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Based on the play "The Time of the Cuckoo" by Arthur Laurents: Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) is a single, middle-aged American woman travelling on her own in Venice - her first trip ever to Europe. While there, she is wooed by a local merchant, Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi).
"Summertime" is one of the more frank films of the 1950s that worked within the restrictions of that time and spoke as frankly about contemporary life as it possibly could. "Rear Window" is another fine example. It is pleasantly rare for a movie to focus on a woman in her late forties as a romantic lead as she learns more about herself, let alone have her travel solo. Adding further to the plus points is that Jane is not of elitist, upper-class means. Instead, she's a working gal ("a fancy secretary") from Akron, Ohio.
Speaking of the above, it's also worth noting that Hepburn, like Grace Kelly, was born into a well-off family and often played women of similar upper-class status. While she played such roles superbly, it is great to see her playing off type in "Summertime". This is one of her best performances (yes, that's obviously saying a lot). In silence, her character shows so much in her face as she experiences the feelings of sadness and 'missing out' when she sees happy couples frolicking about.
In a cheeky way, this film might be re-titled "The American Prude Meets the Italian Sensualist". Jane is very cautious and reluctant toward Renato's attention at the start no matter how gentlemanly he is. Even as their connection progresses, Jane's feelings are often mixed even though she clearly has feelings for Renato. Here, the viewer would yearn to know more of her background and past where there is little doubt that puritanical attitudes exist. It is to the film's (and Hepburn's) credit that more information is not revealed leaving the viewer to speculate much as we would in real life in the presence of someone who is both interesting and reserved.
Director David Lean has created a magnificent travelogue as an addition to this great film. The on-location shooting pays off as the background sights are exhilarating. He and screenwriter H.E. Bates made clever choices in how to begin and end the film. The film begins with Jane's arrival by train and finishes with her departure by the same mode of transportation. This gives the viewer the sensation of having been on the trip with her. It can also remind the viewer of one's very first special trip in which one felt changed by the end of it. The conclusion of "Summertime" is so emotionally uplifting and the perfect summary of all that preceded it, that a perfect rating is in order.
RATING: 10 / 10
Directing by David Lean
Acting by Katharine Hepburn
Cinematography by Jack Hildyard
Jiang hu er nü (2018)
An interesting main character
Qiao (Zhao Tao) lives in a mining town in the Chinese province of Shanxi. Her boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan) is a mob boss. As years go by, crime life brings consequences to their lives - individually and as a couple.
Though the film is long at two and a quarter hours, it is rarely dull. The two lead performers, especially Zhao, are engaging as are the occasional rural landscapes especially the ones captured by train travel.
The middle sequence is the most fascinating. When Qiao is on a mission in a strange place, she might act in terrible ways but it is still tempting to root for her; she's not much different from the corruption that surrounds her.
Overall, "Ash Is Purest White" is a fascinating journey albeit a cynical one that begins in 2001 and finishes seventeen years later. Whether it's taking place in a corrupt small town, a prison, or a chaotic travel experience, it is always intriguing in a mostly quiet way. - dbamateurcritic
A well made film on a small budget
Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) are teenagers in an unnamed small town in Ontario. As they are living lives at the lower end of the social order , they work toward a goal to move away - maybe New York, maybe western Canada. Complications happen along the way.
For a small-scale film, the characterizations are impressive. Other small roles stand out as well especially members of Lou's family including her troubled mother (Tamara Leclair) and her younger brother (Callum Thompson) who is showing early signs of being gay or transgender.
Kurimsky stands out as someone who has just had enough of her circumstances and does as much as she can to go beyond them. Even when Lou's actions go too far, it's still tempting to cheer for her regardless.
Sometimes, "Firecrackers" is marred by occasional mumbling. There is also an incident near the end that was just too predictable. But otherwise, writer/director Jasmin Mozaffari has created a story in which each moment (aside from the one mentioned) is unpredictable. It has a flow that is as wild as the people involved in it.
Todos lo saben (2018)
Along with her young son and daughter, Laura (Penelope Cruz) is arriving from her current home in Buenos Aires to her old family home outside Madrid for her sister's wedding. Later, after a crime is committed, many past secrets of the extended family and others in the community are raised to the surface. One of the key players is Paco (Javier Bardem), a friend of the family who owns a nearby winery that the family used to own.
Director/writer Asghar Farhadi does great work at setting the stage for a serious change of mood. At the beginning, everybody is so happy to see each other for the special family event. At the party, the joy continues in ways that many viewers expect of life-loving Spaniards and other southern Europeans. This set-up is successful as it adds more to the impact once the crime is known and the collective mood is radically changed.
The first three-quarters of the film are filled with the right amount of passion, tension, and mystery. If only Farhadi (a brilliant film-maker otherwise) knew when to stop and condense. The movie just seems too long after a certain point. Other flaws exist as well.
