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"Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." - Barry Lopez
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Heart breaking but beautiful.
All films are historical, documentary, truthful or close enough to the truth (after all, truth is often stranger than fiction).
Laughter is medicine for an ailing planet.
La llorona (2019)
She Comes to Restore Justice from the Deepest Part of the Mountain
The legend of La Llorona in Latin America is of a woman who was abandoned and became a wandering ghost weeping for her children. It is given an unearthly and uniquely Guatemalan twist here. A once fearsome general whose troops committed atrocities under his command is now elderly, frail and charged with genocide. He is declared guilty and yet freed without punishment. Protestors surround his home. At about the same time a mysterious young woman arrives in the household to take a job that no one else will take. She says her home is in the deepest part of the mountain. Unearthly weeping is heard in the night and perhaps justice will be done.
The Weeping Woman is a powerful, surreal film that shook me to my core. It combines history, politics and myth in a spectacular way. Through enthralling dream sequences and eerie, jarring music La Llorona sheds light on injustice and genocide in Guatemala. Nearly half of the country's indigenous community, which is two thirds of the entire population, was killed in the relatively recent bloodshed. Most were children. Writer-director Bustamante wisely does not rub our faces in the genocide. The subject is handled obliquely. Through the general's wife, daughter and granddaughter the film reveals how the unresolved injustices haunt individuals and nation alike. Future generations are affected by the wounds the present generation ignores. Bustamante is the director of Ixcanul, another amazing film. The Weeping Woman won the best film prize at the Venice film festival and I saw it at the Toronto international film festival.
Mientras dure la guerra (2019)
Ghost Haunts Spain
Violence may win a fight, but it does not win hearts. It does not persuade. During the first months of the Spanish civil war a senior professor and famous writer, Miguel de Unamuno, doesn't take the uprising too seriously. Cooler heads will prevail he believes. Yet as his friends and colleagues disappear, Miguel realizes he made a great mistake.
While at War is based on real events and the belief that Franco has not really died. "He is a ghost that haunts Spain to this day," said Alejandro Amenabar "the same events could happen again anywhere." Spain made great again. I was fascinated not only by the character of Miguel de Unamuno, but also by the portrayal of Franco. He avoids the inflexibility that brought down other dictators of the time. Franco is quiet, patient and wise in a devious - not moral - sense. He learns from others and changes as needed. It is fascinating to see some aspects of how the fascists and Franco came to power. It is not how I imagined. In my ignorance I even imagined the wrong character to be Franco through half the film. While at War is not merely a good story, it is well made and acted as well. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
Tenki no ko (2019)
Sunshine Girl and Climate Change
The sky is unknown as the ocean. Human hearts are connected to it and mysterious powers flow from it. So when a teen girl passes through an ancient Shinto gate and says a prayer for her dying mother, she is favored by the spirit world and forces of nature, and gains an influence over the weather. She brings sunshine to those who need it. For a young runaway boy as well as the entire city of Tokyo suffering from climate change and unearthly long rains, this sunshine girl is a blessing. Yet the more light and good that she brings the more she changes and disconnects from her surroundings. It is up to her friends to help her back.
Weathering With You includes some beautiful artwork characteristic of the genre; the sparkle of sunlight on the sea, reflected light on the surface of water, the play of wind, three dimensional fireworks and more. Makoto Shinkai-san who was at the North American premiere at the Toronto international film festival, said that the people who need anime the most are teens. The younger generation is his target audience here in this meditation on climate change and ancient spiritual power. His characters are not defined by their past and hopefully humanity will not be as well. Hopefully we can find a way forward and rays of sunlight from this foreboding Anthropocene.
American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty impacted my life
Middle-aged Lester has an epiphany about his dull life, and in the 20 years after American Beauty's release it seems Hollywood experienced one as well. This gritty, stylish and irreverent film is a shift from previous decades and the typical way that major studios do business.
Lester experiences a series of shocks that he surprisingly takes in stride; fired from his job, cuckolded by his wife Carolyn, taunted by his teen daughter Jane, and more. Fantasy comes to the rescue for him in the form of Jane's friend Angela. While his world and the people around him crumble, Lester aims to live up to Angela's positive impressions of him and prove it is never too late to get it back.
