Movie Review: Before Midnight (2013)

Title: Before Midnight
Release Date: May 24, 2013
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment | Venture Forth | Detour Filmproduction

Another 9 years have passed and Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are spending the summer vacationing in Greece with friends and family, including their twin daughters and Jesse’s son from his previous marriage. Breaking with precedent of the previous films, in the first act of the film we see a lot of Céline and Jesse in group settings rather than one on one.  We also get to see that Ethan Hawke as a dad in Before Midnight is a whole lot like Ethan Hawke as a dad in in Boyhood.

Also breaking with precedent, the heart of the movie leaves behind the beautiful Greek scenery and instead is set in a nondescript hotel room.  Putatively Céline and Jesse are too spend a romantic night together there without the children, but instead it becomes the scene of a bitter argument. Jesse wants to be more involved in his son’s life, but it would require moving to the United States.  Céline is resentful that she’s been forced to take on domestic responsibilities at the expense of her career.  As they unravel their feelings they begin to contend with the idea that they may no longer be in love.

As with the previous movies the dialogue is excellent and Hawke and Delpy really live inside their characters.  Hawke is so good at playing a guy who is kind of an asshole yet remains sympathetic.  This heartfelt and heartbreaking movie is apparently the last we will see of this couple. If the 9 year pattern persisted the fourth movie would be released this year, but alas there will be no B4: Tokyo Drift or anything like that.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Aparajito (1956)

Title: Aparajito
Release Date: 11 October 1956
Director: Satyajit Ray
Production Company: Epic Films

Picking up where Pather Panchali left off, Aparajito is the second installment of Ray’s Apu Trilogy.  Set in the 1920s, the Roy family now lives in the holy city of Benares (modern day Varanasi) and continue to struggle with poverty.  The central character Apurba “Apu” Roy ages from a child (Pinaki Sengupta) to teenager (Smaran Ghosal) over the course of the film.  The central story is that Apu’s success in school earns him a scholarship that takes him away from his mother Sarbajaya ( Karuna Banerjee) and the strain that puts on their relationship. This could be melodramatic but the neorealistic style of the film steeps it in everyday lived experience.  The sharp B&W cinematography captures everything in gorgeous detail.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Anne of Green Gables (1985)

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Release Date: December 1, 1985
Director: Kevin Sullivan
Production Company: Anne of Green Gables Productions | Sullivan Entertainment | TV-60 Filmproduktion | WonderWorks

I suppose in the end it was a rather romantic way to perish, for a mouse.

Revisiting another movie I loved in my early teen years.  Anne of Green Gables premiered on Canadian television as a miniseries in 1985 but I don’t think we saw it in the US until 1987.

Adapted from the famous novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the film tells the story of the aging siblings Marilla (Colleen Dewhurst) and Matthew Cuthbert (Richard Farnsworth) deciding to adopt an orphan to help on their farm in a rural community on Prince Edward Island.  They’re surprised when instead of boy they receive Anne Shirley (Megan Follows), an imaginative and stubborn 11-year-old given to daydreaming and romanticizing the world around her. The shy Matthew is immediately won over by Anne, while Marilla puts on a show of being a strict guardian but soon also succumbs to Anne’s charms.

Despite being made-for-TV, this is a high-quality production with gorgeous location shots and fantastic period costumes.  But the characters are the best and everyone seems perfectly cast. In addition to the three main leads, Schuyler Grant stars as Anne’s bosom friend Diana, Charmion King plays Diana’s wealthy Aunt Josephine who is amused by Anne, and Jonathan Crombie is Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s rival at school.

It’s fashionable to dismiss things for being overly sentimental, but there’s something about the warmth and sweetness of this story that I really love.  I think we need more kindness and imagination in our world, not less.  Which is why I aspire to be Matthew Cuthbert as I grow older.

Rating: *****

Favorite Movies of All Time: 100-91

Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to watch lots of movies considered to be among the best of all time.  Now, for the first time, I’ve made my own list of favorite movies of all time.  Every other Wednesday throughout 2022, I will be revealing ten movies in my list of 250 Favorite Movies of All Time.

250-241 200-190 150-141
240-231 190-181 140-131
230-221 180-171 130-121
220-211 170-161 120-111
210-201 160-151


Title: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Director: Richard Fleischer
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre
Year: 1954
When did I first watch this movie?: early childhood
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: The Hollywood-ized treatment of Jules Verne’s novel is a sci-fi adventure with an underlying social message that somehow holds up brilliantly despite the cast all seeming to be acting in different movie genres.


TitleThe African Queen
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, and Robert Morley
Year: 1951
When did I first watch this movie?: as a kid in the early 80s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Put two of Classic Hollywood’s greatest actors on a boat in Africa and magic happens in this romantic adventure.