A seemingly minor character ends up having more impact than expected. This character was not developed enough. Also, the film's title refers to a certain fact that is well-known among the characters and quietly understood. It was actually not much of a surprise once it was revealed.
It's easy to compare "Everybody Knows" with one of Farhadi's brilliant films of the past decade, "The Salesman" (other great films being "A Separation" and "The Past"). Each film begins with a crime that the main characters are trying desperately to solve on their own. The revelation in "The Salesman" is thrilling and shocking; the revelation in "Everybody Knows" less so.
Despite these complaints, "Everybody Knows" is still a rather good film. It engages for the most part and has fine performances overall. In addition to Cruz and Bardem, Barbara Lennie draws attention as Paco's wife - a woman who wisely sees trouble growing and does all she can to stop it even if she can't. The film also has a mysterious conclusion that gives the viewer a desire to see what would happen next if it had been allowed to continue.
Gone Girl (2014)
The film begins on the day of the fifth wedding anniversary of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike), a not-so-happily married couple who live in a small town in Missouri . On that day, Amy is discovered to be missing after a home break-in. During the investigation, there is evidence that Nick might be responsible for Amy's disappearance.
For the most part, "Gone Girl" is superb as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. This is not surprising considering the director is David Fincher who did so well with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008) and especially with "The Social Network" (2010). His cast is very good. Affleck is great as the film's anchor; Pike shows superior skills in a way I won't mention here in order to avoid spoilers. The screenplay, by Gillian Flynn (based on her novel) has many fascinating twists and turns especially a plot device borrowed from the classic "Vertigo" (1958): bringing the audience up to speed midway through the movie.
While "Gone Girl" had the potential to be a great movie, it is sadly marred by an ending that is unsatisfying and disappointing. Fiction is allowed some distance from real life but this film takes too many liberties to the point of being far-fetched. Also, in the portrayal of the rushed presumption of guilt on men who are accused of mistreating women, the viewer is left with a biased lack of balance in this ongoing and necessary debate. - dbamateurcritic
Anne Dorval leads a great cast
In a Montreal suburb, a single mother with financial and employment difficulties reunites with her violent teenage son who is being released from a detention centre. More chaos ensues.
It would be very tempting to call this film a "kitchen sink drama". There are many explosive scenes which are cathartic. Most films would have only a few such scenes, maybe only one at the climactic finale. While the catharsis might seem too much, every one of those scenes works well because of the great talent of director Xavier Dolan and his equally talented cast.
There are thankfully lighter scenes that show the love in the dysfunctional family and their ability to have fun especially as they are joined by a mysterious neighbour across the street, Kyla, who seems to have her own troubles. Her troubles seem lessened as she bonds with the unusual mother-son duo. Kyla's situation seems a bit too mysterious at times. As a subplot, it could have used a few hints to tap viewers further into the reasons why she prefers the family across the street to her own.
The film's greatest strengths are two scenes near the end. One is the perfectly executed climactic scene. The other is the one that follows - a very melancholy scene of transition with which most viewers could sadly identify.
As mentioned, Dolan has directed a superb cast. As the troubled teenager, Antoine Olivier Pilon has the perfect balance of rage and vulnerability. As the neighbour Kyla, Suzanne Clément is very believable as someone facing change and loosening up especially when she has fits of uncontrollable laughter. As the mother, Anne Dorval gives Dolan another superb performance as she did with "I Killed My Mother" (2009). Her range in the final two pivotal scenes display true brilliance. - dbamateurcritic
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Performance by Anne Dorval
Love Is Strange (2014)
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a New York couple who get married after having lived together for nearly forty years. Shortly after the wedding, they are hit with a situation that causes them to temporarily live apart. Ben moves in with his nephew who has a young family; George moves in with a younger gay couple who are friends.
"Love is Strange" is a wonderful update to the brilliant " Make Way for Tomorrow" (1937), a rare movie that was made during the Depression and actually used the Depression as part of its storyline.
Director Ira Sachs does a great job in conveying mood throughout this film. In Ben's new domestic setting, much tension is exposed with a powerful subtlety by the actors. Ben is having his own difficulties while his presence is exacerbating the usual problems that a young family faces with a pre-teenage son. Sachs also makes great use of classical piano pieces as part of the soundtrack creating a sweetness that is very touching.
A couple of major plot points are predictable but the most important one is exposed uniquely as it takes place off-screen and the viewers learn of the event many days after it has taken place. This technique is quite effective.