American Beauty impacted my life. After seeing it with my then wife Jennifer in 1999 in Arlington, Virginia, I vowed not to find myself in Lester's situation. It influenced me to be a park ranger even though it is "McDonalds work" to her.
Though many of the characters in American Beauty act trapped, some such as Lester begin to realize that it is useless to try to live as others think or demand you ought to live. When they cast aside the pressure and control they are greeted with hostility. "You can't go around doing whatever you feel like," says one of the manipulators, "there are rules in life." But there is also so much beauty in the world, and Lester and those like him vow to immerse themselves in it.
American Beauty is an intriguing and artful portrait of suburban dysfunction and a middle-class underworld, but also inspiration for rising above circumstances. Compelling film techniques include falling flower petals, spotlighting, fantasy sequences, jarring music, mist, slow-motion, and more. Kevin Spacey(Lester) and Annette Bening (Carolyn) are perfectly cast. The film earned 25 times its estimated production cost ($350 billion, which is 120 times the entire budget of the agency I work for, the National Park Service). By non-Hollywood standards the film still is somewhat tame and I wish the film makers had been even more daring.
Well-crafted, Enthralling Exploration of the Wounds of War
Zana are mysterious beings from the forest who heal those who connect with them. Having lost a child in the recent war and haunted by nightmares of the experience, Lume is hesitant to bring another child into the world. Her husband and his mother put constant and extreme pressure on Lume to bear another child. They blame Lume and accuse her of being cursed. If only they or someone could help Lume with heartbreak.
Zana is dedicated to the mother and sisters the director lost in the war and drawn from Antoneta's own experiences. Antoneta also interviewed Albanian women whose experiences followed similar patterns. In exploring wounds of war Zana avoids the easy answers and the macho attitudes that make it harder for women to heal. Antoneta hopes to start conversations about the war and help women to talk about what they conceal inside. This is not the sole reason to see Zana, it is also a beautiful, jarring and well-crafted film. Though it is from a new director, actors, filmmakers and country, it is polished and enthralling. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
El hoyo (2019)
Brazen, Imaginative and Uninhibited
The prison of the future contains a pit in which a platform of food descends room by room until nothing is left. Inmates are allowed one thing, anything, from the outside world into their cells and while most choose weapons, some bring odd things like a dog or a book. Many inmates resort to killing to survive, but one of them - a reader of Don Quixote - decides instead to send a message to the powers that be.
If you find frequent stabbings and rotten, half-eaten bodies offensive, this uninhibited, brazen, graphic, raw and irreverent film may not be for you. While I appreciated the intense and primal nature of the film, at times it was a little too bizarre and orderless even for me. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
Saint Maud (2019)
Spell-binding; female driven thriller in male dominated genre
"Tis better to be that which we destroy," claimed Macbeth "than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." A young Christian hospice nurse, Maud, struggles with this notion when she is charged with taking care of cancer stricken Amanda. The pair are opposites save for arrogance and self-righteousness. "Nothing worth trying comes easy" is Maud's mantra, yet she gains little traction with Amanda. In doubt, desperation and loneliness, Maud doubles down on her distorted beliefs and spirals out of control.
This tense and spell-binding film employs compelling techniques including pulse quickening ambient sound, funnel clouds that mirror Maud's disordered state of mind, sideways and upside-down camerawork to portray drunken delirium and more. A female perspective in this male-dominated genre is refreshing and fascinating. Morfydd Clark (Maud) and Jennifer Ehle (Amanda) are fantastic in their portrayals. An intriguing bit of information was revealed in the question and answer session after the film's shocking conclusion; Morfydd is Welsh and when she appears to speak in tongues, she is actually speaking Welsh that is slowed down enough to be almost unrecognizable. The production crew was careful not to dwell in one location so the setting might appear to be anywhere. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
Love Me Tender (2019)
The outside world is fraught with peril, but also with joy
Seconda is gripped with acute agoraphobia and has not left home in nine months. Her clingy parents encouraged the situation to begin with, yet with Seconda approaching middle age they realize that they held on to her too tight. Unfortunately, they can't raise her twice. When mom dies and dad disappears, Seconda is left to face her own demons. Attempting to connect to the outside world is fraught with peril, but also eased by joy.