Title: The Maltese Falcon 
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick,  and Sydney Greenstreet
Year: 1941
When did I first watch this movie?: late 90s/early 00s?
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: By happenstance I have movies by the same director and actor back to back in this list, but they’re entirely different movies.  This proto noir movie established the hardboiled detective genre and features some top notch acting and dialogue.


Title: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains and Edward Arnold
Year: 1939
When did I first watch this movie?: 1990s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Despite Capra’s reputation for sentimentality, this movie is a scathing indictment of political corruption and the education of an idealist.


Title: You Can’t Take It with You 
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, and Edward Arnold
Year: 1938
When did I first watch this movie?: mid-1980s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Once again I’ve listed movies back-to-back that share the same director and this time multiple cast members.  “Mr Smith” took on corrupt politicians, but this movie takes on corrupt businessmen while also being a screwball comedy and a story about a goofy family.


Title: I Am Not Your Negro
Director: Raoul Peck
Cast: Documentary about James Baldwin, Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Year: 2017
When did I first watch this movie?: April 2018
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This documentary pairs Baldwin’s reflections on the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr with archival footage of Baldwin’s public appearances over time and shows how Baldwin’s thoughts are still relevant to the Black Lives Matter era.


Title: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J. J. Abrams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow
Year: 2015
When did I first watch this movie?: February 2016
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: After the disappointment of the prequels, this movies awakened my childhood joy in Star Wars, revisiting some old favorite characters while introducing a new generation and new possibilities for Star Wars storytelling.


Title: The Little Mermaid 
Director: John Musker and Ron Clements
Cast: Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, and Buddy Hackett
Year: 1989
When did I first watch this movie?: 1990
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Growing up, classic Disney movies were not easily available and the more recent releases were not that good. The Little Mermaid kicked off the Disney Renaissance with beautiful animation, great humor, and terrific calypso songs.


Title: One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geronimi, and Hamilton Luske
Cast: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, and Martha Wentworth
Year: 1961
When did I first watch this movie?: early childhood
Why is this one of my all time favorites?:  One of the rare Classic Disney movies I saw as a child and probably one of the funniest the studio ever made.


Title: Parasite
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Park Myung-hoon, and Lee Jung-eun
Year: 2019
When did I first watch this movie?: February 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: The satire of economic inequality goes from comedy to heist movie to slasher film with deft alacrity.


Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

Title: Before Sunset
Release Date: July 2, 2004
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment

Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) reunite after nine years, this time traveling around Paris as they converse.  Jesse has published a novel based on their night together in Vienna and gives a book talk at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore which Céline.  They then spend the hour before Jesse has to leave for the airport for his flight home having another of their profound conversations (kind of jealous that I’ve never had a conversation like this in my life).  They talk about why they didn’t reunite as planned in Vienna, their regrets about not doing so, how their lives (and their dreams and philosophies) have changed in the intervening years, and their unsatisfying marriages.  Over time the become less guarded and reveal more of their deepest feelings.

Any doubts I had that this movie would ruin the ambiguous ending of Before Sunset were erased by the easy chemistry between Delpy and Hawke and the amazing dialogue.  It certainly helps that Delpy and Hawke contributed to writing the script and that they made the dialogue sound natural over long takes filmed on location. The movie is technically brilliant since it is essentially set in real time and documents one long conversation.  The ending caught me off guard because I was wondering how they were possibly going to wrap it up with so little time left, but instead ends on a wonderfully ambiguous cliffhanger

Rating: ****

Movie Review: On Happiness Road (2017)

Title: On Happiness Road
Release Date: October 15, 2017
Director: Sung Hsin-yin
Production Company: Happiness Road Productions

Chi (Gwei Lun-mei) returns home to Taiwan from America for the funeral of her grandmother (Giwas Gigo).  While there she imagines conversations with her grandmother and reflects upon her childhood (voiced by Bella Wu in flashbacks).  The non-linear structure is also punctuated by Chi’s youthful daydreams which are beautifully animated.  In addition to being a story about life and family, Chi’s story parallels the growth and changes of Taiwan (significantly Chi is born on the same day that Chiang Kai-shek died).  This is a thoughtful and beautifully made film about self-identity and nostalgia that I found very relatable even though I live half-the-world away.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

Title: The Hotel New Hampshire
Release Date: March 9, 1984
Director: Tony Richardson
Production Company: Filmline Productions | The Producers’ Circle | Woodfall Film Productions | Yellowbill Productions Limited

Sorrow floats, too.

