Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)


Title: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Release Date: une 27, 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Production Company: Cinereach | Court 13 | Journeyman Pictures
Summary/Review:

I went into this movie with little knowledge about what it’s about and felt as if I was plunged into a post-apocalyptic science fiction story that begins with the survivors having a big celebration. Eventually, I cottoned on that this story is set in our present day, a reminder that apocalyptic conditions already exist in many places on our earth.  In this case, it is a poor fishing community on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast called The Bathtub that is on the wrong side of the levees (and seemingly outside of governmental control) and thus susceptible to storms and hurricanes.  The movie is clearly a parable for the climate crisis, but it is also so much more.

The movie feels like a fantasy, or magical realism, because its point-of-view character is the 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis).  Wallis’ stunning performance captures a child both fully competent in navigating the world she’s grown up in but also still a child, who needs security.  She doesn’t find much of that in her volatile father Wink (Dwight Henry) who is dying, and her mother has gone missing some time before.

This movie defies description so I’m not going to summarize it any further. Much like Jaccques Tati’s Playtime, this is a movie unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and probably cannot be duplicated.  It’s a movie with a lot of emotion and imagination, and is a credit to Wallis, Henry, and the rest of the cast.  The direction and the cinematography are inspired, and credit must also be given to the set designers that created believable living spaces filled with floating debris.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Blindspotting (2018)


Title: Blindspotting
Release Date: July 20, 2018
Director: Carlos López Estrada
Production Company: Summit Entertainment | Codeblack Films | Snoot Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Real life lifelong friends Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this film about gentrification and police violence in Oakland.  Diggs plays Collin Hoskins on the last three days of probation after being convicted for assault . Casal plays his volatile friend Miles Turner who does things like purchase a gun illegally, smokes weed, and picks fist fights that seem destined to get Collin to violate the terms of his probation.  Collin and Miles work together at a moving company and spend much of their social time together as well with Mile’s wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their adorable child Sean.

The movie starts off as a goofy comedy as Collin tries to avoid getting ensnared by Miles’ clueless misbehavior and they both make fun of the white hipsters taking over Oakland.  Things begin to shift to a more serious drama after Collin witnesses a cop murder a Black man by shooting him in the back.   This is one of those movies where the sequence of events happening close together with a lot of coincidences is extremely unlikely.  But you have to set aside plot machinations to focus on the acting performances and the underlying social message of the film. Particularly well done is that while Collin and Miles have had similar life experiences, nevertheless, the experience for Collin as a Black man is different from what Miles has as a white man, something the latter has to learn.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Yi Yi (2000) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Y

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Yi Yi
Release Date: 5 May 200
Director: Edward Yang
Production Company: 1+2 Seisaku Iinkai | Atom Films | Basara Pictures |
Pony Canyon
Summary/Review:

Yi Yi is a family drama from the director of A Brighter Summer Day, and thankfully less bleak than that earlier film. It depicts the Jian family of Taipei, Taiwan: father NJ (Wu Nien-jen), mother Min-Min, early teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), and 8-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang).  The film begins at the wedding of Min-Min’s brother A-Di, introducing the main characters and setting up important plot threads. (Ever since I’ve watched The Godfather, I’ve noticed the whole “start the movie at a wedding” thing popping up in a lot of movies). At the wedding reception, NJ encounters Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), a romantic partner his university days, in the hotel lobby.  After the wedding, Mim Min’s mother suffers a stroke and ends up comatose.

The film does not have a straightforward plot, per se, but interweaves the four individual threads of the family members as they deal with their personal struggles.

  • NJ is unmotivated by his job but bonds with potential client from Japan, Mr. Ota.  On a business trip to Japan he reunites with Sherry and they have an emotional series of conversations over unresolved issues from their failed relationship.
  • Min-Min is overwhelmed by her mother’s coma and leaves for a Buddhist retreat.
  • Ting-Ting feels guilty because her grandmother collapsed doing Ting-Ting’s chore of taking out the trash. Ting-Ting talks to her comatose grandmother about her guilt and other concerns. She also befriends her neighbor Lili, and later briefly dates Lili’s ex-boyfriend, Fatty.  While not a member of the family, Lili’s life is also documented in the film apart from her interactions with Ting-Ting.
  • Yang-Yang, the MVP of this movie, is a shy kid who’s bullied by other kids and his teacher. He finds a way to express his creativity by taking photographs.
  • We also spend time with A-Di, who struggles financially, gets kicked out by his wife, gets back together with an ex-girlfriend, and hosts the worst possible baby shower imaginable.