Despite some unsettling circumstances, Love Me Tender carries a heartwarming message that we have more in common with others than we initially believe. I loved how Seconda turned her weaknesses into strengths. I loved what the film has to say about mental health. We are all a little batty and the unfortunate circumstances of others demands compassion not harsh judgments. While the delivery of the film theme leaves something to be desired in terms of acting and depth, the omissions may be forgiven considering the film's limited resources. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
Color Out of Space (2019)
Spectacular and Terrifying
A meteorite strikes earth, carries with it some powerful extraterrestrial influences and transforms its environment in spectacular and terrifying ways. The worst fears and weaknesses of each person it reaches are manifested in ways peculiar to them.
This HP Lovecraft story includes some of the best, well-crafted CGI I have yet seen. Nicolas Cage stars and performs well in his characteristic unhinged way. Color Out of Space includes a faithful portrayal of whippoorwills, which I hear in Ontario on Gillies Lake and so I vouch for the faithfulness of the depiction. I wish for depth in dialogue and acting. Filmed on location in Portugal. The director and all the actors were present and responded to audience questions at this world premiere at the Toronto international film festival.
A traffic light burns late at night in Valparaiso. This strange opening scene sets an unusual and colorful tone for the rest of Ema. Gradually it is understood how the light caught fire. Mysterious undercurrents and unusual passions swirl in human hearts. Dialogue, setting, music, dance scenes and characters follow similar rhythms and are typified most by Ema herself. She is a ball of fire. Energetic, devious and unpredictable, she prowls the streets of Valparaiso seeking sparks to reignite her damaged marriage, abandonment of her adopted son, struggling dance career and volatile self.
Sometimes there is no script. This is true in acting as well as life. According to Pablo Larrain at the Toronto international film festival, the actors received plot cues only at the last minute. Fluidity and dynamism were the results. The actors explored a new language. Traditional boundaries were also pushed with sexuality, family, the atmospheric and hypnotic music, dance and more. The film toys with notions of what is feminine and masculine. Mariana di Girolamo (Ema) is perfect for the role. Gael Garcia Bernal (Ema's hubby Gaston) is reunited with Pablo Larrain (nominated for three Oscars for the film Jackie). While I prefer thought and depth to the dialogue, the non-scripted acting achieves some intriguing results. The Valparaiso scenery is as thrilling as Mariana di Girolamo.
Pájaros de verano (2018)
Great Character, Bad Companions
Dreams prove the existence of the soul, but absent brains there is not a soul to keep. In this 50-year-old true story Rapayet is a self-made and independent man wooing a young woman, Zaida, from the Wayuu tribe of North Colombia. With the help of connections and a large quantity of weed, Rapayet gains a girl. He is respectful, gentle, wise and opportunistic. Unfortunately, his companions are not. Greed and carelessness combine with a headstrong mother-in-law to contend with Rapayet's good intentions.
From the creators of the academy award nominated The Embrace of the Serpent, Birds of Passage takes this cartel tale to unexpected places. For instance when I expected a night attack on Rapayet, instead there is a serenade. Truth is stranger than fiction. The blend of professional and non-professional actors works out well. It is extremely interesting to see Wayuu customs and traditions clash with technology and money. The film-makers are adept at this sort of portrayal. I wish the title, its accompanying theme and the dream sequences were developed further. There was some good banter between characters, but there should have been more depth here too. Overall a fascinating and visually appealing glimpse at Wayuu ways and intriguing characters.
El secreto de sus ojos (2009)
To Fear and To Love
A train departs a station in 1974 and two lovers, Irene and Benjamin, part before they come together. "Te mo" is to fear and "te amo" is to love. Love and fear at the same moment. This multi-layered, rich, brutal and beautiful film revolves around this dichotomy in many ways.
Decades after the train left the station, Benjamin is unhappily retired from a prosecutor's office. He does not like what he sees in the mirror. An unsolved case, a savage rape and murder, weighs heavily on his mind, as does Irene. Benjamin and Irene worked on the case together and as it unraveled, so did they. So with more purposes than one, Benjamin resumes investigating the murder. New discoveries and different perspectives instill hope in Benjamin for solving the mysteries and memories that haunt him. People may change but their passions don't.
The justice system is not clean or simple in any country, and this brilliant film reveals how complex and ugly it can be. The Secret in Their Eyes seamlessly combines multiple genres including crime thriller, romance and drama. There is appealing depth to the story, characters, themes, acting and photography. The characters, for example, are not one dimensional. They are vulnerable, make mistakes, regret choices and, in sum, are fully human. Themes revolve around memories, justice, love, vengeance and more. Soledad Villamil (Irene) and Ricardo Darín (Benjamin) perform amazingly well together. The chemistry is palpable. The film won the Academy Award for best foreign language film.