When I was in my early teens my mom told my sister and I about this weird movie she saw on tv about this eccentric family who have a flatulent dog named Sorrow who dies and then keeps popping up in taxidermied form. Eventually we watched it together and it turned out to be even weirder than imagined. In retrospect it’s strange that I watched this movie at such a young age.  You could put content warnings on this movie for rape, suicide, incest, anti-gay violence, terrorism and more, and yet it’s played for (dark) comedy.  I don’t think these things went over my head so much as they didn’t hit me as hard as watching it as an adult. In fact, the quirky transgressiveness of the movie appealed to me and for a time it was among my all-time favorites, and I also became fond of the John Irving book its based on.  It’s been a long time since I watched or read either, though.

The movie is about a family of oddball characters called the Berrys overall several years when they suffer several tragedies and strange events.  While it’s an ensemble piece, two of the five Berry children, John (Rob Lowe) and Franny (Jodie Foster), are the main characters.  Their father Win (Beau Bridges) is a dreamer who wants to recapture the happiest days of his youth by owning and operating a hotel. Over the course of the film, the Berry family run two hotels: first in an abandoned school in New Hampshire and later at a rundown hotel in Vienna. The stacked cast also includes Paul McCrane, Jennifer Dundas, Wilford Brimley, Seth Green, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn, Amanda Plummer, Dorsey Wright, and Nastassja Kinski as Susie the Bear.

The movie remains very entertaining.  However, while in the 80s it felt like it was pushing boundaries of how controversial topics are treated, now it just feels like it has a lot of shock for shock value.  Also as an adaptation of a very long novel, it tries too hard to tell the entire story so that as a viewer you kind of get whiplash moving from seeing only the highlights of various different plot threads.  The movie still has a lot of charms and some great acting performances, but it feels like an opportunity was lost to make something much better.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: Before Sunrise (1995)

Title: Before Sunrise
Release Date: January 27, 1995
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment

An American tourist, Jesse (Ethan Hawks), and a French Student, Céline (Julie Delpy) meet on a Eurail train.  Feeling a connection, Céline agrees to spend a night wandering around Vienna before Jesse flies home in the morning.  The movie is essentially a series of introspective and philosophical conversations held in front of the beautiful scenery of Vienna.  Hawke’s character is borderline douchebro but shows enough vulnerability to reveal that much of what he’s doing is posturing to hide his sensitive side.  Delpy, apart from her Gallic beauty, shows a lot of complexity and depth of character. There’s a certain artifice to their conversations, but even that feels real as it reflects the way people try to impress someone they’ve just met.  Over time their defences wear down and they find pure Gen X romance while drinking wine under the moon in a Viennese park.  They also make good use of the same iconic ferris wheel featured in The Third Man.  In sum, this movie is a collection of beautiful moments.

Rating: ****


Movie Review: Anina (2013)

Title: Anina
Release Date: 19 April 2013
Director: Alfredo Soderguit
Production Company: Rain Dogs Cine | Palermo Estudio | Antorcha Films

Anina Yatay Salas (Federica Lacaño) is a young school child who is teased for having three palindromes in her name.  One day at recess, Anina ends up fighting with another girl, Yisel (Lucía Parrilla).  The principal (Cristina Morán) gives them a unique punishment that teaches them a lesson in compassion.

This is a wonderful film full of heartwarming moments.  It basically captures the feel of a child’s everyday life along with vividly portrayed daydreams and nightmares.  The animation style is unique but simple, reminiscent at times of the work of Studio Ghibli or Cartoon Saloon.  Could make for a good family movie to watch with young children.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Orlando (1993)

Release Date: 12 March 1993
Director: Sally Potter
Production Company: Sony Pictures Classics

Adapted from a novel by Virginia Woolf, Orlando is a fantastical period drama directed by Sally Potter starring Tilda Swinton as a British noble named Orlando.  There are a couple of things you need to know about title character: 1. Orlando is seemingly immortal, living from at least the late 16th-century to the present day, and 2. About 2/3’s through this movie, Orlando goes through a magical physical transformation from a man’s body to a woman’s body.  The film explores ideas of feminism, sexuality, gender, and British history and does so with cinematic flair and fantastic costuming.  Singer Jimmy Somerville sings on the soundtrack and appears in the film, his countertenor voice appropriate to Orlando’s androgyny.

When I saw this movie back in the mid-90s, it was the first time I’d seen Tilda Swinton and I can’t imagine any actor being more perfect for this role. I love the way she looks to the camera and breaks the fourth wall.  I read the book around the same time I first saw the movie, but I can’t remember which came first.  I knew next to nothing about transgenderism at the time, but this story is obviously also a metaphor for the transgender experience.  “Same person. No difference at all… just a different sex.”

I’m glad I revisited this movie as it feels to have gained new layers of meaning in the 2020s, much as Sally Potter added layers of meaning appropriate to the 1990s to Virginia Woolf’s observations on the 1920s.

Rating: ****