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8/10
VR cinema's most socially conscious thing yet
13 October 2016
VR cinema is still in its infancy, dominated by game programmers and music videos. This is a rare and interesting exception, by a Panamanian-American woman of color. You literally go on a drive with some people in a black neighborhood of LA in the back seat of their convertible, meet friends, stop and chat with them etc. The plot overall is not 100% peaceful and it confronts a difficult reality. Technically there are a few glitches in the form of visible seams and a few unresolved focal points. But generally this is very much a worthwhile product and I hope to see more VR movies (or "experiences" as they call them) like this in the future. VR really puts you into the action and that can be an excellent tool for this type of storytelling.
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4/10
More Travelogue than Tour-de-Force
24 September 2014
I have to say that I did not learn very much from this movie. Oh, it's beautifully shot all right. And you do get to see grape vines, barrels, wineries, fermentation, bottling, pruning, planting, swirling, sniffing, sampling, and much else. But it's all done in a very atmospheric rather than informative way. "Pesticides are used less and less," it says (or something like that) without going into how much and why. We see a vine being planted, but no mention of root grafting. No discussion of clones. We learn that every wine tasted different, but in what ways? If you want to learn more of the truth about wine making, get Mondovino. If you want a nice pleasant and well-scented bath in a romantic region, get this movie.
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Tropicália (2012)
8/10
An extremely valuable movie
14 July 2014
This film does exactly what a documentary should do: Get you close to the subject. In this case, it's the Tropicalia movement of the late 60s in Brazilian music, which is (I think) one of the more important manifestations of popular culture in the world. The film primarily focuses, year by year, on the two main players: Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. It traces the background of the movement and how it rebelled against both leftist political song and mindless pop to create a new Brazilian type of popular music. It moves quickly, with lots of intercutting. You need to read the subtitles carefully if you don't know Portuguese. You also need to something about who the major people are, in advance, because the director seems to expect a certain level of prior knowledge about people such as Tom Ze, Gal Costa, Helio Oiticica, Rogerio Duarte, and a few others. The film sticks pretty closely to chronology, which helps. There is a also great deal of priceless footage of the musical acts and the controversy that they caused. After the two main players a forced into exile, the film slows down a lot, but by then you have already learned a tremendous amount. Overall excellent.
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7/10
Good as far as it goes
31 March 2014
This film is a personal product, almost an experimental film in itself. It starts off with a bit of self-promotion which is best forgotten because what comes later is better. It does not pretend to be "The" history of Experimental film (only "a history"), fortunately, and on that basis it is somewhat of a success. It focuses on the NY circle around the Film-Makers Cooperative, founded by the Mekas brothers. The director Pip Chodorov had personal access to lots of the creators featured here, such as Hans Richter, Stan Brakahge, Ken Jacobs, and several others. We see lots of footage, intermixed with interviews with selected folks. So yes it's good, and worth a look. However, lots and lots of creators are left out of this or given very short treatment: Kenneth Anger, Oscar Fischinger, Fernand Leger, Bruce Conner, Mary Ellen Bute, Larry Jordan, and more. So it could have been more expansive. As long as you know that going in, you are fine. See this and enjoy it.
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8/10
Great for F1 fans
28 January 2014
This is a review of the 2012 version of this movie: It's great! If you know who Jackie Stewart is, and have a sense of his importance in the history of auto racing, you will totally enjoy this pic, because he talks in great detail about lots of aspects of F1 auto racing. There is a memorable sequence when he sits across a breakfast table with Polanski and discusses how to treat a motor car that is positively spiritual. We get to see in lots of detail the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix, including practice laps, driver shots, glamour hubbub, and the race itself from Stewart's viewpoint. We also see brief glimpses of various other competitors, famous drivers from the past (a fab moment with Fangio), and the Monaco Royalty giving out the prizes. Mostly done with hand-held, and pretty riveting for all that.

Then, in a final sequence shot in 2011, Stewart and Polanski get together again for a chat about how racing has changed. (And this is not a spoiler because the pic is a documentary!) Lots of discussion of safety, some footage of bad crashes, Stewart discusses his (lack of) formal education, in sum: 2 interesting oldsters reminiscing. In the rather slim genre of Formula 1 movies, this pic is among the best.
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Johnny Staccato: Night of Jeopardy (1960)
Season 1, Episode 19
9/10
An impressive noir essay
10 January 2013
This is maybe the best episode of Johnny Staccato, the Jazz Detective. A tremendously dark story line about recovering a package before the criminals execute innocent people. It's all filmed in almost total darkness, and the action moves forward relentlessly. Johnny is caught up, innocently of course, in a counterfeit scheme and the thugs are after him. Every shot of this movie is milked for the most expressive content possible, with close-ups, shadows, clever compositions, and fast editing in a snappy, jargon-laden script. Jazz becomes both the rhythm of the tension and the refuge for the hunted. The series up to now was becoming a bit of a snoozer, but this one had me on the edge of my seat. Very advanced cinematography for its time on TV. Cassavetes himself directed it (which is far from a coincidence). I wonder if this show was too much for TV audiences of the day; such intensity could explain the show's cancellation after just one season. Compared with its forebear, Peter Gunn, which this show imitates, this episode transcends its model to an unprecedented degree.
