Movie Review: The Brothers Bloom (2008)


TitleThe Brothers Bloom
Release Date: May 15, 2009
Director: Rian Johnson
Production Company:
Summary/Review:

I wasn’t aware of the work of  Rian Johnson before I saw The Last Jedi (which I will always love despite the concerted effort of whiny manbabies try to discredit it) and Knives Out. I was eager to see Johnson’s earlier work and The Brothers Bloom is his second feature film as director. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play the titular brothers Stephen and Bloom whose childhood in foster homes leads them to a life as conmen.

While Stephen has always enjoyed writing the elaborate stories behind their complex con jobs, Adrien has regretted not being able to form real relationships.  Stephen plays one last con with the mark being Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz), a quirky heiress who lives alone in a New Jersey mansion.  The brothers and their silent partner Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi, she literally doesn’t talk, that’s the joke) carry out a multinational plot and soon it becomes hard for even Bloom to realize what is real and what is part of the con.

I thought that the movie would end up having Penelope playing a con on the brothers Bloom, or perhaps that Stephen was using the con to set up Bloom with Penelope romantically.  Neither of these twists happen although Bloom and Penelope become a couple anyway.  For some reason I can’t understand the movie appears to be set in the present day but the brothers wear 1930s style clothing and travel on a transatlantic steamship. The whole feel of the movie is kind of a cross of Wes Anderson’s precious style with early New Hollywood films of the late 60s/early 70s.  There are some good moments but overall the movie doesn’t really grab me.  I would of liked it better if Penelope and Bang Bang went off on their own adventure and left the boy drama behind.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: L’Eclisse (1962)


Title: L’Eclisse
Release Date: 12 April 1962
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Production Company: Cineriz
Summary/Review:

Before I jump into the main review, I just want to note that old movies should have a warning label when a completely random scene in blackface is going to occur.  I wasn’t ready when the film’s protagonist Vittoria (Monica Vitti) visits a neighbor Marta (Mirella Ricciardi), a white woman born and raised in Kenya , suddenly has her entire body covered in dark makeup and performs a “tribal” dance.  To be fair, unlike some movies, the audience is not supposed to be on Vittoria’s side in this moment, and there’s a pointed judgement of Marta when she reveals she believes the Black Kenyans seeking civil rights are “monkeys.”

This is just one scene though in a longer film that follows Vittoria on her perambulations through Rome over an ingeminate amount of time, although it feels like it’s a few weeks at most.  The movie begins with her ending a long-term relationship with Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) because she does not wish to marry.  Over the course of the film she gets to know her mother’s young stockbroker Piero (Alain Delon) and reluctantly forms a romantic partnering with him that feels doomed from the start.  Most of the film is shot on location emphasizing the post-war modernist design of Rome and its outskirts.

I feel this movie has many parallels with Cleo, From 5 to 7.  Both films feature a stylish and conventionally attractive young woman, who struggle with internal turmoil and inability to connect with others against the background of a European capital.  They even both touch upon African colonialism and independence movements.  However I feel that Cleo, From 5 to 7 is the stronger film because it makes you feel an emotional bond with the protagonist while L’Eclisse just makes you feel hollow.

There are several scenes I liked in this film.  The opening scene of the breakup is strong as both characters have things they want to say but not the words to say them. One scene in the Rome Stock Exchange lampoons the greed of capitalists forced to take a moment of silence for a recently deceased colleague as they grumble about lost earning potential.  And the final sequence of the film where there are multiple shots of Vittoria and Piero’s meeting spot with neither character ever appearing is a fascinating way to end a film.

Ultimately though, I have to agree with film critic Jon Lisi who wrote that L’Eclisse  “is beautifully made, historically important, and boring as hell.” After Blowup and L’Avventura this is the third Antonioni film I’ve watched and I’m glad there are no more on my list of Classic Films. I can see why his work is considered important but I don’t enjoy watching them.

Rating:**1/2

Movie Review: Lady and the Tramp (2019)


Title: Lady and the Tramp
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Director: Charlie Bean
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Taylor Made
Summary/Review:

The 1955 Disney animated feature Lady and the Tramp is a cute romantic comedy about jokes that attempts to derive humor through the aggressive deployment of ethnic stereotypes.  Of any movie to get a modern day “live-action” remake, I figured Lady and the Tramp would be bound to be improved, especially since my favorite maybe-they’re-a-couple celebrities Tessa Thompson (as Lady) and Janelle Monáe (as Peg) were involved.

