manages to discover this chicanery and rips off Eurydice’s mask and attacks her.  Eurydice runs away both from the uncontrollably vengeful Mira and also Death, who had been looking for her.  Eventually Eurydice, hoping to find refuge with Hermes, makes it to the now dark and deserted end-of-the-line tram station, with Death in hot pursuit.  Orfeu has been following the two of them, and when he shows up, he tries to find the hiding Eurydice by going to the switchboard and throwing on the master power switch.  But Eurydice has been holding onto a live wire, and she is instantly electrocuted.  Death then confronts Orfeu and tells him, "she's mine now," before knocking him out cold.3.  Looking for Eurydice  When Orfeu comes to, he is informed that Eurydice is dead, but he can’t accept it.  He rushes off to the hospital and then to the Bureau of Missing Persons, but to  no avail.  A sympathetic janitor at the latter office takes Orfeu to his Macumba cult religion ritual, where a symbolic, song-filled rite is conducted.  During the ritual, Orfeu is urged to sing out, and when he does so, he hears from behind him Eurydice’s voice clearly calling to him.  She warns him not to turn around or he will lose her forever.  But unable to suppress his desire to see his beloved, Orfeu turns anyway and looks to see the voice calling him is coming from an old woman sitting behind him.  Eurydice is gone.Still grieving, Orfeu goes to the city morgue and retrieves Eurydice's body, which he carries away in his arms back toward his home in the cliff-lined hills.  When he nears his home, he sees that it has been set on fire, and an enraged Mira is running toward him.  A rock she throws at him strikes him in the head and knocks him over the cliff to his death.  Although Mira was Orfeu’s legitimate fiancé, by this point she had become the film’s symbol of vengeance and oppression.In the final scene the next morning, Benedito retrieves Orfeu’s guitar and urges Zeca to play it like Orfeu in order to make the sun rise.  Zeca plays, and the sun rises as the children dance around joyfully.These closing images reinforce the theme that reverberates all through the film – that the ephemeral raptures of love and life are best experienced by immersing ourselves in the songs and dances that embody those joys. These songs and dances give us the opportunity to rapturously express ourselves in ways that words can never accommodate.  This is what the revelrous dancing of Carnaval is intended to evoke.  So the delirious dancing sequences shown in Black Orpheus are not only bewitching; they are also an intrinsic part of its story in visual and musical form.  However, despite the many thematic dimensions of Black Orpheus, there have been some critics who have wanted the film to take on additional, more socially oriented, aspects.  These have included The nature and ongoing causes of poverty of favelas in Rio de JaneiroThe extent of racial discrimination in Rio de Janeiro and in Brazil overallThe lasting effects of European colonization and exploitation on Brazilian lifeThe degree to which there is exact adherence to the original Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (concerning which there are in fact several different versions [2]).The more vehement of the film’s naysayers went further and complained about the film’s “simplified and sanitized portrayal of happy-go-lucky dark-skinned people just dancing and making merry, oblivious to the systemic corruption and injustice that keeps them living in squalid run-down shacks” [3].  But I don’t go along with such judgements. While all of the above issues may be of interest in the appropriate context, it is not necessary that every film that is set in a Rio favela or touches on a Greek myth must specifically address those issues.  Black Orpheus can stand on its own merits.  And in my view, those merits are clearly evident for all to see.  Moreover, the overwhelming majority of critics and viewers over the years have felt the same way (e.g. [4,5,6,7,8 ]).  More formally and industry-wide, Black Orpheus was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the 1960 U. S. Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Foreign Language Film, and the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. So I recommend you just enjoy the film’s samba-driven narrative that is driven by the vivid rhythmic theatrics of its four iconic figures – Orfeu, Eurydice, Mira, and Death.★★★★Notes:“Manhã de Carnaval”, Wikipedia, (14 July 2021).    “Orpheus and Eurydice”, Wikipedia, (30 July 2021).    David Blakeslee, “Black Orpheus (1959) - #48", Criterion Reflections, (10 May 2011).    Bosley Crowther, “Screen: Legend Retold; 'Black Orpheus' Bows at the Plaza”, The New York Times, (22 December 1959).  David Ehrenstein, “Black Orpheus”, “The Criterion Collection”, (7 June 1999).    James Bowman, “The Great Illusion of Carnaval”, The New York Sun, (24 February 2006).    Michael Atkinson, “Black Orpheus: Dancing in the Streets”, The Criterion Collection, (18 August 2010).    Glenn Heath Jr., “DVD Review: Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus on the Criterion Collection”, Slant Magazine, (18 August 2010).  
 Films of Marcel Camus:Black Orpheus - Marcel Camus (1959)
“Eat Drink Man Woman” - Ang Lee (1994)
Taiwan-born Ang Lee (pinyin: Li An) has been a highly successful film director whose versatility over the years has been demonstrated with productions undertaken across several different continents and with themes spanning multiple different genres and social contexts – for example: The Wedding Banquet (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Lust, Caution (2007), and Life of Pi (2012).  But I think Lee’s greatest film was one of his earliest, Eat Drink Man Woman (1994).  This is a compelling work that, despite its Taiwanese/Chinese cultural context, is concerned generally with how romantic concerns can interact with family values, and so it can be appreciated by just about everyone [1,2,3,4,5,6].  The film’s story about a master chef in Taipei and his three grownup daughters was scripted by Ang Lee, James Schamus, and Hui-Ling Wang.  And the film’s overall production values, including the acting, were excellent, but extra special praise should be singled out for the cinematography by Jong Lin and the film editing by Ang Lee and Tim Squyres.  In some respects it is the cinematography and film editing that help elevate this film to a truly high status.The film opens with a detailed presentation of Lao (“Old”, an honorific in Chinese) Chu preparing an elaborate dinner for his three grownup daughters.  The daughters are unmarried and so live at Chu’s home, but they are often out attending to their own personal affairs.  However, Lao Chu expects, indeed demands, that they all unfailingly attend the Sunday dinner that he prepares for them every week, as a ritual and as a precious instrument for family bonding.  Chu has been a widower for the past sixteen years and has largely raised his three daughters during that time on his own.  And like many parents, he is concerned that his daughters, who are all exposed to modernist influences of contemporary Taiwanese society, will start drifting away.  So for Chu, the weekly Sunday dinner is crucial; but for the three daughters, the dinner is boring and almost a form of torture.For the rest of the film, the viewer is treated to four parallel and interlaced narratives that trace the mostly separate and interpersonal concerns of Chu and his three daughters.  We soon discover  the following basic information about them.Lao Chu (played by Sihung Lung) is an aging but famous chef in Taipai and is the master chef at a huge and important hotel in Taipei.  In fact it is widely said that Chu is Taipei’s finest chef, and he is generally used to being in command of those around him.  However Chu is now losing what is critical for a chef, his sense of taste.  So he has to rely on his old friend and fellow master chef Lao Wen (Jui Wang) to sample all his food concoctions to make sure they have been seasoned properly.  Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang), Lao Chu’s oldest daughter, is about 29-years old and works as a high school chemistry teacher.  She is sensitive and reserved and, compared to the other sisters, an upholder of traditional values.  In addition, she has recently become a devout conservative Christian.  Jia-Jen has a close woman friend, Liang Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang), who was a former school classmate and with whom she often gets together to share concerns, such as Jin-Rong’s drawn-out divorce process.  