The movie is beautifully filmed and most shots use the Ozustyle of keeping the camera still and a mid-distance rather than panning or zooming or using closeups. The acting is solid and naturalistic as well. Occasionally there are plot twists that feel a bit soap opera-ish, but largely is more about the patterns of ordinary life.  There are some joys and some sorrows but a lot just hovers in the middle.  Clocking at over 3 hours, it is a big time commitment to spend time with these people without a traditional story or payoff, but I think it’s worth it.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Van Gogh (1991) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter V

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Van Gogh
Release Date: 30 October 1991
Director: Maurice Pialat
Production Company: Erato Films | Le Studio Canal+ | Les Films du Livradois | Films A2
Summary/Review:

I admire the artwork of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.  I’ve been to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and seen his art at other museums, watched the film Loving Vincent animated in the style of his art, and “Vincent and the Doctor” is one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who.  Despite all that, I am only familiar with the basics of Van Gogh’s biography, so I was looking forward to this film.

Jacques Dutronc portrays Van Gogh in the final two months of his life in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise on the outskirts of Paris.  It’s largely a straightforward biopic, and Pialat’s approach eschews sentimentality and sensationalism.  For example, the story takes place after Van Gogh mutilated his ear but Dutronc’s ears appear in perfect condition.  The movie focuses less on Van Gogh as an artist and more on his interpersonal relationships.  This means a lot of people being goofy about trying to find something to talk about with an artist and Van Gogh being incredibly grumpy about it.

Key relationships include Dr Paul Gachet (Gérard Séty) the physician and amateur artists who Van Gogh consults who is ultimately helpless in dealing with Van Gogh’s mental illness.  Vincent also has several conflicts with his brother Theo (Bernard Le Coq), the art dealer who supports his career.  Theo’s wife Jo (Corinne Bourdon) is sympathetic to Vincent and advocates for him.  Van Gogh also forms a romantic and sexual relationship with Dr. Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (Alexandra London) while continuing an existing sexual relationship with Cathy (Elsa Zylberstein), a prostitute from Paris.

The movie is basically a sequence of Van Gogh having arguments and sex and there being very little emotion involved in either.  I know it’s probably more my fault than the film’s but I had a lot of trouble watching this movie. I ended up watching it over the period of four days because it just couldn’t hold me attention.  If the purpose of Van Gogh is to recreate the feeling of  emptiness the leads a talented artist to chose suicide, it does its job.  But ultimately I can’t say that is what I want from a film.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Touki Bouki (1973) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter T

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Touki Bouki
Release Date: May 1973
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Production Company: Cinegrit | Studio Kankourama
Summary/Review:

Before the opening credits of Touki Bouki are finished, the film depicts the slaughter of cattle in graphic detail. So I knew this would be a tough film to watch.  In fact, slaughtering animals is a repeating motif of this film.  If you are squeamish, consider this your warning.

The nation of Senegal does not have an extensive film industry, but Touki Bouki  stands out as a highlight of the 1970s golden era of Senegalese cinema. The film draws influence from the French New Wave and relies on some deft editing.  Scenes from the present, past, and fantasy are intercut, with some images repeated multiple times in the film.  At times it feels as surreal as Un Chien Andalou and other times it feels like an music video from the 1980s. The edits create contrasts between natural and urban settings, the ancient and modern, and the African and colonised.

The story is about a young man, a cowherd named Mory (Magaye Niang) who drives a motorcycle with a cow skull on the handlebars, and a young woman, a university student named Anta (Mareme Niang).  They meet in Dakar and decide to run away together to Paris where they hope to make their fortune.  Much of the film depicts their attempts to steal the money they need to travel to Paris.  But really the plot is secondary to the imagery. I confess that I don’t quite “get” this movie, but I do appreciate what Mambéty is doing.

