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Foxtrot? The cast and script save an very peculiar movie.
I've seen a lot of Peter O'Toole's movies, but never heard of this one. Charlotte Rampling? One of my favorites, she became more beautiful as she grew older. Here she's fairly young. And Max Von Sydow? How could one ignore this stellar cast so let's plunge in. A strange alternative reality about aristocrats marooned on an island to escape the war in Europe. Costumes are so outlandish they overshadow the actors at first. But gradually you realize the script is somewhat intelligent, a surprise. And the cast eventually overcomes the absurd premise and some real emotions emerge, again a surprise. So in the end the cream rises to the top, the actors make the best of what must have been a strange interlude in their professional lives and Foxtrot ends up being a somewhat fascinating sleeper. I would love to hear the story of the making of this movie, I have a feeling that narrative would be the real winner.
The brilliance of FARGO
Fargo the series is extraordinary in how convincingly it blends the ordinary with the mythological. Remarkably it makes little effort to hide its flaws and they are many when exposed to the light of rational analysis. Fargo is like a brilliant Persian rug which is so worn you can see the floor in places but the worn parts only seem to enhance the beauty of the whole.
Characters are wonderfully developed; they are people you could meet on the street at any time and the acting is of such sterling quality that even movie stars like Ewan McGregor manage to convince instead of just being variations of their real personas. The women are strong; the villains are evil and complex, particularly one of the most fearful I've ever seen, M.V. Varga as played by the brilliant actor David Thewlis in season 3.
Slimy Thewlis is repulsive and he knows it. He uses your disgust like a weapon. You want to wipe your hands when he's in the room and when he's gone, a stench lingers even though it's television not smellovision. He has an amazing mouth with prehensile lips. Where another actor might use his body or his hands to shape a character, Thewlis uses his lips which are not unlike the end of an elephant's trunk, always twitching, always spouting junk philosophy or dubious biblical quotes, in an accent you might find in the backroom of an East London pub. Bravo, Mr. Thewlis and if I had a bouquet I'd throw it up on the stage.
All the Fargos are classics from the film through the three series of the TV show.
Important issues marred by an academic script
A film about Jesuit evangelizing in 17th century Japan. It raises all the right questions about faith, religion and culture-clashes but thanks to the film's ineptness these issues remain inert.
A big problem is the script, attributed to Scorsese, which apparently went through many re-writes, usually not a sign the words will leap off the paper, or in this case, the film. The dialogue seems academic, a not very imaginative re-creation of the way priests might talk in the 17th century. Instead of an experience we get a dissertation.
And then there's the language problem. The priests are Portuguese but they speak in English. As do the Japanese although it is unlikely they would know English, or more to the point, Portuguese. Subtitles with people actually speaking their native languages would have made the film seem more realistic.
The other problem is casting Andrew Garfield as the lead. Utterly unconvincing. Liam Neeson is better but the best acting goes to the Japanese, especially the man who prosecuted the priests, the 'inquisitor' played by Issey Ogata.
Moartea domnului Lãzãrescu (2005)
depressing and excruciating; a cinema-verite work of art.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu has been described as "a black comedy". It is dark but there's nothing funny about an old man's trip through the 8th circle of hell represented by Romania's socialized health system. We're with him every excruciating second as a platoon of nurses and doctors pass the buck on his care until it is too late. A real heroine is an ambulance nurse who suffers every indignity along with the old man. Her matter-of fact exit after it is clear he won't survive is heartbreaking; just another day in an overburdened health system.
I wouldn't advise anyone over 50 to see this film. It is tediously long and casts a cool eye on all that is depressing about getting old. Just one example: the doctors and nurses almost without exception upbraid the old man for his drinking, one reason they were careless in their assessments of his condition.The medical consensus is that he was just an old drunk who refused to take care of himself. Temperance zeal is apparently alive and well in Romania.
This is one of those movies which you suffer through but it lingers long after the last credits roll. So opposite the movies you enjoy while viewing but forget the moment you leave the theater.
House of Cards (2013)
A brilliant turn around
I thought season four was a bit of a drag and wasn't looking forward to season five. But I was very surprised. Season five has been a triumphant return to form. The characters are well drawn, the writing's sharp, the acting equally so, and the plots ever more Machiavellan. And believable, this show is beginning to seem like a very real portrait of politics in my home town, Washington DC. But maybe the main reason for this season's brilliance is Kevin Spacey. He has really grown into the role. Older, heavier, as hunched as Nixon, and less unctuous than before, he radiates menace at every turn. I was wondering if there'd be a season six but have no doubt now after seeing the ending of five.
Twin Peaks (2017)
No Going HOme Again
Proof that you can't go home again. Like so many I was enthralled by the original Twin Peaks because the deadpan reality of that little town in the pines contrasted so comically with the strange inventions of David Lynch's mind. It was such a welcome reprise from the stifling mediocrity of most TV fiction in those days And then there was the beautiful Laura Palmer; we mourned her death along with the lost James. In The Return we're asked to the feel the death of a woman who is attached to a torso that belongs to someone else. Horror instead of grief.
in years since the powerful influence of Twin Peaks spread throughout the visual world, and when Walk With Fire came out it seemed more a parody than a continuation. And now The Return and it takes place almost all inside the deranged imagination of David Lynch and the outside world of Washington State rarely surfaces. One reviewer said he was satisfied letting surreal images wash over him; in other words, it was art and didn't have to make sense.