The film is filled with many sweet moments such as George conversing with a young gay man who shares about his fading relationship that is coming to an end. Other moments include the nostalgia for older ways of enjoying the arts and entertainment: George does not share the enthusiasm of a younger friend about modern technology and Netfilx while Ben shows great enthusiasm about seeing an old movie on a big screen in a theatre. The most beautiful moment of the movie is when the couple go out to a gay bar and converse about their lives, continuing their conversation as they walk in a deserted Greenwich Village street late at night. The sweetness and poignancy of this scene are lingering.
Lithgow and Molina are superb in their performances easily convincing the audience that they truly are a couple who have been intimate for decades. Among the supporting performances, the best include Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan as the mother and son of the household where Ben resides.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
It revives the child within
Taking place in the 1930s which was twenty-four years after the 1964 original film: Michael and Jane Banks (Ben Whishaw and Emily Moritmer) are now adults and still live in their childhood London home. Michael is now a recent widower with three young children and is facing a financial crisis which might cause the family to lose its home. What a perfect time for the return arrival of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt).
This film easily revives the spirit of the original plus that of "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013) which was about the making of "Mary Poppins". The musical numbers in the new film are fun and electrifying especially those within an animated sequence as well as the finale kite sequence. The brightly colourful production values are equally magical.
"Mary Poppins Returns" succeeds in what its creators - writer P.L. Travers and Disney studios (two contradictory forces as exposed in "Saving Mr. Banks") - intended to do: remind us that the child-spirit in our hearts never dies despite the drudgery of adult life. What a wonderful and badly needed antidote in our current times.
Among the performances, Whishaw stands out as someone who is trying his best to get through crises while still grieving his wife and happier times that used to be. He's strict to his children when he has to be while it's clear that under the surface, he doesn't want to be that way. There are many other fine performances as well from an all-star cast including a couple of very special appearances near the end. (I'll avoid naming them in case you don't know and can therefore have the same joyful surprise as I did.)
Many moments and musical numbers seem to copy and parallel the original 1964 film. Despite the occasional laziness in originality, "Mary Poppins Returns" still wins. - dbamateurcritic
OUTSTANDING HIGHLIGHTS: the musical numbers
Apollo 11 (2019)
A thriller even though we know the full outcome
For the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, footage was used and edited to recreate the grand event beginning with the day of the liftoff and concluding with the astronauts' glorious return home.
In occasionally mixing the footage with sound effects and music, director / film editor Todd Douglas Miller achieves something rare: he has created a thriller out a part of history that is already vastly well known. It begins with the morning of the countdown for the launch. People are gathered at nearby locations after having camped out (the late 60s fashions are fun to see). Along with the preparations among the NASA staff, the anticipation is palpable. This anticipation continues throughout the launch, the journey in space, the separation from the pod, the lunar landing, the lunar walk, the return to the pod, and the return to earth. The clear, coloured, detailed footage is phenomenal.
As there is no modern-day narration, everyone seen and heard in this film is unaware of what is to happen next. The viewer feels their excitement. It's too bad that last year's "First Man" failed to recreate the jubilation the same way "Apollo 11" does.
There is a special feeling to those of us who were alive at this important time in history. Occasionally, other news of the time is exposed in TV broadcasts such as the scandal involving Senator Edward Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.
"Apollo 11" is a wonderful time capsule not only for a unique era but for a reminder that there was once a grand event that had united the world in a happy way. - dbamateurcritic
They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
The documentary clearly raises the bar
A team of New Zealand film experts, headed by director Peter Jackson, has used visual and audio footage of frontline British soldiers in World War I and restored them using modern digital technology. The result is a documentary of events over a century ago with modern production values.
Firstly, kudos to the Kiwis for doing what was previously thought unimaginable. With techniques such as colourizing, bringing old footage down to a normal speed (older films always seem to be in fast motion), and using expert lip readers to translate what speakers were saying in the old footage (and having actors mimic the words with appropriate accents), this brilliant film miraculously recreates a well-known collective nightmare of over a century ago in a way that's never been expressed before.
Most of the visual footage was silent while accompanied by separate audio footage of surviving soldiers speaking of their experiences. The videos were so overpowering that it was sometimes difficult to concentrate to hear what was being said especially for those of us who identify as 'visual' types. Perhaps, occasional breaks in the audio narration might have helped to recover concentration, but this in no way stops this exceptional documentary from losing its overall power. Perhaps, it means that more than one viewing is in order.
"They Shall Not Grow Old" does repeat the same sad scenario told in many other World War I stories as well as other war stories: 1) young men and teenage boys being manipulated and pushed to enlist by those who could not possibly face the terrors of the front line and trench life (one anecdote of two young women 'recruiting' strangers while accusing 'cowardice' to boys too young to enlist makes one speculate if a special place in hell is reserved to hold such creatures); 2) the young men themselves believing the experience will be an "adventure"; 3) the grim reality of the experience; 4) the survivors being misunderstood and taken for granted once they return home.