Rating: ****

 

Classic Movie Review: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter S

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Spirit of the Beehive
Release Date: 8 October 1973
Director: Víctor Erice
Production Company: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas S.L. | Jacel Desposito
Summary/Review:

Set in a small Castilian village just after the Spanish Civil War, The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that captures the intersection of childhood wonder and fantasy with grim realities.  If that description seems to fit Pan’s Labyrinth as well, then you won’t be surprised that Guillermo del Toro drew inspiration from this film.  Ana (Ana Torrent) is an adorable 6-year-old with a vivid imagination.  Her father (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is a beekeeper and writes extensively about bees.  Her mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes letters to distant lovers.  Neither of them seem to be all to involved in the lives of their children.

The film begins when a traveling movie show brings Frankenstein to the village.  Ana becomes entranced by Frankenstein’s monster, especially the scene when he kills the little girl. Ana’s older sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) tells her that “Everything in the movies is fake” and that the monster didn’t kill the girl and that in fact he lives in a nearby sheep shed. Ana visits the sheep shed often and finding a wounded republican soldier hiding there, she brings him food and clothing.

The Spirit of the Beehive is set at the beginning of the Franco regime and was released shortly before Franco’s death. Erice gets a lot of credit for telling a story that is critical of Franco through metaphor and thus evading censorship.  But beyond the plot that I’ve summarized here, much of the film is more of a tone poem capturing the everyday wonders and fears of a young child.  It’s beautifully filmed and Ana Torrent’s performance is remarkable.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Pather Panchali (1955) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter P

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Pather Panchali
Release Date: 26 August 1955
Director: Satyajit Ray
Production Company: Government of West Bengal
Summary/Review:

Pather Panchali (translated, Song of the Little Road) is a story set in Bengal in the early 1900s.  It tells the story of a family’s slow descent into poverty over a period of a few years.  Much of the film is told from the point of view of the family’s youngest member, Apu (Subir Banerjee), a curious child.  His older sister Durga (Uma Dasgupta) dotes on him and teases him in equal measure, and has taken to stealing things to supplement the family’s meager income. Their stern mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) is distressed by Durga’s thievery, her debts to their neighbors, and her husband’s directionless nature.  Their father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) is a priest who wants to be a writer and is perhaps too casual about bringing in money for his family, but also spends significant amounts of time traveling to earn money elsewhere.  The final member of the family is an aged aunt, Indir (Chunibala Devi), a mischievous old woman who the children adore but is an irritant to Sarbajaya.

This is the first feature film directed by Satyajit Ray, beginning a career as one of India’s most notable auteur directors.  It also the first of three films, followed by Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), that tell the story of Apu’s life and are known as The Apu Trilogy.  The film is very crisp and has a silvertone quality that captures a lot of detail.  I’m reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s way of depicting the natural world overlapping the built world of humanity.  The movie also draws on Italian neorealism influences which means that it didn’t follow a strict script and depicts many of the basic pleasures of life and the ordinary human tragedies without a strict plot. The score of the movie was composed and performed by Ravi Shankar, one of the earliest works in his career that lead to him being one of the world’s most famous Indian musicians.

Pather Panchali is a sad but beautiful film.  It’s probably worth a rewatch at some future date when I have time to appreciate it better.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Nomadland (2021) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter N

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

There are no “N” movies on the classic films lists that I hadn’t reviewed yet so today I’m reviewing a current film that is receiving a lot of praise.

Title: Nomadland
Release Date: February 19, 2021
Director: Chloé Zhao
Production Company: Highwayman Films | Hear/Say Productions | Cor Cordium Productions
Summary/Review:

The always brilliant Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a woman who takes to living in a van and traveling the Western United States for seasonal work after the death of her husband and the closure of the gypsum mine in their home town of Empire, Nevada.  While her friends consider Fern to be “homeless” she begins to find a certain freedom and self-determination  in the community of van-dwelling nomads.

This movie basically has no plot but is more of a character study of Fern as she deals with issues of her past and learns to survive as a nomad.  The film has a documentary character to it and many of the supporting cast are actual nomads playing themselves.  The direction and editing by Chloé Zhao is impressive and this is an absolutely gorgeous.  The American West, including some National Parks, are captured in all their glory as well as some unusually beautiful industrial settings.