The Iron Giant (1999)
You Are Who You Choose to Be
You are who you choose to be. Some sort of rocket falls from space along the Maine coast in 1957. A gigantic robot emerges and cuts a swath through the boreal forest on the way to a small town. It could be a weapon of the Soviets, a monster, an alien invader bent on destroying the earth, and more. When the iron giant encounters in its path a nine-year-old boy, Hogarth, it displays gentleness, keen intelligence and the innocence of a child. Hogarth is not the only one, of course, who knows about the robot. A fearful, negative and self-centered government agent attempts to corner the iron giant and triggers some adverse and alarming reactions. As the US Army responds, the robot and boy have only each other to turn to.
While this animated feature is simple and straightforward in appearance, it carries a profound and touching message. There are many people who want you to live in a box they built for themselves, full of fear and negativity, yet we should decide for ourselves who we want to be. Even Superman or Superwoman are not out of reach, as the Iron Giant reveals. Brad Bird, one of the inspirations behind the rising Pixar Studio, reveals in this film why he is worth a damn. The film has depth, heart, soul and humor.
Majo no takkyûbin (1989)
Rite of Passage for Young Woman
With the lights of a city full of indifferent and preoccupied people below, a young witch makes her way across the night sky on a broom with her cat. While Kiki has magical powers and is not a normal thirteen-year-old girl, she feels the same pangs of loneliness, isolation and disillusionment as anyone else. Kiki's path is a rite of passage that everyone makes, or should make, in their lives.
Bathed in the light of the full moon, confident, smiling and stout of heart, Kiki begins her journey from home in good form. She finds a promising town by the ocean just as she hoped. What is unexpected is for people to be unkind to her. Kiki's powers wax and wane depending on her emotional state. The more listless and jaded she becomes, the more she risks being shunned and becoming a perpetual outsider. However, there are those who appreciate her charm and unique gifts and accept her for who she is. Through kindness, laughter, and looking inside herself for inspiration, Kiki blazes a path towards independence and serenity.
The luminous light blue sea, colorful wildflowers, reflections in windows, the glow of streetlamps, shadows, fashionable clothes (for the 80s), the way the wind moves tree branches, moonlight and other realistic and fanciful details characteristic of Studio Ghibli are here. The impressive depth does not end with the quality of the animation. Fantastic revelations about human nature, compelling themes, delightful sounds of birds, crickets and wind, the supportive view of animals, artists and the natural world, the foreign intrigue and more, all add to the thrill of the film. Above all there is no superficial feeling about the film despite its fanciful nature. For all its lofty achievements it is down to earth and just plain enjoyable. Surprisingly Stockholm serves as artistic inspiration for the animators. Kiki's story is based on a children's book by Eiko Kadono.
Yin shi nan nu (1994)
Food and Relationships are Much Alike
Preparing food is a lot like making and sustaining relationships; mixing hot and cold, balancing flavors, starting with good ingredients or not, being creative, adding spice and trying new things without losing identity and soul.
A master chef and his trio of mature and live-at-home daughters are each single, unattached and in a funk. Despite living under one roof they move in separate spheres and hardly communicate. Only Sunday dinners, painstakingly made by the father, bind them together. Passions flare as each family member finds themselves on the cusp of a new relationship. Ingredients long held in deep freeze are brought to the boiling point, disparate flavors combine, and the results are unexpected and startling. The point is to savor the dish and not interfere with the cook making it, for we hardly know enough to prepare our own meal much less those of other people.
Director Ang Lee is a master at metaphor and stewing passions. Even at this early stage in his career you may witness his power and prowess in such respects. A warning: do not watch this film on an empty stomach, for the cooking scenes will make your mouth water and whatever is in your pantry - be it raw flour or curry powder - will certainly be consumed in a fit of madness and feeding frenzy.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Vastly Underestimated Gem
Snowfall on the streets of New York City on the eve of the new year 1958 is both magical and devastating. A crestfallen executive, Norville, stands high on the edge of an office tower looking to jump. Before taking the final step there is a flashback to his arrival in the city and an account of what led Norville to this extreme. It is the story of crashed stock, broken hearts, con jobs, bullying and a rat race that could consume such a vulnerable soul, yet also the uncommon passion, big ideas, childlike trust and awkward insight that might save him. Truths uncovered by Amy, an enterprising reporter, will confirm that Norville is either wise or an imbecile, but first she needs to confront some uncomfortable truths about herself.