One of the most shocking and telling moments of humanity is when soldiers on opposite sides of the war are in contact and are actually friendly toward each other. This situation has been shown in other films. When the truth is told of "regular people" on all sides of any war, viewers are reminded that the lives of the non-wealthy are wasted on behalf of the elite on all sides who benefit the most from such wars without suffering much. (Again, there ought to be a special place in hell reserved for such creatures). This point is also made in fictional films like "All Quite on the Western Front" (1930) and "La Grande Illusion" (1937).
"They Shall Not Grow Old" is probably the most extraordinary documentary ever. It has clearly advanced the medium technically and historically.
1) Directing by Peter Jackson
2) The Technical Team and its Expertise
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
An Almost Masterpice
This science-fiction classic has four sequences all of which include a mysterious black monolith that has special powers: 1) a pre-historic story of a group of apes trying to survive; 2) a future in which humans occupy space stations and there is a concern of an epidemic at one of those stations; 3) a space mission to Jupiter in which two astronauts are at work with a computer, HAL 9000, who is supposedly perfect but maybe not so; 4) a truly "spacey" sequence to follow #3.
Like many films, this one is to be judged on both style and substance. For substance, only the third sequence is clear and brilliantly made. The subtle conflicts between HAL and the astronauts has the tension of a horror movie. It is also worth noting that HAL seems to have more emotion than the humans. This is especially notable in a scene where one astronaut is indifferent and emotionless while receiving a recorded video message from his parents. The scene in which HAL suspects a conspiracy is one of film history's greatest.
The other three sequences are still interesting but often unclear. It is debatable as to whether clarity is necessary as the intention was to get to the viewers' subconscious minds. While this works well, more clarity might have been more preferable to close at least a few links in the mystery.
The style in all four sequences can easily be described as sublime. It's no wonder so many consider this film to be a masterpiece. Director Stanley Kubrick's use of visuals, and special effects with classical music is heavenly. The imaginative set designs of the space stations and vehicles are also amazing.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" is over half a century old. While technology and special effects have advanced greatly since its time, the film's effect remains so strong that it is still the benchmark science-fiction film to which all others must be compared.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS: 1) Directing by Stanley Kubrick 2) Technical and Craft Team: Special Effects, Cinematography, Sound, Set Design, Musical Score Adaptation
The Wars (1983)
An exceptional Canadian Perspective of World War I
In a wealthy Toronto household in 1914, teen-aged Robert Ross (Brent Carver) escapes his family troubles by enlisting in the Canadian military for World War I. The movie is based on the novel by Timothy Findlay.
This film is praiseworthy for various reasons. Firstly, it is great to see a movie about Canadian history on a relatively big budget - at least in Canadian terms. Secondly, the cast includes many of the best actors renowned at the Stratford (Ontario) Theatre Festival and the Toronto theatre scene. In addition to Carver, the cast includes Martha Henry, William Hutt, Jackie Burroughs, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Susan Wright.
The Canadian perspective of World War I is welcome as it is so rarely portrayed in film. This fact is amplified in the story when an upper-class Englishwoman makes many stupid remarks about Canada.
Director Robin Phillips (also a great stage director) is at his best in some very powerful scenes: 1) an awkward scene when Robert is with a kind prostitute (Wright) for the first time and shows his awkwardness (the two actors are brilliant in this scene); 2) Robert leading a small group of men when a gas attack occurs; 3) two battle scenes near which show a shocking twist of character.
Carver leads a fine cast though with a few exceptions. Henry, a rightly renowned actress, is rather stiff in her role as Carver's role though this might have been intended. As an English nurse, Barbara Budd is rather weak. But these flaws are small compared to the movie's strengths.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Directing by Robin Phillips
Over-rated (yes, I know this makes me an outlier)
The subject of this documentary is Edward Snowden and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandals that were exposed in 2013.
This film is like a mystery being unfolded even if we know the outcome. What adds to the tension is that many one of us are potentially part of this drama: the NSA was found to have collected data from private conversations exchanged by telephone and computers in the U.S. and in other countries. "Citizenfour" also reveals information that is difficult for the many who had hoped that a Barack Obama presidency was going to be much better than that of George W. Bush.
The subject alone should make this film mandatory viewing. Sadly, the style of the film is dull for various reasons.
Much of it is in talking-head style, keeping the camera almost constantly on Snowden as he exposes government secrets. Snowden is heroic in what he has done but he is not able to sustain full audience attention during his interviews. Few people could achieve such a task although investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald (another contributor to this film) seems to have more camera-savvy.
Another problem is that most of the information given is from technical experts speaking on subjects such as data encryption and devices. For most viewers, this level of detail is difficult to follow.