I saw this movie tagged as a “Western” and I really like the idea that this is the modern Western movie.  One of the characters even says that the vandwellers are the modern pioneers.  While I don’t expect that Nomadland is a movie I’ll want to watch again and again, it is definitely worth watching at least once.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter J

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Release Date: May 14, 1975
Director: Chantal Akerman
Production Company: Paradise Films | Unité Trois
Summary/Review:

I believe this is the first Belgian film I have ever watched.  The 3 hour, 21 minute film details the life of a woman, Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), go through the ordinary routine of her life in minute detail over a period of three days. Jeanne cleans the house, cooks, bathes, goes shopping, babysits, spends time with her teenage son (Jan Decorte), runs errands, and receives men in her bedroom who pay her for sex.  Sometimes she also sits in a chair for a long time as well. She is so very precise about everything she does that when little things start to go wrong it is very jarring. This film is the slowest of burns all leading to … something I won’t say.

The film adopts the style of Yasujirō Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring), where the camera remains stationary throughout and there are only cuts between scenes. With a woman director, Chantal Akerman, and a crew made up mostly of women, the film is a feminist statement on the invisibility of women’s work in movies (and in real life).  The film provokes a lot of questions, such as does it matter if a movie is technically brilliant and innovative if it ends up being extremely boring? Or, it there art in the verisimilitude of life, or should art transcend ordinary life?

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Fanny and Alexander (1982) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter F

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Fanny and Alexander
Release Date: December 17, 1982
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company:  Gaumont
Summary/Review:

I guess I was a budding cinephile at the age of 9 when I started watching Siskel & Ebert’s At The Movies and Leonard Maltin’s movie reviews on Entertainment Tonight.  I like how they always showed extended clips of the movies that they discussed and the highly-regarded movies of the 1982-1983 era stick in my mind even if I’ve never seen them.  It turns out that when finally watching Fanny and Alexander that I actually had watched parts of the movie when randomly flipping channels as a teenager.  So it was good to finally watch the whole thing, or at least the three-hour theatrical cut.

While Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) gets top billing her role is minor, and it is Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve) is the main point-of-view character.  The ten-year old boy whose vivid imagination gets him in trouble represents director Ingmar Bergman’s own child, although this movie is not a straight up autobiography.  For example, the film is set in the first decade of the 1900s, whereas Bergman wasn’t even born until 1918.  Bergman also noted that all the male characters in the film represent an aspect of his own personality.

The basic plot of the film is that the Ekdahl’s are a prosperous and large family who own and run a theatre. The family is introduced at a lavish Christmas party  at the lavish house of Fanny and Alexander’s grandmother Helena (Gunn Wållgren). After their father Oscar (Allan Edwall) suffers a stroke and dies, their mother Emilie (Ewa Fröling) remarries to the Bishop Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjö).  The Bishop is strict and disciplined, and ultimately abusive when Alexander defies him.  Things look bad but this movie takes some weird twists and Alexander, Fanny, and Emilie ultimately end up reunited with their loving family.

While Alexander is central to the movie’s plot, there are a lot of scenes with adult characters where he isn’t involved.  There’s even a major subplot about the children’s exuberant uncle Gustav (Jarl Kulle) having an extramarital affair with their maid Maj (a young Pernilla August, years before she played Shmi Skywalker in The Phantom Menace) with the full knowledge and approval of his adoring wife Alma (Mona Malm).  The large cast includes some highly-regarded Swedish film stars and they all but in a terrific, naturalistic performance.

This movie is gorgeous to look at with bold colors and lots of detail in every shot.  There are three main sets: grandmother Helena’s overstuffed mansion, the austere interiors of the Bishop’s house, and labyrinthine antiques store of Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson), the merchant and Ekdahl family friend who rescues the children.  There is also a lot exteriors shot on location in Uppsala, Sweden.  Of late, I’ve grown fatigued of how many classic films are extremely lengthy and resentful of the pretentiousness of some directors who are not economical in their storytelling.   But Fanny and Alexander is a movie that I want more of and so I will have to find time in the future to watch the full five-and-a-half hour miniseries.

Rating: ****