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Johnny Staccato: The Naked Truth (1959)
Season 1, Episode 1
8/10
A claustrophobic noir
17 December 2012
Interesting show. Cassavetes plays a hyperactive, high-strung jazz pianist who does good deeds on the side. In the premier show, he's engaged by a singer's manager ("Senator" Bly, based loosely on Presley's "Colonel" Tom Parker) to prevent a scandal sheet from publishing a damaging story about his charge (a youthful Michael Landon as a crooner). It has lots of gritty, noir shots of New York City (even though the interior shots were taped in LA). A couple of nice jazz tunes, played by some "cats" of the day. Ruta Lee, better known for the years she put in as a plug-in celebrity on various TV game shows, plays a flirtatious secretary. Only a half-hour show, the action is jammed in and it all ends rather quickly.
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Johnny Staccato: Evil (1959)
Season 1, Episode 7
8/10
An intense essay
17 December 2012
One of the more tightly wound episodes of the series, and sure enough, Cassavetes directed it. Also unusual among the episodes, there's no jazz here but rather gospel music. The show amounts to an exposé of fraudulent evangelists who take careless people's money. There are several memorable touches: The first line comes from the evangelist, in full face, close up: "Evil comes to you through your television sets." Quite a comment from a TV show. And the line is spoken by Alexander Scourby, one of the most famous voice-over artists in 1960s television. Another sparkling (if briefer) role is character-actor Elisha Cook as a follower. This series as a whole is quite impassioned and ardent; this accounts for its short life on network TV. This episode is one of the more impassioned of all.
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2/10
Should not have been made
17 July 2012
Big problems here. As others have pointed out, this film started out as a Charlie Chan film, but he proved unavailable, so the studio rewrote it as a Mr. Moto caper; it even has Chan's "No. 1 Son" in a supporting role. Watching the picture, it's very easy to imagine Charlie Chan doing and saying everything that Mr. Moto says. This film lacks the martial arts and international intrigue of the better Mr. Moto titles, thus it is not a Mr. Moto film. If you are looking for a real Mr. Moto film, get a different movie. This one is a Charlie Chan movie, starring Mr. Moto. Most unfortunate. Charlie Chan is Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto is Mr. Moto; this film blurs the distinctions and should be shunned by all lovers of either detective.
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Route 66: Black November (1960)
Season 1, Episode 1
7/10
A harbinger of the 60s
7 May 2012
The Route 66 show seems to have had the following theme: Two flashy young guys in a flashy new car go around spreading 1960s enlightenment and values to the darker corners of America. And it's not an easy task: Each episode requires a couple of fistfights. In tonight's episode, the two find themselves stranded in a deeply rural Southern town, contending with various kinds of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. The episode is filmed in overwhelming darkness, beyond film noir. Its cultural oppositions seem somewhat pat today, but back then this show represented novelty. Nice score by Nelson Riddle. The show also has interesting early appearances by George Kennedy and Keir Dullea.
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El candidato (1959)
8/10
Totally worth seeing
14 March 2012
I have to disagree with the other reviewers who want to see humor in this movie, because there is no way that it is funny. It's a piece of social critique, especially of the aristocracy and how they responded to the threat of Peronism. The film shows the establishment party of Torres Ahumada to be absolutely immobilized by the populist program of Bazán (whose name sounds unmistakably like Perón). Torres Ahumada could be a credible candidate because of his past adherence to principles, but his underlings can't resist engaging in corruption. Moreover, Torres Ahumada is dull dull dull. The filmmaker wanted to show how the Argentine establishment was complicit in the rise of Perón, an important message.
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A report on the Natural Wine movement
23 September 2011
An interesting picture, loaded with interviews with 10 Calif. natural winemakers. These people are devoted to minimal intervention in the vineyard, the winery, and the bottle: No pesticides, no weeding, no additives, no treatments, and minimal sulfur. The goal is to let the vineyard and the grape and the location speak in your glass. The problem that this movie also unearths is that up to now, these expressions can't be located in a blind tasting. The landscape doesn't matter yet, though maybe it will in the future when they get better at it. Nobody in the movie stands up for yeast inoculations, fertilizer, oxygenation, or any other common treatment; including such viewpoints would have made this a more polemical and probably more interesting movie. But as it is, it's definitely worth a look if you are a wine geek or you would like to become one.