This folksy, endearing, funny, romantic and magical film is vastly underestimated and one of my favorites. Failure threatens to lure Norville to despair, but fortunately this box office bomb did not lead the Coens to such a fate. It boggles my mind to think where the Coens went awry, for the Hudsucker Proxy is full of intriguing characters from Norville and Amy to Buzz the elevator boy. Cinematographer Roger Deakins provides ethereal dreamscapes of snowfall in the big city and the hissing machinery of a manufacturing behemoth. The remarkable and beautiful studio images created by Deakins are much better than even the surprising views delivered by modern drones. Tim Robbins (Norville), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Amy)and Paul Newman do not fail to entertain. The out-of-the-box dialogue genius and imaginative scenes we come to expect from the Coens are present here. The film captures the 1950s feeling and Americana so well. There are enduring themes revolving around the meaning of success, vanity, looking inside yourself, and more. What made Forrest Gump, released the same year and with similar characters and storylines, such a spectacular success (it earned 50 times more than this film)? The Hudsucker Proxy was criticized for not taking itself seriously, but there is magic here if the film is given space to work. If you haven't already, give the Hudsucker Proxy a second chance, just as Norville deserves.
Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
an enemy of an enemy is a friend
At first glance Lisbeth and Mikael have nothing in common. The former is a shady tattooed young hacker with an explosive temper and the latter is a nerdy traditional journalist and family man with a penchant for jogging in the woods to ease a troubled mind. Despite their differences, Lisbeth and Mikael collide in more ways than one. As Mikael investigates an unsolved murder perpetrated 40 years ago in a remote northern town, he quickly wades in over his head. Lisbeth's skillset could be helpful to Mikael, but since cooperation isn't her style he had better hope there is truth to the old saying; an enemy of an enemy is a friend.
Produced at a mere $13 million, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became a worldwide sensation which returned ten times that amount. It did a number of things right including turning the crime thriller genre on its head, frequent role reversals, unpredictability, compelling characters that hit rock bottom and claw their way back, casting the talented Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, and more. There is depth without pretentiousness. Old school thrills come in modern packaging. Nothing is as it seems ("fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air," - Macbeth). Intriguing themes include trusting instincts, redemption and determining the appropriate punishment for evil deeds. There are flashes of disturbing and brutal violence and rape.
For the Brits it was the best film NOT in the English language. The Swedish version of the film is more authentic and realistic than the latter Hollywood adaptation. For one thing, Michael Nyqvist is more vulnerable and believable as Mikael than strapping Daniel Craig. The Hollywood version, despite such drawbacks, is still worthwhile as it includes interesting plot twists and is very stylish. The film is based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.
Sicilian Ghost Story (2017)
Darkness Swallows Boy and Could Consume Girl
A little owl calling in the night, the murmur of the wind as it moves through the forest and the light of the moon in the water. They communicate somehow; this boy who vanished without a trace and the girl, Luna, who gave her heart and refuses to forget him. As days turn into months, life in Luna's remote village returns to normal, but she does not. The same darkness that swallowed the boy could consume the girl.
Based on real life, Sicilian Ghost Story provides a vision of Italy at odds with a typical and simplistic glimpse of the country. Dreams become tangible and humans communicate in supernatural ways, among other abnormal things. The camera itself descends into water and characters are viewed at odd angles and in strange light. The opening of the film, glimmers of light and eerie ambient sounds in a cave combined with ghostly electronic tones, is especially good. It sets the stage for the unexpected, peculiar and dark story. While some scenes are awkward and slow moving the film is as fascinating and extraordinary as ancient Roman columns by the sea. Sicilian Ghost Story surfaced at Cannes in 2017 and is available in Netflix "saved jail."