Jia-Jen’s other friends, worried that she is getting old to find a marriage partner, try to help her in this area, but Jia-Jen shows no interest in dating anybody.  She still hasn’t gotten over a failed love interest when she was in college nine years ago.  Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien Wu) is the second-oldest daughter and quite different from Jia-Jen.  Unlike her attractive but quiet and modestly dressing older sister, Jia-Chen is glamorous and outgoing.  She is an energetic, rising executive for an airline company, and she is accustomed to expressing her opinions when she feels like it.  She is also the least tolerant of their father’s Sunday dinners and intends to move out of the home as soon as the new apartment she has purchased is ready.  On the romantic front, she is confidant and bold, e.g. she has a purely sexual relationship with a male friend, Raymond (Chit-Man Chan),  that involves no commitments from either party.  She treasures her independence.  Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), the youngest sister, is 20-years-old and works at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant while attending college classes.  She is generally upbeat and usually deferent to her more opinionated older sisters.So all four members of the Chu family, though different, are relatively well-balanced; and in accordance with family traditions, they are expected to share with each other what is happening in their respective lines when they get together on Sunday for dinner.  But over the course of this film, we see that all four develop romantic relationships concerning which they feel guarded about sharing with each other on Sundays.  And the presented subtlety of those guarded feelings is part of what makes this a great film.  In this connection there is an early scene in which a Chu family Sunday dinner is interrupted by an emergency at Lao Chu’s posh hotel.  We learn that a big feast for an important gathering at the hotel is in preparation but due to some cooking hitches is evidently headed for disaster.  Lao Chu is summoned to rescue this desperate situation, and in a highly professional way he does indeed save the day – and, in the process, demonstrate his impressive culinary prowess.  Afterwards, Lao Chu and Lao Wen become somewhat inebriated and reflect on what they have learned over the courses of their long lives.  In a reflective moment of gloom, Lao Chu asks his friend,“Eat drink man woman.  Food sex . . . Is that all there is?”The rest of the film offers an answer to that question.As the interlaced narratives of the four Chu family members unfold, the viewer learns about the evolving romantic relationships that develop for them. Jia-Jen is not looking to date anyone, but she has an accidental encounter with her school’s new volleyball coach, Ming-Dao (Chin-Cheng Lu), and further encounters stir an interest on Ming-Dao’s part,  Ming-Dao is naturally outgoing, and his interest shown is gradually reciprocated by the shy Jia-Jen.  Jia-Chien finds herself attracted to Li Kai (Winston Chao) a handsome and suave new manager at her airline company.  It looks like they are certain to become lovers, but at the last minute she learns that Li Kai was the man who broke Jia-Jen’s heart nine years ago.  So Jia-Chen has to call things off with Li Kai.  About this time Jia-Chen also learns that Raymond has chosen to break off his relationship with Jia-Chen and get married to another woman.  So now for the time being at least, Jia-Chen is bereft of lovers and “alone”.  Jia-Ning’s close friend and coworker at Wendy’s, Rachel (Yu Chen), appears to be in the process of dumping her heartbroken boyfriend Guo Lun (Chao-jung Chen), and knowing that Guo Lun will always be waiting for her outside of Wendy’s after work, she asks Jia-Ning to shoo the lovesick boy away.  But Jia-Ning’s sympathetic encounters with Guo Lun soon lead to a mutual attraction between the two.  It turns out later that Rachel was only toying with her boyfriend and didn’t want to lose him, but her turnaround is too late.  Lao Chu does not appear to be looking for any romantic liaisons, but his three daughters worry that he must do so or he will wind up lonely once the daughters eventually all leave home and attend to their private lives.  Lao Chu’s isolation is only worsened when his longtime friend and confidante, Lao Wen, suddenly dies of a heart attack.  But when the daughters learn that their friend Liang Jin-Rong’s widowed mother, Madame Liang (Ah-Lei Gua), has just returned to Taipei from overseas and is now sometimes socializing with Lao Chu, they optimistically assume that, even though the woman appears to be pushy and overbearing, she would be a suitable marriage partner for their father.  However, Lao Chu devotes most of his attention to affectionately spoiling Liang Jin-Rong’s young six-year-old daughter, Shan-Shan (Yu-Chien Tang), by secretly making the girl tasty lunches to take to school every day.  For Shan-Shan, Lao Chu is like a substitute daddy.Finally, mostly at Sunday dinner confessions, the viewer learns how these relationships have turned out.  Jia-Ning announces that she is leaving home to marry her secret lover, Guo Lun, by whom she is already pregnant.  Jia-Jen marries Ming-Dao and even gets him to convert to Christianity.  But most shocking of all is what happens with Lao Chu.  At a family dinner to which the Liang family (Madame Liang, Liang Jin-Rong, and Shan-Shan) have been invited, Lao Chu makes a marriage proposal not to the one everyone expects – Madame Liang, but to Jin-Rong, with whom Lao Chu has been having a secret affair.  This explains why Lao Chu has been showering Shan-Shan with paternal affection for awhile.  And it also means that the daughters will not be abandoning their father to loneliness. So romantic love appears to have conquered all, and, in particular, to have overshadowed traditional family mores.  Is that the film’s final message?  Not entirely [6].  Jia-Chen, the most glamorous and attractive of the three sisters, was always the one who was least affected by traditional values.  She always found her father and his Sunday dinners insufferable, and she was the first daughter to announce her plans to move out of the family home.  But by the end of the film, she has changed.  She abandons her affair with Li Kai out of concerns for her older sister’s feelings.  And she declines a promotion from her airline company to be an overseas vice president, because she wants to stay closer to her family.  In the final scene she is shown cooking a meal for her father at the old home and showing hitherto unseen warmth for him.  So traditional family values now apparently have meaning for her. Consequently we can say that what we have here is not just a battle between Modernism and Tradition or between East and West.  Overall, what makes this a great film is the display of subtle and complex interacting feelings presented by the main character actors.  My favorite performance was that of Kuei-Mei Yang as Jia-Jen, but they are all compelling, and you may have another favorite.Also outstanding is the cinematography.  There are many emotive closeups that help convey the feelings in this story.  I would also like to call your attention to three extended tracking shots that I thought were very effective.  One is a two-minute shot showing an early conversation between Jia-Ning and Guo Lun.  A second is s 90-second shot of a conversation between Jia-Jen and Liang Jin Rong.  And a third sequence that lingers in my memory is a two-minute shot of Jia-Jen and Li Kai conversing while walking through a store.So getting back to Lao Chu’s question that he asked early on in the film,“Eat drink man woman.  Food sex . . . Is that all there is?”We can say that the film’s response is, “No, there is much more.  And it all comes from love in all its various guises and modes.”  Love can be manifest in both traditional and modern circumstances.  The key thing is that, no  matter what the situation, love represents the most sincere and authentic aspects of who we are.  And this is what Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman puts on display for us.★★★★Notes:Hal Hinson, "‘Eat Drink Man Woman’", Washington Post (19 August 1994).    Desson Howe, "‘Eat Drink Man Woman’", Washington Post, (19 October 1994).    Marjorie Baumgarten, “Eat Drink Man Woman”, Austin Chronicle, (19 August 1994).   Janet Maslin, “FILM REVIEW; Avoiding Basic Human Desires, or Trying To”, “The New York Times”, (3 August 1994).    Norman N. Holland, “Ang Lee, ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’ (1994)”, A Sharper Focus, (n.d.).    David Sorfa, “Eat Drink Man Woman: Summary & Analysis”, Jotted Lines, (23 February 2020).   