The remake succeeds at it’s basic point of being a cute, family-friendly story about dogs.  It’s a movie that I expect parents will enjoy watching with their younger kids (although my kids were not interested in watching it). I’m not sure how much of the animals is CGI and how much is live animal actors, but the dogs looked like real dogs with animated faces.  The cats and the rat, on the other hand look totally fake.  The movie is overly long and seemingly didn’t have a director who could restrain himself from trying to make every moment magical.  The movie would be improved with some judicious pruning.

The story is essentially the same as the 1955 original without the racism.  In fact, the cast is racially diverse including a mix-raced couple as Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons). Hopefully no one will be watching a talking dog movie for a historically-accurate depiction of early 20th century America, but the fact that all the racial harmony is just as fantastical makes me feel a little sad.

Rating: ***

 

Classic Movie Review: The Barefoot Contessa (1954)


Title: The Barefoot Contessa
Release Date: September 29, 1954
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Production Company: Figaro
Summary/Review:

The Barefoot Contessa is part of the trend of “show business is sleazy” satirical dramas following on the heels of Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve (the latter written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who wrote and directed this film).  Writer/director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is part of a Hollywood team traveling Europe looking for a “new face” when they discover flamenco dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner, born in North Carolina and not the slightest bit Spanish) in Madrid.  Maria becomes a superstar after making three films with Harry, before marrying Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rosanno Brazzi).  But since the movie begins at Maria’s funeral, and the film is told in flashback, we know that things are not going to end well.

Despite the title, the movie is not really about Maria.  She is more of an object for men to desire and for more conscientious men like Harry to philosophize about.  To be fair to the film, it makes no pretence at being a movie about Maria and spends a lot of time in voiceover monologues by Harry, Count Vincenzo, and even the sleazy publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien) who works for a couple of millionaires who are pursuing Maria romantically. But it strikes me that the movie would be much better if it was from Maria’s perspective. The dialogue in the film strives towards witty repartee, but misses the mark so that it just embarrassing.  The film starts very well, and the friendship between Harry and Maria is very strong, but ultimately The Barefoot Contessa is a disappointment.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: On the Waterfront (1954)


Title: On the Waterfront
Release Date: July 28, 1954
Director: Elia Kazan
Production Company: Horizon Pictures
Summary/Review:

Today’s classic film is too fancy for Hoboken and too hot for church. On the Waterfront introduced a new style of naturalistic acting and pioneered a filmmaking style that inspired the New Hollywood movement a generation later.  It’s most famous for an oft-quoted monologue, but I don’t think that scene is quite so great without the context of the film around it.

Marlon Brando stars in this film as Terry Malloy, a former prizefighter who now works as a longshoreman in Hoboken, New Jersey and sometimes serves as “muscle” for the mob-connected union boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb, once again being George C. Scott’s doppelgänger).  Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is Friendly’s right-hand man, so Terry gets special treatment in assignments.

Terry begins to be aware that his good life is built on lies and must make difficult decisions after inadvertently playing a part in the murder of a longshoreman who was willing to talk to the police.  The victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint) is outraged by everyone willing to be “deaf and dumb” about the crime and inspires the parish priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) to take action. Edie and Terry also grow close which affects his changing heart.

The romance between Edie and Terry is the one thing I don’t really buy about this movie because Terry gives off a million red flags that someone like Edie would see right away.  Other than that this film is a compelling drama with terrific acting by all the leads and interesting staging and camera angles that take advantage of the gritty Hoboken locations.  Not only is this a great movie that realistically depicts the issues of working class people but it also reminds me of how Catholic social justice activists like Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan stood with the people like Father Barry in the mid-20th century.

The movie is great drama, but it also metaphorical.  There are all too many real life examples of organizations, even ones that should have positive uses like unions, falling victim to corruption. In more recent years things like the push for Iraq War, the rise of Trump, and the current efforts of the Republican party to suppress voting rights are all built on the ability of people in power to use fear, greed, and indifference to manipulate people into going along with something that they know is wrong. Unfortunately, director Elia Kazan also made this film to justify his testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, ruining the lives and careers of  several people who ended up being blacklisted for being labeled “Communists.” Comparing so-called “Communists,” usually people who tried advocating for economic equality and against racial discrimination to the murderous mobsters who were American capitalists at heart is just wrong.

On the Waterfront is a case where the art is greater than the artist, but it remains a spectacular film.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Ammonite (2020)


TitleAmmonite
Release Date: September 11, 2020
Director: Francis Lee
Production Company: BBC Films | British Film Institute | See-Saw Films
Summary/Review:

This film is based on the real life of Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) who was an underappreciated pioneer of paleontology who found and studied fossils along the coast of the English Channel at Lyme Regis. The film begins with Anning reluctantly guiding a geology enthusiast, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) on one of her collecting trips on the shore.  Accompanying Murchison is his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) who is suffering severe depression.  Roderick arranges for Charlotte to remain in Lyme Regis for convalescence and pays Mary Anning to take Charlotte on her trips to the shore.