The Children Act (2017)
Riveting and Emotional Performance by Emma
High Court judge Fiona Maye is meticulous, brief and extremely well prepared. Deviances from established protocol or the issue at hand are not tolerated for a moment. Jolts to Fiona's ordered and complex world come in the forms of a restless, bored spouse and a young man, Adam, on the verge of dying because the religious doctrine of his parents will not allow the blood transfusion he desperately needs. Inner turmoil and pent up emotions cause Fiona to act out of character and the consequences are swift and severe both in Adam's case and Fiona's personal life. In darkness and despair Fiona searches for a jewel she can hang onto.
Emma Thompson (Fiona) is amazing. Her riveting and emotional performance carries the film and moved me in ways I didn't imagine. The film title is a bit misleading. Despite reading a review in advance, I still thought the primary theme would be something of a documentary of the development or implementation of the Children Act and therefore something of a snoozeapalooza. It is nothing of the sort. While it does concern the Children Act, it is mostly a character driven drama. Any realistic portrayal of a country's justice system should be accompanied by a snooze alert, but this film is realistic enough without drifting into the realm of dreamland. The film is based on a book by Ian McEwan.
Sandome no satsujin (2017)
Complicated Machinery of Justice
Justice is more a role of the dice than we expect.
Fresh from a third murder and freely admitting the crime, Misumi is in a surprising state of calm when first speaking to his defense attorney Shigemori. This strange behavior combines with inconsistent testimony and shifting motives to give Shigemori an unsettling feeling about his client. "Don't waste your time trying to figure him out," Shigemori is warned "let him get what he deserves." But this does not sit well with him either. Instead Shigemori attempts to understand Misumi and indulge his changing whims. Perhaps in this way they can get to the truth and the real heart of the matter.
The machinery of justice is complicated, time consuming and unwieldy. Finding the truth is more difficult than imagined. Justice is often by default. The Third Murder explores how futures are decided for people with little heed to what is done by, for and against them. The insight into the Japanese justice system is intriguing. Wonderful acting is complemented by creative camera work. There are frequent and beneficial pauses that give space for reflections and to soothing ambient sounds such as the wind in the tree branches. Still, some scenes are difficult to figure out even after turning them over in my mind continuously.
Who We Are Now (2017)
Justice is a Fragile Balance
Judgment is a monster that can scarcely be seen, much less fought. It cuts inward as well as outward.
Beth is on the rebound after a long prison sentence and attempting to regain custody of a young son from her sister. Jess provides discount legal counsel to those who otherwise could not afford it. Her antagonists include hot-headed clients, a haughty judge and, most notably, a disapproving mother. Peter is discovering that the war in Afghanistan was just the beginning of his world being turned upside down. Each character grapples with temper, temptation, the cruelty of others and the cold, vice-like talons of judgment. To get the results they deserve and achieve harmony from dissonance, Beth, Peter and Jess may need to lighten their reactions, or to strike fast and hard. Justice in any case is a fragile balance.
Who We Are Now is totally enthralling. It manages to be witty without being pretentious. The characters, aided by fine acting, defy expectations and are suitably multi-faceted and intriguing. The film offers profound insight into the American justice system as well as the human heart, the foundation and life line of the entire system. Underlying the film is the belief that we are capable of change. It will keep you thinking long after the screen dims.
The Wrestler (2008)
Craving the Roar of the Crowd
The roar of the crowd is something that pro wrestler Randy "the Ram" craves, but decades past his prime, it is not nearly enough to pay the bills. Evicted from a trailer home, working long hours at a grocery deli counter, alienated from relatives and addicted to expensive and lethal cocktails of synthetic hormones, pain killers, alcohol and blow, Randy has one foot in the grave. When the inevitable heart attack finally comes, the Ram is warned to avoid any strenuous activity. Remarkably, Randy takes in stride what to him should be a death sentence. He sets his mind up to make amends with his estranged daughter, woo the woman of his dreams (a kind-hearted stripper in denial), and give up the sport he loves. As the Ram, Randy endures severe beatings, razor blade cuts and staple gun wounds all over his body, among lesser evils, but the real world just might be tougher than this.
