Ida-2014

Ida-2014

Director-Pawel Pawlikowsi

Starring-Agata Kulesza

Scott’s Review #238

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Reviewed April 24, 2015

Grade: A

Ida, winner of a number of Best Foreign Language statuettes, including the first ever Best Foreign Language Oscar for Poland, is a black and white film, containing beautiful cinematography, with a fascinating story that is both moving, sad, and very character driven and centers around not one, but two compelling characters. Certainly, ravages and after-effects of war have been explored in film before, but Ida brings a fresh spin to the subject matter.

The film takes place sometime in the 1960’s, years after the ravages of World War II and the brutality of the holocaust occurred, but the film explores the long lasting pain and sadness that the incredible time in history left on the survivors, both mentally and physically. The stories focus is on Anna, a young nun about to take her coveted vows and begin a life serving the Lord. Quite beautiful, she was left as a toddler at a convent. Before she takes her vows she is instructed to spend time with her only known relative, her Aunt Wanda. Wanda is a former judge who battles depression and alcoholism. Her brother, Anna’s father, was murdered along with Wanda’s young son, so she is a tortured soul. As Anna (real name Ida and actually Jewish) and Wanda begin a road trip to find the whereabouts of their deceased family’s bodies, they both face personal demons.

What struck me most about Ida is the cinematography- the black and white is lovely, beautiful, and especially when Ida and Wanda travel across the Polish countryside, exquisite to look at. The farms, land, and roads are so crisp and perfectly lit that it is easy to fall in love with. Many scenes resemble paintings giving the film an artistic quality. Ida is simply elegant and peaceful in style.

The story itself of Ida is wonderful. Ida- the title character young nun is torn. She knows no other life than the church that, presumably, literally saved her life. But she is a gorgeous young woman filled with desires. She sees her promiscuous aunt flaunt over men and dress to the nines in flashy outfits and makeup. Ida, almost always dressed in her nuns garb, secretly dresses in Wanda’s dresses and makeup and is transformed. When she meets a handsome saxophone player, her desires begin to brim over and her conflict increases especially as the truth about her heritage unfolds.

As interesting a character study as Ida is, the character of Wanda is equally, if not moreso, interesting. Damaged, hurt, and depressed she needs men to feel good about herself. Clearly an alcoholic she has not gotten over the death of her young son and has become a bitter woman. In a way, Ida is about loss.

Visually and creatively enticing, Ida is as good as they get. It deserves the many awards that were bestowed upon it.

Only Lovers Left Alive-2014

Only Lovers Left Alive-2014

Director-Jim Jarmusch

Starring-Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston

Scott’s Review #237

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Reviewed April 24, 2015

Grade: B

Only Lovers Left Alive is a bizarre trip into the strange and unusual world of vampires. The film, moving slowly, becomes hypnotic, grabbing me into the plot, though the plot itself seems almost secondary to the gothic mood and dark ambience of the film. Thanks in large part to the wonderful Tilda Swinton, who I find mesmerizing in every film role she appears in, the methodical film never completely bored me and, at times, even fascinated me.

Set in present times, Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play vampires named Adam and Eve, who are lovers separated geographically. Adam is a musician living in a vast Victorian house in Detroit and Eve resides in Tangier. Realizing that Adam is lonely and suicidal, Eve makes the international trek to the United States to be with her love. While they begin enjoying a quiet existence immersed in music and thoughts, Eve’s rebellious sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up from Los Angeles and adds havoc to their lives. Also cast in the film is John Hurt, who plays Marlowe, an ancient vampire assisting Adam and Eve, but who succumbs to a sickness due to tainted blood.

The film is a creative, atmospheric offering from edgy independent film director Jim Jarmusch, known for such left of center fare as Broken Flowers and Coffee and Cigarettes, which are visual and visceral achievements. While not completely loving this film, feeling that the actual story is the weakest area, the magical and beautiful arrangements almost make up for any shortcomings. Set entirely at night (when vampires are awake) and featuring several shots of Adam and Eve posed naked or almost naked in lovely, artistic angles, I think the film is going for a “look” as much as for storytelling and not completely centering on plot. It is also a lovely romantic film, though not in the typical sense of silly misunderstandings, comical moments, but rather in romantic artistry, as Adam and Eve connect spiritually.