The better part of the movie is Mary and Charlotte slowly lowering their defenses, becoming friends, and then beginning a romance.  I thought with the stellar lead actors and the true life story of Anning’s contributions to science that this would be an interesting film. Winslet and Ronan do their best, but the whole movie has a paint-by-numbers approach full of well-worn tropes of period dramas and lesbian romance.  We certainly don’t learn much about the real Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison, which is a shame, because even their short Wikipedia entries detail fascinating lives.

I’m not sure if this is a noble failure or if Francis Lee just totally missed the point, but what we end up here is a pretty, but hollow, film.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Summerland (2020)


TitleSummerland
Release Date: July 31, 2020
Director: Jessica Swale
Production Company: Shoebox Films | Iota Films
Summary/Review:

Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) is a writer who researches and publishes studies on folklore and mythology.  She is also the village curmudgeon living alone in a seaside town in Kent during World War II where the local children call her witch.  To her surprise, she is assigned a child evacuee from London, Frank (Lucas Bond), to live with her.  Hijinks ensue.

This movie has indication of trotting out the tired trope of Independent Women Must Learn To Embrace Her Maternal Side (As Fits Her Womanly Duty).  But this movie has a few twists.  Throughout the movie Alice remembers her younger days when she had a romantic relationship with a woman named Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  Past and present intersect and both Alice and Frank have to deal with their personal traumas as they bond.  Frank also befriends a mischiveous girl named Edie (Dixie Egerickx) who is my favorite character in the movie.

There are some historically-questionable oddities about this movie.  Like, weren’t children evacuated inland rather than to a village just across the Channel from Nazi-occupied France? But if you can avoid letting little things like that from bothering you, this is a perfectly fine drama and romance film that is sweet as much as it is predictable.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Trouble in Paradise (1932) #AtoZChallenge



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

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.

I couldn’t find a “U” movie to watch from these lists, so I’m going to just review another “T” movie and “U” will have to live with that.

Title: Trouble in Paradise
Release Date: October 21, 1932
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The film begins with a romantic dinner in Venice between Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins). They gradually learn that they are both posing as aristocracy: he’s a master thief and she’s a pickpocket and a con artist.  They decide to team up and find their next mark in Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), a recent widow who owns a famous perfume company.  Gaston is able to get himself hired as Mariette’s secretary (and get a position for Lily as well) and work his way into her confidence to set up robbing her safe.  There’s one problem though – Gaston and Mariette fall in love.

Thus you have the perfect escapist fare for The Great Depression – the meaningless problems of the rich, a love triangle, and nonstop droll humor.  The three leads are terrific and have a great supporting cast.  I wouldn’t say this movie is laugh out loud funny, but these characters are so smart and effortless in their banter, I can’t help but enjoy it.  I’d never heard of Kay Francis before, but I learned she was the top-paid Hollywood actress of the early 1930s, and I can see why.  You can also tell this is a pre-Code film because they’re never explicitly sexual, they don’t hide its sexiness either.

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 Philadelphia Story(1940) #AtoZChallenge



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

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 is not a single movie I want to watch that starts with the letter “Q” so I’m just doing another “P” movie.  Of course, Philadelphia is “the Quaker City,” so there is your Q content if you need it.

Title: The Philadelphia Story
Release Date: December 26, 1940
Director: George Cukor
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn + James Stewart + lots of alcohol + witty repartee seems a perfect recipe for comedy gold.  The story is that mainline Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) has divorced C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and now plans to marry the new money George Kittredge (John Howard).  On the eve of the wedding Dexter returns with a reporter, Mike Connor (James Stewart) and a photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) who – somewhat reluctantly – are there to cover the high society wedding.

All of this is mainly an excuse to get some of the best actors of all-time together for the aforementioned drinking and repartee.  But the plot doesn’t quite go where you think it might go either.  Well, the ending is totally predictable, but the winding path it takes to get their is not.  As an added bonus there are many scenes stolen by Virginia Weidler as Tracy’s little sister Dinah.

This is another movie that was a favorite of mine in my younger years that I failed to revisit for the past couple of decades.  I’m going to say that it’s a little bit less good than I remember.  There are a few too many domestic abuse jokes for my taste.  And there are some dead spots, especially early on in the film.  But put that aside, because even if this film was perfect in memory it is still an all-time classic in its less-than-perfect state.

Rating: ****