"Citizenfour" might have benefited by using similar techniques used in "Inside Job" (2010), another documentary that dealt with complex information that affected most citizens - how corporate America ripped off average citizens leading to the financial crisis of 2008. "Inside Job" took occasional time away from interviews to break down the complex information to make it more understandable to average viewers. Such a technique would have made "Citizenfour" more effective.
A great psychological study
A Swedish couple ( Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) are on a week's skiing vacation in the French Alps with their children. At the beginning of the trip, a frightening incident brings out the worst impulses in one of the family members. The remainder of the film is the fallout of this incident.
Director Ruben Ostlund does a great job with a fine cast in displaying tension below and above the surface. The beginning is the proverbial "dinosaur in the living room" situation where everyone pretends that nothing happened while trying in vain to hide their feelings. When feelings can't be hidden any more, things get really interesting.
Kuhnke and Kongsli are great in their roles especially Kuhnke during a major meltdown scene.
"Force Majeure" shows that we may never know what our true instincts are until a major event happens. The pivotal event at the film's beginning ripples into how it affects another couple who are informed of the situation and how one member's instincts are also brought to the surface.
There were two events near the end of the film that might not have been necessary (or at least could have been shortened) though they still do add interesting information to the equation. The second last scene seems contrived at times; the last scene seemed to add unnecessary drama though a small crowd scene strongly shows the fate of two secondary characters.
But these complaints don't stop "Force Majeure" from being one of the best movies of 2014.
A great piece of LGBT history
In 1984, a group of gay and lesbian London activists raises funds to give financial support to striking miners in Wales . At the beginning, there are serious tensions between these two very disparate groups until they realize they have common enemies: the government of Margaret Thatcher and slanderous right-wing tabloids. This film is based on a true story.
"Pride" does a fine job in its portrayal of the struggles of the gay/lesbian movements in many countries in the 1980s: while there was progress, it was at a great price due to the massively collective homophobia of the time. This interesting recent history might have been better portrayed if the film had been longer than its two hours. There are many interesting characters and we only get to see glimpses of them. More time might have allowed the viewer to know more of the characters.
Some characterizations did work well though. One is a gay Welshman who left rural Wales to escape homophobia. Actor Andrew Scott makes much of his brief scenes by conveying deep emotion in his face. Another interesting story is of a young, closeted gay man who has recently moved to London . His journey into adulthood is finely told.
The directing by Matthew Warchus is competent but conventional. More flair and style might have had more impact. There are also times it's difficult (at least to those of us English-speakers outside England and Wales) to understand the accents and colloquial terms. This is unfortunate as many in-jokes are missed.
The film can be praised for its relatively balanced gender casting - a rarity in many movies. The number of female characters is not grossly outnumbered by the number of males. Also, as the women are relatively ordinary folks, they are portrayed by regular-looking actresses who do not look like supermodels, contradicting a trend not just in Hollywood films but in independent and international films as well, including French cinema
"Pride" is a fine film worth seeing especially for its hopeful and moving finale. I was pleased but not surprised to read that a musical stage version of this film is already in the works. Bring it on! - dbamateurcritic
Spike Lee at his best
Based on true events: Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was a real-life police officer in Colorado Springs in the 1970s. He was notable for being the first black officer on the force. He begins a project to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan on the telephone using his 'white voice' (this seems to be a trend in movies this year - see "Sorry to Bother You"). Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is his colleague who shows up in person to meet the KKK as the same fictional character.
This film took various liberties to dramatize events. Among the biggest were the superb climax (forgivable for its brilliant execution and build-up) and the fact that the in-person decoy was of Jewish heritage. The latter is a little less forgivable as it seemed too far-fetched as well as dangerously stupid to select a Jewish man to risk his life when a more "Aryan" colleague would have been appropriate (as it was in real life). Despite this questionable fictionalization, it actually succeeds in making the film an intense pins-and-needles thriller throughout. The tension is so strong that the occasional lapses into humour are hilarious and very welcome relief.
"BlacKkKlamsan" courageously goes to the worst side of humanity's underbelly. There is little violence in action but a lot of it in spoken words. It succeeds in making the audience truly uncomfortable as it gives Klan members a lot of time on screen - more than most films would. Rather than just exposing them as slimy rednecks (they were), they are shown as people who spoke of things important to them much like "normal" people would when speaking of events such as a wedding, a fishing expedition, or a charitable event. Their words are terrible but the way they speak them is cringeworthy in how they sound live average folks.
As mentioned, the build-up to the climax is superb. It includes back-and-forth viewings between two large gatherings: one, a black liberation meeting; and the other a KKK gathering as members watch "Birth of a Nation" and react loudly to it like they are watching a football game.
This fine film is directed by Spike Lee. It's great to see him at the same level again as he showed with "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and "Malcolm X" (1992). He's truly a thoughtful person with a lot of talent.