It may be art but its also self-indulgent in the way that experimental film and video often is. Far more effective for me is the surreal oddness of Twin Peaks successors like Fargo, the series in which the real world is more unsettling than fantasy, so much so that when a flying saucer descends in the middle of a gunfight we accept it as something that could have happened.
Three episodes in and I'm ready to leave The Return. There's too many other good things I'd rather watch like the profoundly sad Keepers on Netflix which proves that evil in the real world is more subtle and insidious than fictional evil.
I Love Dick (2016)
I Love Dick starting with its wink-wink title, rubs its fingers together in your face.
I didn't much care for I Love Dick. Great writing, superb photography, tour-de-force acting - what's not to like? For one thing I couldn't stand the husband and wife - I shudder to imagine that at my next art event I might find myself sitting next to that duo at dinner. I'm sorry, you have to have some empathy for the main characters even if they are diabolically evil. We loved Tony Soprano; we loved the Chicken Man in Breaking Bad. I also thought Kevin Bacon was miscast. He was the opposite of charismatic, and his love scenes seemed robotic instead of comedic.
But those are minor issues. What I viscerally disliked about I Love Dick was its snide cynicism. The creators not only know what buttons to push, they revel in their knowledge. Not only do they manipulate you they make sure you know you're being manipulated. Like Transparent which I also didn't like, they trot out every trendy social issue and eviscerate whatever's meaningful about those issues with their pandering. This kind of sour cynicism lurking beneath a bright veneer of virtuoso craft is the bane of many an American visual production. You notice it when you see a foreign film or video comparable in quality. Real values emerge; instead of cynicism you get sincerity and a passionate belief in the validity of what they are attempting. Last on their list is the potential audience, the numbers, or the box office and it shows. And that is also true of the very best American 'extended film' videos like The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, True Detective and Fargo. These series are cinematic art at its best. They say important things about the human condition. For all their surface brilliance I love Dick and Transparent are mostly concerned with profit and manipulation. I Love Dick starting with its wink-wink title, rubs its fingers together in your face.
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Summary: very watchable but Tarzan is still looking for a definitive movie worthy of Edgar Rice Borroughs.
Wonderful production values consistent with HBO projects and script was interesting ( if implausible) and direction kept you watching. Casting was generally superb. Margot Robbie was a convincing and beautiful Jane and Christoph Walz was his usual urbanely villainous self although he's in danger of being typecast having played the same role in his last three or four films. .But the fatal flaw in the casting was Tarzan himself. Having a great body wasn't enough for me; Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan was too wooden an actor with a generally inexpressive face. Yes, he looked like an aristocrat but not like Tarzan. Imagine a young Sean Connery in the role - perfect. Tom Hardy nearly made the part and too bad he didn't. Did you ask yourself how did an ape man manage to shave in the jungle? Or more to the point, why would he? OK, Johnny Weismuller was beardless and so were all the other cinematic Tarzans but still a scruffy beard would have been more realistic.
Woefully unfunny comedy
Enticed by the New Yorker's sadly misplaced citation as one of the best shows on TV, I watched episode one of Fleabag much to my regret. I saw a lanky toothy young woman take great pride in being a loser who delights in her contrariness. I didn't find her eccentric behavior very delightful, worse yet, I didn't find it funny. Fleabag is supposed to be a comedy yet I didn't laugh once during the hour. Instead of laughing I was mostly wincing. After that ordeal, I decided to catch up on a show that I had missed during its entire seven year run, mostly because of my antipathy to network shows and commercials, and that is or was, 30 Rock. 30 Rock did what comedies are supposed to do: it made me laugh, not once, but frequently. And that was just in the first five minutes. It was all the things Fleabag isn't: witty, surprising and above all, funny. I bet the creators of Fleabag wish they had Tina Fey on their side. Sadly, they don't.
Boyhood: The 12 Year Project (2015)
Obviously Boyhood is a tour-de-force of time travel through a young man's life and it deserves the plaudits it's garnered. My one gripe is not just with this one film but with many other American films and TV series and that is their concentration on suburbia as the ideal milieu for the American Family, a family that is almost always white, and a blondish white at that. The interiors of their houses are generically tasteful and bland as if furnished by real estate brokers who have a tendency to refer to interiors as "sets". The ideal family invariably consists of a harried Dad, a wise mother, and bratty children who repeatedly entertain the audience with their disrespectful and profane repartee. Plots consist of how outside disruptive forces ( aliens; zombies; drugs) threaten this sanctified social fabric. One understands the young American directors making films these days were nourished on TV sit-coms like Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch but one still wishes they would look outside the bubble more often. All that said, it must acknowledged that many of these movies ( TV series these days are extended films) are brilliant despite their somewhat generic sub-texts of idealized middle-class life. Breaking Bad and Mad Men come to mind. And joining their ranks is Boyhood which gently moves through decades as if they are hours instead of years. Writing, direction and acting are all superb and Patricia Arquette deserves an Oscar for her performance. Despite the convincing script, and the bravura performance of a director who spent years making this film, the coming-of-age experiences are somewhat predictable, especially the ending. One wonders how the vast audience who don't share the values of a suburban middle-class life react when seeing Boyhood. Will the boats heading for America become even more overloaded or will it cause the embracing of a less materialistic dream?