Apparently married hundreds of years ago, Adam and Eve have been inexplicably separated by thousands of miles and coasts, though the reason is not really explained. Why are they the few remaining vampires alive? Does the human race know they are vampires or simply think they are odd looking people? They both have money to burn and pay a high cost for being vampires as they either pay a contact to steal blood from hospitals to survive or obtain the blood elsewhere. They are tempted to bite humans, but resist those urges. The film does not explain why they are two of the very few vampires left in the world nor other questions. Adam, supposedly a famous musician, is wealthy beyond words and lives in a haunted looking mansion surrounded by music and musical instruments.

The plot holes, of course, are secondary to me. None of them really matter. The film has beautiful moments- it is musically centered and Adam and Eve on more than one occasion engage in beautiful, tender dances and the film is a pure love story, but a very left of center one. I admire the films creativity and going where most film makers do not dare to go- Jarmusch dares to be different and that deserves much praise.

The negative for me was the extremely slow pacing of the film- the story almost does not matter as the film feels more like an experience in art than a “mainstream” film containing strong plot points and focus. Only Lovers Left Alive is a different type of film and one worth admiring.

Jezebel-1938

Jezebel-1938

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Bette Davis

Scott’s Review #236

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Reviewed April 18, 2015

Grade: B+

A wonderful showcase for the young and lovely Bette Davis, Jezebel is a very early film role for Davis that has many similarities to Gone with the Wind, a film that Davis reportedly lost out to Vivian Leigh. One wonders how she would have made the character of Scarlett O’Hara her own and Jezebel is a journey exploring that possibility.

Directed by acclaimed director William Wyler, Jezebel is set in 1852 (pre Civil War) New Orleans. Davis plays spoiled southern belle, Julie Marsden. Julie is engaged to wealthy banker Preston Dillard, played by Henry Fonda. After a dispute in which Julie selfishly feels her needs are not being catered to, she shockingly wears a red dress to a sophisticated ball where unmarried women are expected to wear white. This causes a scandal which results in Preston dumping Julie and leaving town. Cocky Julie expects Preston to return to town and grovel for her forgiveness, but when he does return with a life changing twist, the drama unfolds. Circumstances include a savage duel, longing love, and atonement.

Fans of Davis will love Jezebel for the sheer excellence that she brings to the screen. Mesmerizing with those soulful, big eyes and wonderful mannerisms, she exudes confidence and sophistication. Admittedly this is my earliest Davis experience and she shimmers on-screen. Bette Davis is perfectly cast. Interesting to note are the innocent qualities early Davis possessed. Later afflicted with a hoarse, deep voice and ravaged beauty after years of alcohol and cigarette abuse, Davis in Jezebel is virginal and debutante looking.

Interesting to me are Julie’s wardrobe choices- her horseback riding outfit, the vixen-like red dress, the virginal white dress, and the dark raven cape at the climax of the film, and various lighting techniques that Wyler used to showcase Davis’s face- almost look like candlelight.

The film itself has several similarities to Gone with the Wind (which it in fact preceded by a year). Julie, like Scarlett, is a rich, selfish girl who likes to manipulate men and both films feature a love triangle prevalent to the story as well as broken hearts. The slaves in both films resemble each other though are a bit more glamorous in Jezebel. The introduction of the yellow fever storyline and the sick and weak lying around in droves is similar to the wounded and dying soldier scene in Gone with the Wind where the sick and dying lie in pain. The time periods, triangle, and southern charms all heavily play in both. It is impossible not to compare the two films.

Melodrama done very well, Jezebel is to be admired as it is a film featuring a strong female character something lacking in film then (1938) and shamefully still lacking in film today! Jezebel is a true “ambitious woman’s movie”.