“The Spirit of the Beehive” - Víctor Erice (1973)
The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la Colmena, 1973) is a Spanish drama with a haunting flavour that sets it apart from almost all other films.  It is a story concerned with imagination, in particular the rich, fertile narrative imaginations that most children are endowed with.  This outstanding film was the inaugural directorial effort of Víctor Erice, who, regrettably, has gone on to direct only one other feature fiction film (El Sur, 1983).  Based on the cinematic skills on display here in The Spirit of the Beehive, Erice deserved to have a long and prolific career in feature filmmaking.  Other specific aspects of the film’s overall production values are also excellent, with a fascinating original story by Erice and Ángel Fernández Santos, emotive cinematography by Luis Cuadrado, meaningful evocative editing by Pablo González del Amo, and atmospheric music by Luis de Pablo.  In particular, there is a lot of symbolic dynamic imagery, such as the liberating feelings evoked by showing steam trains rapidly moving across the countryside (an image frequently invoked by great filmmakers), that contribute to the film’s poetic canvas.  The result was a film whose reputation has grown steadily over the years [1,2,3,4,5] and is now considered by many to be the greatest Spanish film ever made [2].The story of The Spirit of the Beehive is set in 1940, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in the small town of Huelos on the Spanish Castilian plateau.  By 1940 the victors in the civil war, the right-wing forces led by Francisco Franco and supported by the German Nazis, having defeated the progressive Republican government, were fully in power.  Franco would remain in power until 1975, so The Spirit of the Beehive was made while Spain was still under the Francoist regime. Although the Spanish Civil War provides a background political and social context for some events in the film, nevertheless, I do not believe that that aspect should be overemphasized.  It is just one element that colours the thinking of the two principal adult characters in the film.  The events in the film are centred around a family of four who live in a fading manor house in Huelos:Fernando (played by Fernando Fernán Gómez, the only professional actor in the film) is an elderly gentleman apparently in his fifties who is something of a scholar.  He spends much of his time studying and writing about bees, and he has his own apiary for this purpose.  Teresa (Teresa Gimpera) is Fernando’s much younger (thirtyish) and very attractive wife.  She spends much of her ample free time (they have a full-time maid) longing for and writing love letters to her absent paramour, who was a Republican soldier and now may be a refugee.  Ana (Ana Torrent) is Fernando’s and Teresa’s shy and impressionable six-year-old daughter.  She is the main character of this story.  Isabel (Isabel Tellería) is Ana’s older sister by one or two years.  Isabel is a good-natured but naughty girl who relishes playing tricks on her innocent and gullible younger sister, AnaAll four of these characters live to some degree in isolation from others, and so they have concocted dreamworlds to occupy their imaginations.  Fernando is obsessed with speculations about his bee colony and how the constant agitation on the part of the worker bees seems to be ultimately pointless.  He can artificially stimulate these bees to be even more agitated without their apparently being aware of it.  And he sees this as a metaphor for the purposelessness of all life, including human existence.  Teresa lives in her own dreamworld of lost love.  She is not intimate with her husband, Fernando, and prefers her dreamworld to the real world in front of her.  Isabel concocts dreamworlds of silly games she likes to play with her schoolmates and false stories she tells to Ana.  Ana’s dreamworld, which is the main focus of the film, is, as I will discuss further, different from the others, because she doesn’t see it as a dreamworld.  She sees it as an opportunity to have authentic, meaningful engagement with another person who seeks her company and could enrich her life.The Spirit of the Beehive narrative passes roughly through three main phases.1.  The Family’s DreamworldsIn 1940 a travelling cinema projection team has come to Huelos to setup their projector in the town hall and show the film Frankenstein (1931) to the locals.  All the kids, including Isabel and Ana, are excited about seeing the film and flock to the makeshift projection theater.  Meanwhile Fernando is shown immersed in attending to his bee colony.  And his wife, Teresa, is shown at home writing a forlorn love letter to her distant lover, whose current circumstances are unclear.While watching Frankenstein, Ana becomes particularly fascinated with a scene in which Frankenstein’s Monster befriends a young girl of about Ana’s age and winds up accidentally drowning her.  Later that night when Ana and Isabel are in their bedroom, Ana wants her sister to explain to her why the Monster killed the young girl and why the villagers then killed the Monster.  Isabel, who delights in fooling her gullible younger sister, tells her that the Monster was not killed and in fact she has seen him living in an abandoned farmhouse nearby.  She also tells Ana that the monster is really a spirit and cannot be killed.  She adds that the Monster only comes out at night, but if you’re his friend, you can talk to him anytime – just say “It’s me, Ana”. Ana fully buys into Isabel’s story and becomes obsessed with finding this spirit so that she can become its friend.  Clearly the innocent Ana has been bewitched by the tender scene between the girl and the Monster she saw in the movie, and she wants to find the spirit and become its friend.2.  Ana and IsabelIn the next phase we see more of the contrast between Ana and Isabel.  While Ana is innocent and shy, Isabel is devilishly provocative.  And the film artfully shows their distinctive natures by means of natural behaviours.  In particular, Ana’s inherent wonder at the world around her is sensitively displayed by means of her earnest gaze.  One especially important issue for kids, which they think about all the time, is the subject of death.  Adults, including Fernando and Teresa in this film, assume that death is a matter that is too complex and profound for kids to think about, but they are wrong.  Kids are at least as perplexed and disturbed by death as adults are, and I can remember when I was about Ana’s age often thinking and worrying about death and what it meant.  Certainly Ana and Isabel are not exceptions, and, of course, seeing the movie Frankenstein only fanned the flames of their fascination. To further expand on her monster story that she told Ana, Isabel takes her sister to the abandoned farmhouse that she mentioned in order to look for the Monster.  Of course, they don’t find anything, but Ana is convinced that the Monster/Spirit must be there at night.  So she later several times sneaks out of her house at night to visit the farmhouse and see if she can find the Monster.   There are other death-oriented scenes in this section, too.  One shows Fernando taking his daughters out in the forest to warn them about the deadly effects of eating a toadstool.  The thought that such an innocent-looking little plant could have such lethal consequences has a disturbing effect on the quiet Ana.  In another scene, Isabel is shown experimentally choking the family’s pet cat almost to death in order to explore her fantasies of killing a companion.  Most disturbing of all is a scene in which Isabel convincingly pretends to be dead in front of Ana.  Ana’s attempts to revive her sister are of no avail, and she becomes greatly disturbed.So for Isabel, life is a set of games.  But for Ana, life is a mystery.3.  The Monster/Spirit AppearsLater we see a Spanish Republican activist on the run from the Francoist authorities.  He leaps from a speeding freight train, injures his ankle, and manages to limp his way to the abandoned farmhouse, where he seeks temporary refuge out of sight.  That night Ana makes one of her middle-of-the-night inspections of the abandoned farmhouse and encounters the Republican activist, who she takes to be the embodiment of the Monster/Spirit she is seeking.  Ana quickly tries to help her new spirit friend, as she tends to his injured ankle and brings him some food and her father’s coat.  But when Ana is away, the Francoist police come to the farmhouse and machine-gun the Republican activist to death.  Since the police found Fernando’s coat and pocket watch with the activist when they killed him, they place Fernando under suspicion.  And Fernando, in turn, suspects Ana stole his coat.  The next time Ana goes to the farmhouse looking for her special spirit friend, she is dismayed to find only bloodstains.  When her suspicious father tracks her there and calls her to come to him, the horrified girl runs away into the fields and disappears from view.A massive village search operation ensues that engages in looking for Ana through the night, and she is finally found the next day, barely conscious.  Although Ana was physically unharmed, she is now uncommunicative, or so it seems.  Her only attempts at communication now are when she is alone at night and goes to the window and calls out, “it’s me, Ana”.  So Ana, like her mother and father, ends up isolated and living in a dreamworld.  But their dreamworlds are all different.  Fernando’s dreamworld is one of lonely scientific investigation in order to unlock the objective truths of uncaring nature.  