Coincidentally, I saw this film just hours after learning of the mass murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. As the sad saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Adam's Rib (1949)
Hepburn and Tracy at their best - which is saying a lot
Adam and Amanda Bonner (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) are married New York lawyers (prosecuting and defense respectively) who end up opposing each other in an attempted murder case: Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) attempted to kill her husband (Tom Ewell) and his mistress (Jean Hagen), injuring her husband in the process. Amanda believes there is a double standard in adultery cases like this one where cases are most often dismissed when men do what Doris did.
There are many ways this film seems ahead of its time. The screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin openly challenges sexist attitudes at a time when, presumably, such attitudes were unquestionably part of the collective DNA. The ridiculous antics of media during the court sequences is also a reflection of what would be to come - or perhaps media circuses were already a sadly regular part of life seven decades ago.
The otherwise sharp script gets too out of hand in scenes where Amanda's courtroom shenanigans are over the top. While she is right to challenge double standards, her stand seems to be that two wrongs make a right. It also seems that the screenplay leans toward this viewpoint which shows weakness.
But director George Cukor keeps things lively with his superb cast especially the two leads who are brilliant individually and as a pair. Hepburn is at her energetic best, firing out words a mile a minute while still being fully articulate. (Many of today's mumbling actors should take note.) And Tracy more than holds his own against the fireball. Even if the story doesn't fully support his character, he makes his point clear and then some.
This is mostly a comedy and a very successful one at that. One of the lighter moments include a dinner party in which the Bonners show a home-movie of their farm home in Connecticut. During this sequence, David Wayne is quite funny as an annoying neighbour who has the hots for Amanda. And Holliday is quite funny during an interview scene with her defense lawyer, Amanda. - dbamateurcritic
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS: Acting by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
Johnny Case (Cary Grant) and Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) have just become engaged after meeting each other during a holiday in Lake Placid, New York. Johnny, who has moved up the corporate ladder following very humble beginnings, is surprised to learn that Julia is from an extremely wealthy family. In getting to know the Setons, Johnny gradually learns that his idealistic outlook on life is more like that of Julia's sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) than that of Julia.
"Holiday" is a very welcome and different take on the numerous films about rich families made during its era. It actually challenges the superficiality of materialism and how it depletes the spirit. The highlight scene takes place in a "fun room" in the family mansion where some people escape a dreadfully pompous engagement party. They include Linda who has often been a high-society outlier; her brother Ned (Lew Ayres), another outlier who has become alcoholic; and long-time friends of Johnny who seem like fish out of water in the larger snooty gathering in the main part of the mansion: Nick and Susan Potter (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon).
Once Johnny joins this gathering, sparks fly as like-minded spirits of different backgrounds connect. The stories of Linda and Ned are most fascinating as they succeed in convincing the viewer that being born rich might appear to have major advantages (this is never denied) but there is a shadow side to it as well to those who are also born rich in spirit. This is even more clear when they speak of their deceased mother whose ghost would have been very much at-home with this amiable gathering.
Through various conversations and characterizations, "Holiday" proves itself to be timeless as it pits the greedy capitalist notion of the endless pursuit of even more money vs. the passions one feels for the life one wants even if such a path is not lucrative.
The fine cast and the superbly intelligent screenplay are very well co-joined by the great director George Cukor. This film is one of ten collaborations he had with Hepburn.
"Holiday" is quite a good comedy and an even better drama. - dbamateurcritic
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman, based on the play by Philip Barry
A reminder of a bad time not so long ago
The rise to political power of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is highlighted beginning in 1963 when his future looked bleak and peaking during his term as US Vice-President from 2000 to 2008.
There are some ways this film is a paradox. At over two hours, it seems that too much is covered. On the other hand, there are times it seems that too little is covered.
Like other political biopics "Nixon" (1995) and "The Iron Lady" (2011), "Vice" is about a well-known polarizing figure whose impact on many people was strong. The two earlier films delved into the insecurities of their lead characters while "Vice" covers too little in this area. But in fairness, like the other two films, "Vice" does show the human side of the focused political figure, thus rightly avoiding one-dimensional villain stereotyping while pulling no punches on the villainous acts that did take place. Cheney is clearly dedicated to his family including a daughter whose life situation is far from what is traditionally accepted in his Republican party.
While some of the players of Bush Jr. administration are acknowledged during pivotal times like 9-11 and the Iraq War, the important role of Condoleezza Rice is reduced to a few minor moments in meetings. But despite flaws, "Vice" has notable strengths. Bale is quite solid in the lead role. He ages well (with great make-up experts) in a period of over forty years. Also, his final monologue is mesmerizing. And as Dick's wife Lynne, Amy Adams does a very good job as a woman of great talent stunned in a time period when such women had very few opportunities to meet their own potential.