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Dar la cara (1962)
Fascinating coming-of-age picture
16 August 2011
The film tracks the stories of 3 young Argentine men--army buddies who are discharged at the same time--who each confront adult decisions for the first time in life: a bicyclist who is confronted with a gangster-like race promoter; a university student who favors certain reforms; and a son of a wealthy film producer who wants to make more personal movies. The title means "Face It," and that's what they do: How they navigate their situations, and how they get along with each other, make up the plot. It sounds boring, I know, but it's well done, with brisk editing and good acting, especially from Leonardo Favio as the bicyclist. The jazzy score is by Leandro "Gato" Barbieri in a very early outing. There are also lots of shots of Buenos Aires at the time. Totally worth seeing.
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8/10
A worthy piece of social critique
3 July 2011
Banned for two years by censorship, this movie is a pretty acute critique of Argentine middle-class society. It's based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, but placed in a Buenos Aires contemporary setting. We get to see social status panic, materialism, and machismo all sent up in an ironic-objective style that is good for many understated and knowing chuckles. And one more thing: anytime anyone reads the newspaper in this movie (which is far more often than you might think necessary) the headlines blare news about military coups and confrontations. No wonder they censored this movie. See it and enjoy it.
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4/10
A Foul Piece of Corporate Propaganda
13 June 2011
This work was produced by the Shell Oil Company to help make Argentines feel good about the country's rich natural resources. So we see many scenes of cattle ranches, mining, industry, productivity everywhere in the "Abundant Land" of the title. Shell was one of the foreign companies allowed in to drill for oil, and the presence of those companies was extremely divisive. So the film is an attempt to smooth things over. Right at the time of its premiere in late March 1963, rival military factions were literally battling in the streets over the future role of Peronism in the country. It's in color and lasts 75 minutes. It was shown for free in theaters, and that's about what it is worth: nothing.
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7/10
Boring, but it probably needed to be
12 June 2011
Not much happens in this film, which is about the disaffected lives of young people in Argentina in the early 60s. They have enough money, but they can't get no satisfaction if you know what I mean. The strongest statement comes from Roberto, a TV producer, who complains that his bosses won't let him do what he wants; they call him too young and rebellious. The young people in this film are all rebellious in one way or another, but mostly they are stifled by the social system. So they live somewhat dissolute and listless lives. Which makes for a somewhat boring movie, but probably it had to be that way. Overall, it's interesting.
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Plata dulce (1982)
7/10
Good dose of social critique from Ayala.
6 March 2011
The story of two brothers-in-law who have a small furniture business. The elder gets seduced by fast international capital and for soon earns piles of cash, while the other rejects the offer and tries to keep the humble shop going. This is a critique of international capitalism which was then in its infancy. Japanese businessmen walk through the shop. We hear a brief lecture by an American (in English) about how free markets make free people. The elder partner revolutionizes his lifestyle. (An interesting sidelight is the use that director Ayala makes of modern Argentine abstract art by Rogelio Polesello, Enio Iommi, Gregorio Vardánega and others as a backdrop for high finance schemes.) The events are set in 1978, when Argentina won the World Cup and people often said "God must be Argentine." The film thoughtfully analyzes that proposition, at least as far as it involves business culture. For an American audience it drags a bit, but it's a brave movie, very much in the critical tradition of Fernando Ayala. Worth seeing.
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8/10
A grade-B masterpiece
3 February 2011
Oh, this film has flaws all right: Sloppy edits, phony day-for-night, zero budget, and a lot of bad acting. The ending is a bit syrupy as well. But it takes up fascinating questions and plunges headlong into the dark side of American racism, showing KKK meetings, burning crosses, and violence. It treatment of the race question reminds me of the Roger Korman film "The Outsider," in which William Shatner plays a white racist, but in this case a light-skinned black man goes under cover to join the ranks of prejudice. This film's combination of thematic boldness and slipshod execution makes it wonderfully horrible. Or horribly wonderful, I can't figure out which.
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Paula cautiva (1964)
8/10
Nice piece of social criticism
7 July 2010
A very interesting film. Based on the story of an Argentine-born official who returns to his country for a visit after a long absence in the USA. The principal theme of the film is the current (1963) decadence of Argentina: Many scenes are set on an estancia (estate) in the country that is owned by the descendant of an old wealthy family. His ancestors once hosted the Prince of Wales, but now he is reduced to entertaining groups of American tourists who come for "authentic" gaucho dances. His granddaughter, the Paula of the title, does her part by working for an "escort service." Meanwhile, Argentina modernizes at a furious rate by importing foreign capital as instability rocks the culture. We see clashes between military factions and threats of a coup in the air. There are many critical comments about American tourists, and several good shots of urban Buenos Aires. Music is by the young Astor Piazzola, who gets a few moments of screen time playing his bandoneon. A bit slow in the editing, and more stagy than cinematic, but very much worth watching.