He is despondent over his own pessimistic speculations concerning the absurdity of existence.  Teresa’s lonely dreamworld is one of hopeless and forlorn love for a lover who may no longer even exist.  Ana’s dreamworld, however, is more mystical and more selfless.  She is seeking to reach out and engage with a magical, spiritual other, whose interactive possibilities seem to be thrilling and boundless.  In fact if we stop to think about it, most of us are, at least unconsciously, in similar shoes.  When we seek God, we are hoping to find profound engagement with a supreme spiritual agency – a dynamic agent-to-agent interaction, not just arrive at some state of lifeless static perfection.  We intuitively feel that life inherently involves interactive dynamism, not stasis, and, like Ana, we are looking for the blissful possibilities of potential interactions that may be out there.   The Spirit of the Beehive beautifully explores this space in perhaps the only way possible – through the eyes of a sensitive, innocent child.★★★★Notes:Nicolas Rapold, “The Depth of a Child's Gaze”, The New York Sun, (27  January 2006).    Paul Julian Smith, “The Spirit of the Beehive: Spanish Lessons”, The Criterion Collection, (18 September 2006).   Bill Gibron, “Past Perfect: Criterion Classics – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)”, PopMatters, (28 November 2006).    Roger Ebert, "Everything in the movies is fake", Great Movies, RogerEbert.com, (20 November 2012).    Acquarello, “The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena), 1973", Strictly Film School, (24 December 2017; 8 January 2018).    
Films of Víctor Erice: The Spirit of the Beehive - Víctor Erice (1973)
“Wheel of Time”  - Werner Herzog (2003)
Werner Herzog, one of the greatest filmmakers, is one of my favorites.  Over the course of his prolific career covering the direction of some twenty dramatic feature films and more than thirty documentary features, he has invariably cast his unique vision across a wide range of subject matter, much of it with an existentialist philosophy tinge.  Thus he often travels to remote locations to observe how people deal with the extreme conditions there.  This is what I find particularly fascinating about Herzog: he is a philosopher with a movie camera.  The Herzog film I will be discussing here, Wheel of Time (2003), which he wrote, directed, and narrated, is very explicitly aimed in this philosophical direction, because it is concerned with the passions and rituals of Buddhist monks.  The film featured cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger and film editing by Joe Bini, and as usual with Herzog films, one gets the feeling that a good part of the film’s story was composed in the editing room.  And also as usual with Herzog films, it was well-received by a range of critics [1,2,3,4,5].The specific subject matter of the film concerns the elaborate Kalachakra Initiation ceremony for Tibetan Buddhists (note that ‘Kalachakra’ is a term in Vajrayana Buddhism that means "wheel of time") that is held every two or three years at a place chosen each time by the Dalai Lama.  This event typically attracts some 500,000 Tibetan initiates and pilgrims from all over Asia who wish to participate in the elaborate rituals over the course of ten days and ten nights.  On this occasion, in January 2002, the chosen place for the Kalachakra ceremonies is very special – Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India.  It was here some 2,500 years ago that Siddhartha Gautama spent seven weeks meditating under the Bodhi Tree (a sacred fig tree there) and reached enlightenment, thereby achieving the status of the Buddha.  Bodh Gaya is also the site of the associated Mahabodhi Temple.The film begins with some physical shots of the Bodh Gaya area, and then it shows the many pilgrims arriving for the Kalachakra events.  Some of these pilgrims are so devout that they make their jouney to the Kalachakra event entirely on foot, and after every step or so they fully prostrate themselves in obeisance.  Herzog shows some of them reverentially following this practice over all sorts rough terrain, and the whole journey to their holy destination can take many months, even years.  These pilgrims are mostly poor people, but some of them at least bring pup tents in which they can sleep in the temple yards overnight.  The rest of them must just sleep outside in the open.  The principal activities of the Kalachakra activities fall into three main categories:Buddhist teachings and prayers conducted by lamas and monks,  The construction and display of the great Kalachakra Mandala, an elaborate symbolic design made out of colored sand that is an important artefact of Tibetan Buddhism [6,7],    The closing initiation ceremonies for the aspirant Tibetan Buddhist monks.Of these activities, a considerable amount of Wheel of Time screen time is devoted to showing the detailed construction of the Kalachakra Mandala.  This is made of loose, colored sand, the tiny individual granules of which must be so carefully placed  that they collectively form an incredibly intricate design.  This takes a number of sand artists manydays to complete. Once completed, the Kalachakra Mandala is seven feet in diameter and displays visual references to 722 deities.  Since the mandala is made only of loose sand, it must be protected from the approach of onlookers and even casual breezes which could disturb it, so it is walled off by a glass partitioning surrounding it.  But after the mandala’s construction and display to the monks and pilgrims at the end of the usual Kalachakra ceremonies, all the sand of the entire mandala is collected and ritualistically thrown into the river, thereby symbolizing the utter ephemerality of existence.   Just before the halfway point in the film, Herzog takes time out to go off on his own with his own camera and visit another sacred Buddhist site, Mount Kailash in western Tibet.  Thousands of pilgrims come to this 22,000 foot mountain at a specific time every year  (Herzog came in May 2002) to carry out a high-altitude circumnavigation of the peak, which they believe will bring them holy salvation.  The 52 km trek around the peak that the pilgrims take is at an altitude of 18,000 feet, and sadly every year, some pilgrims who are not appropriately acclimatized to these heights die from exhaustion. At other points in the film we see brief clips of the Dalai Lama speaking in closeup on a few topics.  He is always relaxed and reasonable, and one his more interesting remarks was his comment that all religions carry the same message.  It would be good if more people felt that way.  The Dalai Lama is, of course, the star personage of the Kalachakra Initiation ceremonies, but unfortunately his health at this time was not good, and he was unable to carry out his required, full participation in the ceremonies.  This was naturally very disappointing to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who had come to Bodh Gaya, as well as to the Dalai Lama, himself.  But he promised to all the practitioners that he would come back there to see them all the following year.The scene now shifts to another ten-day Kalachakra Initiation ceremony that was held later that year – in October 2002 in Graz, Austria.  This time the attendees are mostly European Buddhists, and the number of participants are in the thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands.  And  now the Dalai Lama is healthy and fully participating.  Also present is famed Buddhist monk and communicator Matthieu Ricard, who often serves as the Dalai Lama’s translator.One of the highlights of this section of the film is the showing and description of a Tibetan Buddhist monk and pilgrim, Takna Jingme Sangpo, who, partly thanks to international protests, had recently been released from prison in Tibet after being held there under cruel conditions by the Chinese overlords for 37 years.  Sangpo’s only crimes were apparently his public expression on a few occasions that he supported a “Free Tibet”.  Despite his extreme hardships, Sangpo, is now overjoyed that he now, finally has the opportunity to see the Dalai Lama in the flesh for the first time.At this Kalachakra Initiation event in Graz, another elaborate Kalachakra Mandala is duly constructed out of colored sand and displayed.  And at the end of these ceremonies, a healthy Dalai Lama performs the ritual act of dispersing the collected mandala sand into the Mur river there.  Overall, Herzog’s Wheel of Time does provide a lot of information about the Kalachakra ceremonies.  But what lingers most in my mind after watching it is something else that he has captured on film.  And that is the extraordinary religious fervor that you can see silently expressed on all the faces of the vast crowds of pilgrims shown.  These dedicated practitioners are not boisterous; they are not broadcasting. Instead, they are wholly devoted to their spiritual path of seeking total purity and enlightenment.  Herzog does not articulate or discuss this issue.  He directly shows it on a thousand faces.★★★½Notes:Walter Addiego, 'Wheel of Time', Film Clips, SFGATE, (22 July 2005).   Dennis Schwartz, “Wheel of Time”, Dennis Schwartz Movie Reviews, (n.d.).    Ed Howard, “11/8: Wheel of Time; The Flowers of St. Francis”, Only The Cinema, (8 November 2007).    Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, “Wheel of Time”, Spirituality & Practice, (2005).    Stephen Holden, “With Herzog, Inside a World of Devotion”, The New York Times, (15 June 2005).       “Mandala”, Wikipedia, (15 June 2021).    “Sand mandala”, Wikipedia, (29 April 2021).   