While much negative attention is aimed at the current US presidency, "Vice" reminds us that one of the most monstrous presidential administrations took place not long ago. Many innocent people are still paying the price for it. - dbamateurcritic
Green Book (2018)
Brilliantly written and acted. What a pair!
Based on a true story: In 1962, Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) lives in an Italian neighbourhood in the Bronx and works as a nightclub bouncer. During a period of temporary unemployment, he signs on to work for renowned classical/jazz pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as a chauffeur as Shirley travels from his Manhattan home to locations in the US mid-west and Deep South for an arranged concert tour. As Shirley is African-American and the Deep South had segregation laws at the time, great difficulties are faced and the two men bond.
The initial clashes between these two opposites is funny, moving, and genuine. The differences in advantage also make for an interesting dynamic. Tony has the advantage of race which is not only magnified while in the southern states; it also shows in his foolish assumptions he has about Don and black people in general. Don has the advantage of status, culture, and education which he often uses to criticize Tony in ways that make Don easily seem like an annoying teacher.
The two lead performances are brilliant especially during a confrontation scene that takes place during a rainy night. Mortensen is raw and rough but with a human edge that shifts during an experience that is radically new to him. And Ali is exceptional in one of the best characterizations in many years.
As Don, Ali begins by being truly irritating with his snobbishness and class prejudice. As the film progresses, the viewer at least begins to understand Don and even sympathize with him as his complexities are gradually exposed. And by the end, Don is not just likeable; he's downright loveable.
In "Moonlight" (2016), Ali showed depth and subtlety in a role that was unfortunately too short. In "Green Book", his talents are on full display in an expanded role that shows his best. Again, his depth of subtlety comes through particularly in a scene when Don is vulnerable as he thinks he might lose Tony as his driver.
Director Peter Farrelly, also a co-writer, shows a subtle touch especially in a scene that silently show southern blacks reacting to the presence of a fellow African-American who seems to have reached heights that may have thought impossible.
A shocking scene that takes place at a YMCA building is one that could have been expanded but the secrecy behind it is actually appropriate given the time period.
With so much going for it, "Green Book" carries the torch right to the end with a superb conclusion that is emotional but with the restraint that matches Don's character so well. It allows the tears to get close to the surface but without exiting the ducts. And Tony's wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) eases the the tension with a hilarious line - one of many in this great film. - dbamateurcritic
1) Screenplay by Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Hayes Currie
2) Acting by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen
Zimna wojna (2018)
Good but could have been better
In the late 1940s, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) are musical experts assigned to audition and assemble young peasants from rural Poland to form a choral group. One singer is Zula (Joanna Kulig) who later becomes involved with Wiktor. Their story covers many tours in Communist Europe and later includes the jazz scene in Paris in the 1960s.
"Cold War" is beautifully directed by Pawel Pawlikowski who was also directed "Ida" (2013). Like "Ida", "Cold War is blessed with beautiful black and white cinematography. It also has stunning music in a variety of forms including peasant folk, jazz, and classical.
It is inevitable to compare "Cold War" with "Ida" in other ways. Kulesza had a supporting role in both of them though her role in "Ida" was more prominent. In her few scenes in "Cold War", she plays an artistic director who is at odds with the shallow Communist authorities who work to manipulate the choir as a propaganda tool. The film would have benefited if Kulesza's role had been expanded.
Also, like "Ida", there were some rash decisions made by main characters that were incomprehensible. In "Ida", this occurred only in the second major role (the one played by Kulesza). In "Cold War", it is both Irena and Wiktor who act oddly in ways that are not understandable - at least to those who have not lived through the harrowing experience of eastern Europeans who survived WW2 and then subsequently lived through Communism. Nevertheless, Kulig and Kot are passionate as lovers in a very difficult time and there is little doubt that "Cold War" is a film that pleases the senses on many levels. - dbamateurcritic
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Compassionate and Exhilirating
Based on a true story: the life of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) is portrayed beginning with his connection with the group that would later become Queen and ending with Queen's performance at the Live Aid concert in 1985.
Throughout, this US-UK co-production has many moments that are lively, energetic, and fun especially the early segments and various musical moments. The directing (by Bryan Singer, later replaced by Dexter Fletcher) also shifts easily to moods that match the stages of Mercury's later life including loneliness at the top, coming out as bisexual, and being diagnosed with AIDS. The film benefits greatly by having Malek in the lead role. He gives a fully rounded performance in all of the ups and downs of an extraordinary life and his simulation of the Live Aid performance is outstanding. He deserves all the awards and other recognition he has won.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" has special resonance for those of us who could remember Queen's rise to fame and beyond. This includes a very amusing scene that includes criticism of the length of the titular song and how this could never be accepted by radio stations. (As they say, the rest is history.) There is also the collective attitude of compassion that was behind the Live Aid concert.