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8/10
A romance-thriller based on real events
18 June 2010
This film is based on a daring payroll robbery that took place in Buenos Aires on 29 August 1963. A group of right-wing guerrillas hijacked an ambulance and used it to raid the payroll office of a large hospital. Total take was about US$100,000, a huge amount for the time. The film's main character is a principal operative in this caper and others; he's a lost soul who worships Hitler. Opposite him is Mirtha Legrand, neglected housewife of a wealthy landowner. She falls for him even as she rejects his tendency to violence. Alfredo Alcon smolders in the starring role. He burns with a misplaced but believable ire. The film is badly acted at times by the supporting cast, but the romance is believable and it builds to a tense climax. The allegory here is of the politics of Juan Peron; the screenplay is by noted anti-Peronist authors. The film rather courageously delves into the darker aspects of Argentine politics of that time, weighing the worth of commitments that lead to violence. Music is by a young Astor Piazzola.
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The Boss (1958)
7/10
A transparent allegory on the Juan Peron regime
26 March 2010
Here we have a film about a gang of five larcenists and swindlers who carry off various enrichment schemes under the leadership of "El Jefe," The Chief. The film opens as they are all at the police station under arrest. They nudge each other as they await interrogation, secure in the knowledge that as soon as El Jefe arrives, he will get them all off somehow. Naturally this film could not have been made during the Peron years, but just 3 years after his fall, here it is. The script is by David Vinas, an leftist anti-Peronist novelist. At one point in the film a woman asks El Jefe how he is able to command the unquestioning allegiance of his gang. He replies: "I take care of them. I snap my fingers, and they are at my beck and call. You have to study them, know their likes & dislikes, their little quirks, their resentments, and what they hope for. I give to them, and they give to me. And they end up wanting just what I want." We do not learn much about Peronism from this film, but we learn a lot about how Peron's detractors regarded him.
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4/10
New Wave Hits Argentine Beach Town: Results Mixed, Damage Minor
25 March 2010
This film seems longer than its 1:16 running time, because over most of its length we see only upper-middle-class Argentines speaking in monotones about their deep discontent. Most of the action in this nearly plot-free pic takes place at the beach-side resort of Villa Gesell. We see fisticuffs over a girl, but little else happens. As in the French New Wave, talking is supposed to carry this movie along. There are a few treats and surprises: One shot has a couple on a see-saw, alternately popping up into the frame as they narrate their angst. There are several diverse musical selections at party and club scenes; incorporating these was probably a good idea to take a break from all that inner churning. There's a little moment of fleeting nudity, rare & bold for an Argentine pic of this date. Kuhn likely intended this as a piece of social criticism, but he seems too enthralled with his bored characters to really bring this off. While the resulting movie was advanced for Argentina at the time, for most of us today I suspect that it's a curiosity.
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8/10
Murúas 2d piece of social realism
25 March 2010
Lautaro Murúa is one of Argentina's best-known actors, and this is his second feature as director. This movie was influenced by Film Noir, the French new wave, and neo-realism; which makes an interesting cocktail. Set in the Buenos Aires of the early 60s, it tells the story of a down-and-outer who has aspirations of stardom, rather like the Dustin Hoffman character in Midnight Cowboy of several years later. "Gardelito" thinks of himself as a great but undiscovered singer who has to resort to certain shady dealings to get by while he waits for his big break. The overall mood is ominous & dark, a criticism of the social status picture of Buenos Aires in those days. You see his ultimate fate in the first scene and that sets the tone for what follows. It's well acted, with a musical score that borders on the avant-garde. A tense and brooding pic, definitely watchable.
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8/10
An allegory of political corruption
24 March 2010
The title of the movie is usually translated "A Bully in 1900" but more accurate would be "A Thug from 1900." It is based on a play by one of Argentina's most important playwrights, who also collaborated on this screenplay adaptation. The story concerns a political thug who carries out dirty tricks for one of Argentina's major political parties (which is not named). The film shows Argentine politics as driven by aristocratic cliques who have no real regard for democracy. Clearly, director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson intended the film as an allegory of his own times, when the country had elections but the Peronist party was outlawed. Alfredo Alcón seethes with intensity in the title role. The overall style is dark, dramatic, and expressive. A gripping picture, likely to be of even more interest to folks from Argentina.
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Circe (1964)
7/10
An interesting pic
14 March 2010
Lots of talking in this movie. A quite sexist premise too: the boyfriends of a certain woman all die. But when it's time for existentialism, this pic has it. Well-dressed couples debate the meaning of relationships; the value of openness; the desirability of commitment. A man gets interested in the woman whose boyfriends have died, and more discussions ensue. Their parents enter the fray. Influenced by the French New Wave, but it's filmed in Buenos Aires, has some street scenes. Based on a story by Cortazar, which is all to the good. Worth seeing, because you can get into the zone of this movie and it will carry you along.
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