“The Battle of Algiers” - Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri, 1966) is a historical film (it is sometimes referred to as a “docudrama”) that holds a special niche in the history of cinema.  This is due to its significant subject matter and the way it treats that subject matter.  The film covers the first three years of the Algerian War (1954-1962), when the newly formed Algerian National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, or “FLN”) waged a violent struggle to secure Algerian independence from French colonial rule that had begun more than a century earlier, in 1830.  This extended struggle would come to serve as a prototypical example for Marxists and leftists in general worldwide in their “revolutionary” efforts to help indigenous people free themselves from colonial rule.  As such, this film, with its apparent documentary authenticity, unintentionally came to serve as something of a blueprint for how to carry out modern revolutionary insurrection.The film The Battle of Algiers was directed by Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas, and it was based on the memoirs of FLN leader Saadi Yacef, whose participation in the film’s production helped certify the basic authenticity of what was shown.  Indeed, Yacef even plays the role of a key FLN figure in the film who is a fictionalized version of himself.  Other contributions to the film’s famed aesthetics include the cinematography by Marcello Gatti, the film editing by Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei, and the music by Ennio Morricone and Gillo Pontecorvo.A key aspect of the film that colors some critics’ reactions to it is the extent to which the film reflects Italian Neorealist production values.  Pontecorvo became an aficionado of Italian Neorealism when he first saw an iconic instance of this genre – Roberto Rossellini's Paisà (Paisan, 1946) – and it can be loosely said that his The Battle of Algiers is an instance of this genre.  In fact the coverage was considered to be so realistic that the film was later reported to be used for training purposes by both those groups grooming terrorists and those seeking to thwart them [1].  Nevertheless, Italian Neorealism encompassed a wide range of cinematic techniques and approaches, and, as I have commented [2,3], there is disagreement as to what constitutes its essence.  Thus in this film’s case for example, Pontecorvo used almost entirely non-professional Algerians for his actors, and his grainy, black-and-white imagery evoked newsreel-like street footage (i.e. in the fashion of Neorealism).  But on the other hand, his extensive use of tight closeups and careful dynamic editing had the character of conventional narrative cinematics.  So the jury is still out on the degree to which The Battle of Algiersis a Neorealistic film.In addition and given the ongoing conflict between Western and Islamic cultures (the indigenous Algerians were predominantly Muslim), many viewers of The Battle of Algiers tend to have their own preconceived notions about those two societies before they even see the film, and they are always searching for what they consider to be a fair-minded presentation.  In this respect it  is interesting to consider Pontecorvo’s own background.  Born in 1919, he grew up in a secular Italian Jewish family, and as he matured, he developed Marxist sympathies, even serving for awhile (1941-1956) as a member of the Italian Communist Party.  But over the long run, Pontecorvo settled into becoming a principled, but not dogmatic, secular leftist.  So we can assume that his sympathies tended to lie in the general direction of the FLN, but he also saw things from a more objective perspective, too.  And this wider view is what he apparently brought to the production of this film.  Thus most reviewers have accepted that Pontecorvo and his team presented a fairly balanced picture of the two conflicting sides [4].  This is perhaps a key to why the film has always been so popular with the critics, both upon its initial release [4,5] and later after a restored version was released in 2004 [1,5,6,7,8,9].  Indeed the film is now considered to be a classic, and it was voted to be the 26th greatest film of all time on the “British Film Institute’s 2012 Director’s Poll” [10] (which surveyed hundreds of international film directors), and it was voted to be the 48th greatest film of all time on the “British Film Institute’s 2012 Critic’s Poll” [11] (which surveyed hundreds of international film critics).The Algerian War (1954-1962), of which The Battle of Algiers was a key part, was a violent struggle that likely took more than 700,000, overwhelmingly Muslim, lives [12].  Because the French colonialists had gained possession of Algeria more than a century earlier, there was a sizable number of Europeans (more than 10 percent of the total population of about 10 million people at that time) living in Algeria for multiple generations and known as “Pieds-Noirs”.  In the city of Algiers, itself, nearly half the population of around 750,000 were Pieds-Noirs at that time.  But despite their longtime cohabitation, the two populations were separated by class and prejudice.The story of the film begins with a focus on the Muslim sector of Algiers and, in particular, on a young, illiterate man, Ali La Pointe (played by Brahim Haggiag) who gets imprisoned for a minor  offence.  From his prison cell Ali observes a fellow-prisoner and  FLN member get tortured and guillotined, and this outrage inspires Ali to join the FLN.  A few months later Ali is given instructions to kill a policeman.  But the gun he is given has only blanks in it, and the whole caper, from which Ali managed to escape, was merely designed to test Ali’s loyalty.  This is all later explained to Ali by a senior FLN operator, El-Hadi Jaffar (played by real FLN agent Yacef Saadi).As the film proceeds, we are shown a series of tit-for-tat atrocities in public venues, both in the “European Quarter” and in the Casbah (the poor Arab/Berber quarter) carried out by the FLN and the French authorities, respectively.  There seems to be no point to these murderous acts of violence which only involve the annihilation of innocent people, other than to invoke feelings of terror among both populations.  This can only lead to a downward spiralling war of attrition.Things get worse, so the French decide to fence off the entire Casbah and setup a checkpoint that will only allow approved people from the Casbah out into the European Quarter.  In response, the FLN arrange for three comely Muslim women volunteers to remove their chadors and dress up as European ladies so that they can get through the checkpoint and plant bombs in three separate locations in the middle-class European sector.  This is one of the most interesting and well-crafted sequences in the film.Eventually, in 1957, the French authorities send in armed paratroopers to reestablish their control over the FLN.  The paratroop contingent is under the command of Colonel Philippe Mathieu (Jean Martin, the only professional actor in the film), and from now on the film moves to a compelling parallel narrative tracking, shifting back and forth between the various activities and outcomes of two opposing protagonists, Ali La Pointe and Colonel Mathieu.  Both men are rational individuals, yet each of them is capable of the cruel extermination of innocent civilians. Over time, the French come to learn that the FLN are organized into a secretive pyramidal cellular structure, so that any captured FLN member would only know the identities of three other FLN people – one above him (the FLN member who commands him) and two below him (the identities of the two FLN members he commands).  