A killer story, career-resurrecting performance by Mickey Rourke, and amazing support by Marisa Tomei (Randy's love interest), help make this film one of the most beloved sports films of all time. What happens to the Ram is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, for Randy is charming and likeable even as he wallows in well-deserved pain and ignominy. The film is colorful and beautiful in form, it flows well from one scene to the next, and each of the characters is recognizable, relevant, balanced, unpredictable and, unlike many sports films, closer to the all too human truth.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Battle of the Creeps
Rich and corruptible women in Beaumont-sur-Mer keep Lawrence (Michael Caine) busy and profitable. He is a sophisticated and experienced con man with a reliable support network that provides intelligence, cover stories and a steady stream of targets. When Freddy (Steve Martin), a rude and simple-minded American con-artist, moves into the territory, Lawrence has a lot of trouble trying to get rid of this unwelcome competition. In a wager, the loser of which agrees to leave town, Freddy and Lawrence both set their sights on a rich and vulnerable female tourist who just got off the plane from America. The two endearing and creative scoundrels pretend to be a wide variety of characters including European royalty, a world-famous German psychologist, an Australian military man and a handicapped war veteran in desperate need of an operation, to try to defeat each other once and for all.
After seeing the film for the second time and with 30 years between showings, I am pleased to say it lost nothing of its humor and vitality. The story is captivating and humorous on its own, but Steve Martin and Michael Caine are the heart and soul of the film and take it up so many levels. Excellent casting! It is entertaining to see the film just to watch them interact. The scene with Caine whacking Martin's legs that Martin is trying so hard to pretend are paralyzed, I laughed so hard I could barely breath. "He's so happy he's crying!" The Caine/Martin chemistry more than makes up for the soundtrack that would give "Punky Brewster the Movie" a bad name!
One bad thing about the film is that the creators want you to believe, generally, that women are gullible and can't take care of themselves. If you buy that notion then you are more likely to be buy into the film. Hopefully the places where people instantly buy into that premise are becoming few and far between.
Creative Genius & Remarkable Imagination
18th Century artillery from an invading Turkish sultan's army intermittently pummels a besieged European coastal city. During lulls in the bombardment people gather in a theater to try to forget their troubles and to revel in the stories of the adventures of the mythical Baron Munchausen. Tonight is different however. An old man claiming to be the Baron and the cause of the war, creates a disturbance on stage. Noxious city authorities dismiss the man as a deluded old fool, but something hopeful and magical about him inspires people to believe he is telling the truth. Competing versions of reality vie for the attention of the war weary populace as the "real" Baron sets out to defy not only the sultan and the town's disbelievers, but death itself. Those on his side include a trio of beautiful ladies, a little terrier and a mischievous yet plucky little girl.
Thirty years after its release and the creative genius and remarkable imagination of this film defies the advent of CGI and stands the test of time. Gilliam's bizarre yet prescient, colorful and extraordinary vision equals the best of machine and human artistry alike. A love and respect for stories and their transformative power continues to shine as well. The career reviving performance of Jonathan Neville as the Baron also helps make this film a gem to behold. Neville is assisted ably by a young Sarah Polley, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman and even a brief appearance by Sting, among others. Watching this film you cannot help but be infected by its upbeat and buoyant spirit. The film did not do so well in terms of profits, but thankfully such a thing is not the sole arbiter of a film's worth.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Filling in the Blanks; Life of Shakespeare
In London of 1593 an ambitious and talented young poet, Will, needs inspiration, characters, plot and muse for the romance he is writing. He finds everything and more in the shape of Viola, a mysterious and beautiful noblewoman in search of adventure, poetry and love. Viola, in turn, finds what she seeks in Will. When a jealous rival for Viola's affections, writers block, mistaken identities, a theater owner with a large debt to pay, and the Queen of England threaten to thwart the two lovers, Will begins to make up the story - what we now know as Romeo and Juliet - as things go along. Fact and fiction then combine, and it is hard to tell one from the other in this "misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms, feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, and still-waking sleep." (Romeo and Juliet)
Shakespeare in Love ingeniously and indelicately adds touches of humanity, humor, intrigue and, of course, romance to the often stale and very limited facts that are known about Shakespeare's life and the history of Romeo and Juliet. In making Shakespeare fresh and interesting to a wider audience, and reading between the lines, the film won seven Academy Awards including best picture, actress, supporting actress, writing, music, art/set decoration and costume design. I loved all the nods to Shakespeare's actual work and true history. Gwyneth Paltrow, vivacious and charming, fits the character of Viola perfectly. Judi Dench plays the role of the sharp, caustic and quick-witted Queen Elizabeth equally well. Other A list actors include Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck and Rupert Everett. It baffles the mind that this achieved an "R" rating!