The Captive-2014

The Captive-2014

Director-Atom Egoyan

Starring-Ryan Reynolds

Scott’s Review #235

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Reviewed April 18, 2015

Grade: C-

The Captive is a 2014 thriller that reminds me quite a bit of a 2013 thriller, Prisoners, which certainly must have been an influence. A similar plot involving a blue-collar, working class family attempting to track down a missing child as the father takes matters into his own hands and is also considered a prime suspect in the crime by detectives, is used.

Set in snowy upstate New York, the film tells the tale of Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and Tina Lane (Mireille Enos), a struggling young couple whose 9 year old daughter, Cassandra, is snatched out of Matthew’s truck while he runs into a store to buy her a pie. Told using flashbacks, the story picks up several years later as the defeated couple is periodically taunted by Cassandra’s abductors, who leave clues to indicate she may still be alive. Via video cameras, the abductors watch the parent’s emotional reactions to the clues and sell this “entertainment” to subscribers. As the film moves along we learn of a major crime syndicate involved in the kidnapping of Cassandra and of other similar-aged girls.

At times the plot of The Captive is compelling with a few nice twists and turns and surprises- other times the plot moves quite slowly and plods too much. The film sets the story in a cold, wintry season which successfully emits a tone of darkness, loss, and harshness. In fact, the cinematography is beautiful and deserves major recognition for the mood. The major problem with the film, though, is the extreme plot holes throughout and the ludicrous nature of the story- I still do not understand the pivotal childhood ice-skating message at the end. As the film progresses the plot becomes tough to follow and many questions resonate. Who is actually paying to watch parents emotionally tortured? How can Cassandra seemingly come and go as she pleases and still remain a prisoner? Why, years later, is Matthew still a suspect? These points seem way too plot driven for my taste and seem to be simply created to further the plot. The main villain- Mika- is a weird guy for sure, but what is his motivation? Why is he part of the kidnapping syndicate? What is anyone’s motivation besides Matthew and Tina striving to get their daughter back? This is not explained.

The casting of some of the actors is problematic- I had difficulty buying Enos working as a maid in a small town- she is way too glamorous a woman for that to be believed. Similarly, the casting of Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman as central detectives in the case seems unrealistic. The film is pure fantasy- these actors are too good-looking to be believable as upstate New York, small town, detectives. While very handsome, Ryan Reynolds is the only actor I bought as a grizzled, broken father with a glimmer of hope that his daughter is still alive.

All in all, besides some interesting turns, The Captive is too unrealistic and convoluted to follow closely. A bit of a mess really. For this type of film (kidnapping thriller?), I would recommend the superior Prisoners, though the plot holes are prevalent in that film too.

Teorema-1968

Teorema-1968

Director-Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring-Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano

Scott’s Review #234

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Reviewed April 10, 2015

Grade: A-

Teorema is a 1968 Italian art film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom later would go on to direct the dark and disturbing 1975 masterpiece, Salo- 120 Days of Sodom. If one is looking for a concise, mainstream plot with a fixed, to the point, beginning and ending, one will be disappointed. Rather, Teorema is an exhibition in artistic style and interpretation and succeeds in mesmerizing this viewer in thought and contemplation.

A mysterious stranger, simply known as “the visitor”, suddenly arrives to stay with an affluent, Italian family in their sprawling estate. The family consists of a father, mother, son, daughter, and maid, all with issues of loneliness, boredom, fear, rage, or repression. The handsome stranger successfully beds all members of the family and just as suddenly as he arrives, he then disappears from the household leaving the family members with different thoughts, feelings, and actions upon his departure.