This served to impede the cruel French strategy of capturing a FLN member and torturing him until he revealed the identities and contact information of a large number of their group.  Still, the French under Mathieu persisted, and they gradually eliminated FLN members one-by-one.  Finally, it came down to just La Pointe and his close associates.  Mathieu and his men find out (through torture) that these fugitives are hiding behind a building wall, and then they ruthlessly blow up the whole  building in which they are hiding,, killing La Pointe along with several innocent people in the process.  So in the end, by 1960, it looked like the FLN were completely destroyed.  But then, almost as a coda to this grim ending, Pontecorvo informs the viewer that the revolution erupted anew, and on July 2, 1962, Algeria succeeded in achieving its independence.  How could this possibly have happened? It seems that over time the FLN eventually managed to capture the hearts of all the Algerian people by appealing to universal values of virtue and compassion.  Hints of this appeal to global feelings are provided by Pontecorvo at various stages in the film when he shows masses of Algerian women engaged in passionate ululation chants in support of their Algerian brother activists.  Thus a growing crowd of ordinary people came to be seen in support of this movement, and the police could not suppress this form of innocent expression.  So the ululation only intensified, and indeed The Battle of Algiers helped make political ululation popular on a global scale.In fact, historian Yuval Noah Harari has argued that the “Third World” movements toward emancipation only managed to succeed in the last century when they were able to appeal to global, universal values [13]:“Only in the twentieth century did non-European cultures adopt a truly global vision. This was one of the crucial factors that led to the collapse of European hegemony. Thus in the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), Algerian guerrillas defeated a French army with an overwhelming numerical, technological and economic advantage. The Algerians prevailed because they were supported by a global anti-colonial network, and because they worked out how to harness the world’s media to their cause – as well as public opinion in France itself.  The defeat that little North Vietnam inflicted on the American colossus was based on a similar strategy.” Pontecorvo doesn’t look at such higher-level issues concerning values and strategic resources.  Instead, his eye is on the street, looking at people in new and extreme situations trying to make their way.  Harari’s insights are valuable, but Pontecorvo’s ground-level perspective is also crucial.  Pontecorvo doesn’t really take sides; his relatively even-handed account simply opens the eye of the viewer and shows what The Battle of Algiers was like on the gritty, human level.  I recommend you watch this film.★★★★ Notes:Roger Ebert , ”The Battle of Algiers”, RogerEbert.Com, (30 May 1968).    The Film Sufi, “Aesthetics of Two Neorealist Films: ‘Open City’ and ‘Paisan’", The Film Sufi, (18 November 2008).     The Film Sufi, “Subjective Realism in the Italian Film”, The Film Sufi, (13 January 2009).Andrew Sarris, “films”, The Village Voice, (5 October 1967).   Roger Ebert, “The cinematic fortunes of war”, Great Movies, RogerEbert.Com, (10 October 2004).     Peter Matthews, “The Battle of Algiers: Bombs and Boomerangs”, The Criterion Collection, (9 August 2011).    Omar Odeh, “Punishment Parks: The Battle of Algiers on DVD”, “Bright Lights Film Journal”, (31 October 2004).Peter Rainer, “Prescient Tense”, New York Magazine, (31 Decembeer 2004).   Alan O'Leary, “The Battle of Algiers at Fifty:: End of Empire Cinema and the First Banlieue Film”, Film Quarterly, Winter 2016, Volume 70, Number 2, (10 January 2017).    “Directors’ Top 100", Analysis: The Greatest Films of All Time 2012, Sight and Sound, British Film Institute, (2012).    “Critics’ Top 100", Analysis: The Greatest Films of All Time 2012, Sight and Sound, British Film Institute, (2012).   “Algerian War”, Wikipedia, (3 June 2021).        Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, (London: Harvill Secker, 2014).
Films of Gillo Pontecorvo:The Battle of Algiers - Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
“The Crowd” - King Vidor (1928)
The Crowd (1928) is not only one of the greatest silent movies, it quite simply stands, in my view, as one of the greatest of all films ever made, period.  Conceived and directed by famous filmmaker King Vidor, the film covers the joys and woes of an ordinary young couple trying to make a go of it in a teaming metropolis full of similar people all seeking to stand out from “the crowd”.  This may sound like a fairly simplistic narrative scheme for a film, and in fact some people, like the early reviewer in Variety found the film boring [1].  And even today, The Crowd does not usually come first to the minds of most people thinking of great silent films.  But Vidor and his production team took this basic idea and fashioned a truly noteworthy work.  And over the years, reviewers who have had a chance to see The Crowd have consistently heaped praise on this masterpiece [2,3,4,5,6,7,8]. Vidor had recently made his famous antiwar hit, The Big Parade (1925), which was concerned with the more spectacular theme of the devastating impact of The Great War (World War 1), the horrors of which still reverberated in the world’s consciousness; and so his producers at MGM Studios were hoping for another blockbuster like that from Vidor.  The outline for The Crowd seemed very tame by comparison, and they were not so enthusiastic about the new project.  But given Vidor’s track record at the box office, they went ahead with it anyway and provided relatively big-budget funding.  And when we watch the film, we can see that the screenplay by King Vidor and John V. A. Weaver, the cinematography (which features some remarkable moving-camera shots) by Henry Sharp, the film editing by Hugh Wynn, along with Vidor’s direction, are all first-rate.One measure of the breadth and polish of The Crowd's production team is the fact the film is considered to feature both Expressionist and Neorealist elements to it (it is even said that Italian Neorealist master Vittorio de Sica was inspired in his own work by The Crowd)  [2,7,8] – these are two contrasting aesthetic approaches that seem almost at odds with each other.  Neorealism suggests the raw,  objective reality of the street [9,10], while Expressionism “seeks to represent the external world as a reflection of the inner feelings of the author” [11].  Somehow Vidor managed his production to effectively invoke both of these evocative perspectives to great effect at various points along the way.Mention should also be made of the key acting performances of the dramatis personae in the film.  While most of the secondary performers display the exaggerated countenances and theatrics common to the silent era, the two main actors gave remarkably nuanced performances.   James Murray, a relatively unknown actor, played the role of John Sims, the film’s principal protagonist, and Murray’s sensitive, natural portrayal of that character is a key ingredient to the film’s success.  Murray’s expressive and moving performance in this film should have shot him to stardom, but unfortunately that is not how it played out for him.  