Many criticize the 1980s as a decade of greed. While this was indeed the decade when the seed of greed was planted, the terrible results of that seed would later flourish in the 1990s and beyond. The 1980s was like a "between" decade. It had the greed already mentioned but it also had much of the residual heart left over from the 1960s and 1970s. This kinder attitude created Live Aid which received many charitable contributions. Such an event would be very unlikely today. This is not necessarily because the average person is greedy; it's mainly because the average person of today has much less disposable income than the average person in 1985. Here is yet another way that "Bohemian Rhapsody" creates such a yearning nostalgia.
While there is solid development in Freddie's character, this is much less so in the character of Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), Freddie's lover and manager during the early part of the group's prime. Paul is portrayed as a character who slithers his way into an already established group and then becomes a manipulative control freak. While it is easy to sympathize with Paul in the beginning (coming out as gay was much more difficult back then than it is today), he seems to suddenly become a jerk with no character arc.
But this flaw does not stop "Bohemian Rhapsody" from being one of the top films of 2018. It has many moments that make it compassionate as well as exhilarating. One of the highlights is a scene when Freddie announces his health condition to his fellow band members.
This film compares well to other great films about music performers - fictional as well as real. It has the energy and passion of "A Star is Born" also released in 2018. And it is also very much like the Édith Piaf biopic "La Vie en Rose" (2007); like the latter film, each portrayed brilliant, larger-than-life singers who died too soon in their forties. And all three films conclude with musical numbers that could make angels weep with joy. - dbamateurcritic
Directing by Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher
Acting by Rami Malek
A tough but courageous film
Zain El Hajj (Zain Al Rafeea) is approximately twelve years old (his birth is undocumented) and is from an impoverished, dysfunctional family in modern-day Beirut. He joins another family which includes Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an illegal Ethiopian refugee, and her one-year-old son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole).
The film's title literally means 'chaos' in Arabic and it fits the film and its characters perfectly. Whether it be child brides, human trafficking, extreme poverty, refugees entering Lebanon, undocumented Lebanese wanting to leave Lebanon as refugees, and all of the usual other crimes that make great drama, "Capernaum" is chaos galore.
At two hours, it feels rather long at times especially as it exposes so much despair with emotional distance. While most characters are well developed, those of Zain's parents are not. His mother Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) is a monster throughout most of the film, then suddenly seems human in the later scenes. This extreme change might have been more believable if the film included a revelation scene which it did not.
But the main characters carry the film all the way. Young Al Rafeea is the perfect anchor as someone who is wise beyond his years out of unfortunate necessity. He has an instinctual desire to protect his siblings whether it be his biological sister or his adoptive brother (Bankole has to be one of the most adorable youngsters to ever bless the silver screen). And Shiferaw more than holds her own as well.
Yes, "Capernaum" is distressing and heartbreaking at times but it is worth watching especially in some key scenes at the end one of which includes a final still shot that can melt the coldest of hearts. - dbamateurcritic
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Based on the novel by James Baldwin: In the early 1970s in New York City, Tish and Fonny (KiKi Layne and Stephan James) are a young African-American couple in love whose lives take a difficult turn. After Fonny has been wrongly framed and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, Tish announces that she is pregnant with his child.
Director/writer Barry Jenkins shows immense talent in taking a moving story and making it even more poetic and lyrical. The lighting by cinematographer James Laxton and the melodic score by Nicholas Britell are well used by Jenkins to create a mood that is transcendent - the effects don't stray from the story; rather they enhance it and they do so beautifully. - dbamateurcritic
Jenkins is also blessed with a fine cast particularly the leading players despite James' occasional mumbling. The most memorable acting scene is one in which the women in two families (a mother and two adult daughters vs. a similar trio) have it out in a verbal sparring match whose intensity is charged with a lot of salty language. This scene passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours and is possibly the best scene in this great film. It includes Regina King - as Tish's mother, Sharon - who has won many awards for this role. But like the multi-award-winning role of Maharshala Ali in Jenkins' "Moonlight" a few years back, King is powerful when on screen but the scenes are too few.
The last quarter of the film is a bit too sentimental but this is forgivable for a great work that has so much going for it including its focus on institutionalized racism. It clearly excels in mood and atmosphere.
A mixed result
As the title implies, days in the lives of the residents of Hale County, Alabama are chronicled in this documentary. Most of the residents are poor and black.
Director RaMell Ross has chosen a cinema-vérité or fly-on-the-wall approach which works often though not always. It works very well on scenes involving small children including the story of a family with twin babies. Sadly, many scenes linger too long and this film has less effect than a similar documentary also released in 2018: "Minding the Gap". The other film dug deeper in covering similar situations including the struggles of economic hardship for those already disadvantaged.
The pacing of "Hale County...." could have been improved though its laid-back approach can be credited for creating a peaceful mood.