The film is highly interpretive and every character can be analyzed. All of the characters are seduced by the stranger and the family’s wealth can be studied. Is Teorema (which translates to theorem in Italian) a commentary on the bourgeois society? The father, Paolo, owns a factory and appears to be in turmoil- is he a repressed homosexual? The conclusion of the father’s story is very interesting as he turns his factory over to the workers, strips naked, and roars with anger and frustration. Is the mother simply a wealthy, bored housewife or much more than that? This character might have been explored more thoroughly. The maid, devoutly religious, becomes suicidal after her tryst with the stranger. The others confide in the stranger about how they feel about themselves and, at times, the film is like watching a therapy session as each character delves more into their own personal feelings. Only the maid is a bit different than the others, but could this be because she is of working class and the others affluent? The daughter, Odessa, approximately, sixteen years old, becomes depressed after her liaison. The frightened, weak son appears to have a crisis and is consoled by the stranger in a loving, tender fashion.

Interestingly, the film at the time was resoundingly denounced by the Vatican, who took offense at the controversial tone of the film and its focus on “obscenity”. Could this be because of some people’s interpretation of “the visitor” as being a Christ-like figure? One must argue the difference between “obscenity” and “art” after viewing this groundbreaking and visionary film. Personally, I viewed Teorema as a thought-provoking experience and did not feel as if the film were going for shock value. Certainly, the film is lightweight in this regard compared to the hauntingly brutal Salo, which followed years later.

Teorema delves into the psychological abyss and portrays an Italian family as more than wealthy- they are people with emotions, fears, desires, and complexities. Certainly not for mainstream audiences, but meant for lovers of interpretive film, it can be debated and discussed for ages to come.

Madhouse-1974

Madhouse-1974

Director-Jim Clark

Starring-Vincent Price, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #233

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Reviewed April 3, 2015

Grade: B-

Madhouse, a 1974 British horror film, stars horror icon Vincent Price who portrays a sympathetic Hollywood actor who is unsure of his sanity after the grisly murder of his trophy fiancé whom he may or may not have been responsible for murdering. Mainly set in London, Madhouse also stars famed British actors in the latter stages of their careers, such as Peter Cushing, and is a treat for classic British horror fans as the look of the film is stylistic and effective in mood- the story, while silly, is also fun.

Paul Toombes (Price) is a famed actor notorious for his character of Dr. Death in a successful film franchise. He seemingly has it all and is the envy of his contemporaries- wealth, notoriety, and a glamorous blonde fiancé named Ellen. After Ellen is murdered by someone dressed as Dr. Death, Paul is unable to remember the circumstances or his whereabouts during the murder. After spending years in a mental institution in a confused state he is summoned to London to mount an acting comeback of sorts, reprising his Dr. Death alter-ego. As the bodies begin to pile up, a whodunit commences- is Paul Toombes the killer or is someone impersonating him?

The film itself is quite pleasing to a horror fan like me. The deaths, while silly, are fun and campy. Mostly all female victims, a comical aspect is how the victims, when cornered by the killer, simply scream and stand there waiting to be sliced. Wouldn’t they fight back in real life? This film is certainly not realism at its finest, but rather is a fun horror film. It is a bit exaggerated and over-the-top in a campy way, but is also true to the 1970’s style with point of view scenes from the killer’s perspective. A wonderful aspect to this film is real clips of old Vincent Price films (The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, and House of Usher) to name a few, featuring deceased horror god Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. Since the plot involves Price’s character being a former horror actor this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase long ago classic horror films and it works perfectly.

I enjoyed the television scenes within the film plot as Paul revives his career and shoots a series for the BBC- the film chooses interesting, haunting sets and Cushing’s character of Herbert Flay and his zany wife reside in a spooky, vast mansion with eerie spiders that the wife is obsessed with. The set pieces are great and very Halloween-like. And the spider-eating-flesh scene is excellent!

The tag team of Price and Cushing is fun to watch- both horror stalwarts they connect well and both actors play off of each other successfully. It is evident they had a ball while making this film.

Towards the end of the film the plot becomes confusing and the big reveal as to the killer’s identity and the motivations surrounding are a disappointment. The conclusion to the film is silly and makes little sense, although that is secondary to a film of this genre that borders on camp. Madhouse is an enjoyable midnight flick starring two of the top classic horror icons.