Murray’s persistent alcoholism ruined his career and led him downhill to vagrancy.  In 1936 his body was found in the Hudson River, a possible suicide.  Eleanor Boardman played the part of the female protagonist, Mary Sims, and her performance was also outstanding.  Boardman, who was King Vidor’s wife at the time, was a well-known actress used to playing glamorous roles.  But here in The Crowd she plays an ordinary, plain housewife, and in the process gives the greatest screen performance of her career.  I particularly liked her meaningful looks of anticipation, which subtly conveyed more about her mental state than any dialogue subtitles could do.  The story of The Crowd, as I mentioned, concerns what happens to an ordinary American couple in pursuit of success.  In fact the male protagonist, who was born on the 4th of July, is an exemplar of one who chases after the “American Dream”.  In this regard, most young American children are told that, however ordinary their circumstances may be, any of them could grow up someday to be U.S. President – like Abraham Lincoln.  So the film resonates particularly with American audiences.  As we follow John Sims’s pursuit of his dream, the film passes through approximately three stages.1.  Formative YearsWhen John Sims is born on the 4th of July, 1900 (making him a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and a symbolic representative of the “American Century”), his father expresses the conviction that his newborn son will amount to something.  And John carries that hope with him throughout his boyhood.  At the age of 21, John goes to seek his fortune in New York City and gets a routine desk job working for an insurance company.  The moving camera shots showing the huge, faceless skyscraper, on one of the floors of which is the insurance company’s vast open-plan office is justly famous for its expressionistic feeling.  It is here that we first see the grownup John Sims (played by James Murray) as one of a countless number of white-collar robots, which evokes, for me, imaginative images of Herman Melville’s story "Bartleby, the Scrivener”.Bert (Bert Roach), a colleague of John’s in the huge open-plan office, sets up a blind double-date for the two of them to take two young women to the Coney Island amusement park.  On the bus on the way to the park, John spots a juggling sandwichman on the street and, turning to his date Mary (Eleanor Boardman), derisively dismisses the man as a poor sap.  Very soon John and Mary fall in love and get married.  On their honeymoon to Niagara Falls, they take a sleeper-car train  and have their first conjugal bed experience, a scene that is deftly and amusingly handled by Vidor and his crew.  2.  Scenes from a MarriageIn the second phase of the film, the niggling frustrations of the young married couple are brought to the fore.  John is ambitious, but he is just another nameless cog in a vast office machine.  On Christmas Eve he comes home late and drunk, standing up Mary’s family, who had come over for a visit.  Mary is always forgiving, but her husband’s constant complaining at home begins to take its toll.  She contemplates leaving him, but just then she becomes aware that she is pregnant, and that brings them back to matrimonial bliss.       A son is born to Mary, and a few years later they are blessed with a daughter.  However, John’s low job status and failure to gain a promotion continue to be a source of frustration.  When John wins a $500 prize for an ad slogan competition, it seems that things might be finally looking up, but that only leads to an unfortunate accident that kills their young daughter.  John is now so frustrated and depressed that he loses interest in his boring office work, and finally, in a fit of temper, he angrily resigns from his job.  3.  Getting Desperate Our suddenly unemployed protagonist is now constantly looking for work. But the low-paying jobs that John does find are either too boring or ones from which he quickly gets sacked.  So his jobless status goes on and on.  And he is still constantly complaining.  Mary, who takes on some home sewing work to help make ends meet, is losing her patience, and she chides her husband with the query:“Are you sure it’s always somebody else . . . . and not you?”Although John is essentially an innocent and well-meaning guy, he becomes more and more depressed about who he really is.  It’s not surprising then to see that when Mary’s two pompous brothers come around to grudgingly offer John a job, he angrily rejects such an offer of “charity”.  Finally fed up with her husband’s deadbeat stagnation, Mary throws him out of the house. Now outside and at his wit’s end, John contemplates suicide.  But when he is just about to throw himself off a bridge, he encounters his cheerful five-year-old son, who loyally assures  him that he wants to grow up to be just like his dad.  This loving gesture raises John’s spirits, and he vows to keep on going towards his goal.John gets a street job as a juggling advertising sandwich man – the very same job he had mockingly ridiculed when he had seen it from the bus on his early trip to Coney Island.  Only now, John embraces the job with enthusiasm.  He heads back home to tell Mary about his new job  in the hopes that she will forgive him.But when John arrives home, he sees that Mary is packing up to go live with her family (her mother and two brothers).  Mary is adamant about leaving, but John manages to convince her to at least accept his invitation to take their young son and go with him to a vaudeville show for which he has purchased three tickets.  The final shots of the film show John and Mary sitting in the vaudeville show audience and joining them all in uproarious laughter as they watch the slapstick antics being performed onstage.This somewhat enigmatic ending is a key to The Crowd’s greatness.  We don’t know what the future will bring to John and Mary, but we do know that John is a member of “the crowd” of humanity and he seems to have finally embraced that fact.  The film implicitly urges the viewer to embrace that fact, too.  Indeed, underlying the American Dream is the idea that we are all members of “the crowd”.  The studio was worried about the ambiguity of this ending and ordered seven alternative happy-ending finales to be filmed and tested on preview audiences.  But none of them could have matched Vidor’s original ending, the one that was finally released and what we see today.                                Overall, The Crowd is not to be seen only as a historical relic.  It continues to this day to be a great cinematic narrative and a moving viewing experience.  ★★★★ Notes:“The Crowd”, Variety, (22 February 1928).    Mordaunt Hall, “THE SCREEN; Don Juans of the Deep”, The New York Times, (20 February 1928).  Margarita Landazuri, “The Crowd”, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, (2003).    Fernando F. Croce. “Film Review: The Crowd”, Slant, (25 February 2007).    Dennis Schwartz, “CROWD, THE”, Dennis Schwartz Movie Reviews, (23 May 2007).    Mick LaSalle, “FILM REVIEW -- Vidor's Silent `Crowd' Still an Urban Masterpiece”, SFGATE, (8 November 1995, updated: 4 February 2012).    Tim Dirks, “The Crowd (1928)”, filmsite, (n.d.).    Bruce Hodsdon, “The Crowd”, Senses of Cinema, (August 2013).    The Film Sufi, “Aesthetics of Two Neorealist Films: 'Open City" and "Paisan'”, The Film Sufi, (18 November 2008). The Film Sufi, “Subjective Realism in the Italian Film”, The Film Sufi, (13 January 2009).The Film Sufi, “Expressionism in Film”, The Film Sufi, (28 June 2008).   
 Films of King Vidor:The Crowd - King Vidor (1928)
“The Red Shoes” - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1948)
The Red Shoes (1948) is a British film that is very special and almost defies comparison.  And yet when one watches the film today, one can see that the basic story is rather simple and many of the production values were conventional for its day.  Nevertheless, the film has a rich, super-real aspect to it that evokes the feelings of a vivid dream.  Of course, many films can be said to be dreamlike, but The Red Shoes has a unique ability to carry the viewer very far in this direction.  And it differs from a cartoon in that it accentuates the real rather minimizing it.The film concerns ballet production, which, itself, is an artistic medium that involves the production of dreamlike human landscapes.  But The Red Shoes goes further and blurs the distinctions between the dreamlike ballet and the production elements involved in making the ballet, and thereby it renders the whole ballet production arena into something of a dream.  This is what makes The Red Shoes so special. The story of the film is inspired by the 19th-century fairy tale “The Red Shoes” [1] (1845) written by Hans Christian Andersen.  In that story, a vain and selfish young peasant girl becomes obsessed with a fancy pair of red shoes that she has acquired, and she ignores her family and community and only wants to show off her shoes by dancing in them.  But the red shoes have a punitive will of their own, and they force the girl to keep dancing in them nonstop, which leads   finally to the girl’s destruction.  In the movie, the ballet production company’s impresario chooses to fashion and produce a new ballet, titled The Ballet of the Red Shoes, which is to be based on Andersen’s story.  As the film plays out, however, it can be seen that Andersen’s “red shoes” metaphor extends beyond this ballet to other aspects of the narrative, too.The movie’s opening titles announce that film was written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who characteristically operated as a team.(hey called themselves “The Archers”, and this was their tenth collaboration).  However, it is generally assumed that the film’s direction was primarily carried out by Powell, while the script was primarily written by Pressburger (although Keith Winter was also credited with having co-written this script).  The film also benefited from the expert craftsmanship of several top-level British filmmaking professionals – the cinematography (in Technicolor) of Jack Cardiff, the editing of Reginald Mills, the music by Brian Easdale, and the ballet choreography by Robert Helpmann (who also had a significant acting role in the film).  Despite rather limited promotion from the financially strapped Rank Organization production company, The Red Shoes was well-received when it was released, especially in the United States where it was nominated for five Academy Awards [2].  And the film’s reputation has only grown with critics and viewers ever since [3,4,5,6,7].  In particular, noted filmmaker Martin Scorsese has cited The Red Shoes as one of his very favourite films, remarking [7]:“It is a film that I continually and obsessively am drawn to.”The story of the film is relatively straightforward, and it is focussed on three principal characters:Boris Lermontov (played by Anton Walbrook) is the impresario of the world-famous Ballet Lermontov that gives performances all over Europe.  In this connection he is a strict taskmaster and totally dedicated to ensuring that his ballet company performs at the highest artistic levels.  Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) is a talented, but little-known, young female ballet dancer who wants to achieve stardom in her field.  She is willing to make whatever personal sacrifice is necessary in order achieve her dream.  Julian Craster (Marius Goring) is an ambitious and super-confident young music student and musical composer who is likewise dedicated to his personal success.Circumstances in the early stages of the film bring these three characters together, and in due time Boris Lermontov hires Julian Craster to compose music for his ballet company.At a chance meeting at a party, Boris and Victoria (“Vicky”) Page have the following exchange:    Boris (to Vicky):  “Why do you want to dance?”       Vicky:                     “Why do you want to live?”       Boris:                       “I don’t know exactly why, but I must.”    Vicky:                       “That’s my answer, too.”Vicky’s answer expressing her dedication to dance so impresses Boris that he decides to add her to his ballet troupe. As the story progresses, Boris becomes more and more impressed with Vicky, and he decides to star her in a new ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Red Shoes”, with a musical score to be composed by Julian Craster.  With the ensuing rehearsals for this ballet, Vicky and Julian have to work together, and their assertive egos clash at various times.  But the viewer is likely to anticipate that as more tome passes a romantic attraction will eventually arise.Finally, it is time for the public performance of The Ballet of the Red Shoes, and this 20-minute full-ballet sequence is the highlight of the film. It is lyrically filmed with a combination of long shots and closeups skilfully edited into a continuous sequence.  And it has a dreamlike nature to it, because there are a number of portions that could not have been physically staged, such as shots of Vicky dancing with an unfolded newspaper that magically turns into a physical dancing partner, or other shots showing Vicky watching another version of herself dancing.  It all adds up to a vision of something that is happening in Vicky’s imagination rather than something that is being performed onstage.The Ballet of the Red Shoes turns out to be a huge success, and Lermontov, feeling that his highly demanding control of Vicky and his troupe has payed off, thereafter makes Vicky the lead ballerina and Julian the chief musical composer.  However, during this time Vicky and Julian have fallen secretly in love.  When Lermontov learns about this affair, he is enraged (and possibly unconsciously jealous) – he declares that love is only a weakness and a distraction from one’s true commitments in life.  He doesn’t want his protege, Vicky, to succumb to “adolescent nonsense” and lose her chance at artistic greatness.  So he orders them to breakup.  In response, Julian leaves the Ballet Lermontov, and Vicky chooses to go with him to London, where they get married.  So Vicky has chosen love over art.But sometime later while Julian is busy rehearsing for his new opera that is to open at Covent Garden, Lermontov runs into Vicky alone and convinces her to return to Monte Carlo and perform again in The Ballet of the Red Shoes.  When Julian hears of this, he rushes to Monte Carlo and goes to Vicky’s dressing room just prior to the ballet’s opening, with Vicky already wearing her red ballet shoes, and he pleads with her to return to him.  Lermontov shows up there, too, and he tells Vicky that she must choose between being a great dancer and being a housewife. In anguish, Vicky tells Julian that, while he is the only man she loves, she must dance.  Seeing that he has apparently lost her, Julian despondently departs from the dressing room and heads for the railway station.  Vicky is now on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and she seems to succumb to the mysterious control of the red shoes she is wearing.  She runs maniacally out of the ballet theater looking for Julian, but she is headed for her own doom.  Did the red shoes force her into this climactic disaster, or was it her troubled imagination?There are several aspects of The Red Shoes’s presentation that, almost surprisingly, contribute to the film’s effectiveness.  One of them concerns narrative realism.  There are three levels of  narrative “reality” in the film: The film, itself.  Every fiction film presents to the filmgoer a basic narrative, the story, that the film is about.  The context here is a ballet production company involving three principal characters.  The ballet.  This story-within-a-story, which is told in a continuous 20-minute segment, relates to the outer story, but, of course, the narrative nature of the ballet form is particularly dreamlike and illusory.   The imagination of Victoria Page.  There are brief, disconnected segments showing unreal aspects that exist in Vicky’s imagination.As I mentioned, he film’s exaggerated production values help blur the boundaries between these levels and contribute to fashioning a narrative whole.  Thus the rich Technicolor tapestry and the over-the-top acting unify some wildly disparate pieces into a continuous dream.There are, in addition, two thematic elements in the film that stand out.  One concerns the expected role of women in society.  The two men, Boris and Julian, are well-intentioned but clearly chauvinistic towards Vicky.  They both emphatically demand that Vicky mold her entire life in accordance with their uncompromising requirements.  For her part, Vicky is entirely innocent and wants to do whatever she can to satisfy her two inflexible male dictators.  But she is faced with a choice that seems to be tinged with gender-specifics.  Boris Lermontov’s characterization of Vicky’s choice as one between choosing to be either a superstar or a housewife seems not to be too far from reality.  So the gender-related nature of the dilemma that Vicky faces can only further enhance the viewer’s sympathies for her.The other thematic element that underlies the film concerns the tension between life and art.  Many times an artist has to choose between the two.  But in this regard, it is useful to remember that over our entire lives, we are continuously fashioning narratives about ourselves, about who we are.  And each of us is trying to make this the best possible narrative under the circumstances.  This is everyone’s life’s work, and it means that we are all artists/craftspersons.  So the choice between life and art involves the choice between two different forms of artistic expression.  One choice involves all the complexity of the world, and the other choice involves the streamlined expression of a specific art form.  And Vicky chose the latter – she wanted with all her heart to physically embody the abstract perfection