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A determined woman
1 April 2020
Wendy and Lucy (2008) was co-written and directed by Kelly Reichardt. The movies stars Michelle Williams as Wendy, a young woman determined to get to Alaska, where she is sure she'll find work. Her constant companion is her dog Lucy, portrayed by Lucy.

Director Reichardt is known for her minimalist style, which is very apparent in this film. It's really a picaresque movie, although usually the protagonist of a picaresque moves from place to place, meeting new characters and situations. In this film, Wendy is stranded in Portland, Oregon, and the new characters she meets are all in that location.

Michelle Williams is an excellent actor, known for portraying strong but lonely characters. That's what she is in this film. Her only companion is Lucy. The plot really begins when Wendy and Lucy are separated.

This is a quiet film--literally and figuratively. I enjoy this type of movie, but others might not. There's one scary episode, so it's not great for kids.

I liked it, and would recommend it. It worked well enough on the small screen. Wendy and Lucy has a good IMDb rating of 7.1. I thought it was better than that, and rated it 9.
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Many facts about George Eliot that I never knew
31 March 2020
George Eliot: A Scandalous Life (2002) is an hour-long documentary about the great Victorian novelist. The movie is directed by Mary Downes. This is a BBC film, added as an extra to the movie Silas Marner (1985).

Rather than show us talking heads, the film is narrated, and the events the narrator mentions are shown to us on the screen. Some events are written for this movie. Some are clips from the various BBC productions of George Eliot's novels.

Harriet Walter portrays Mary Ann Evans / George Eliot in this biopic. One of the great facts of the life of Mary Ann Evans was that she was "plain." Actually, Dame Harriet isn't plain. However, she's a great actor, so with talent and makeup, she can appear plain.

Saying "I learned quite a lot from this movie" can mean "Don't watch it; it's dull." People--including me--want entertainment, not just facts. However, these facts are important if you care about literature, and they are presented in an entertaining and enlightening way.

The movie was made for television, so it worked well on the small screen. It has a strong IMDb rating of 7.6. I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 9.
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Bay of Angels (1963)
Great director, great star, no-so-great movie
27 March 2020
The French film La baie des anges (1963) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title Bay of Angels. It was written and directed by Jacques Demy.

The movie stars Jeanne Moreau as gambling addict Jacqueline 'Jackie' Demaistre. Film buffs know that Moreau was a famous actor in the 1950's and 1960's. Some of the greatest film directors of that era starred her in their movies: Louis Malle, Michelangelo Antonioni, François Truffaut, and Luis Buñuel. The young director Jacques Demy knew that she was the star he wanted, and she accepted the role.

Unfortunately, Bay of Angels is not Demy's greatest movie. Moreau appears as a blonde, which really doesn't work. She always was a woman who would turn heads, but here she looks cheap and as artificial as her hair color.

Claude Mann played opposite Moreau, as Jean, the young man who catches the gambling virus from her. She tells him she can never love anyone as much as she loves gambling. My thought--trust her and step away. However, stepping away from Jackie isn't as easy as it might look.

Of course, I can't tell you how the movie ends, but let's just say that the ending makes absolutely no sense in the context of the 90 minutes of film that came before it.

We saw this film on DVD, where it worked well. The movie has a solid IMDb rating of 7.3. I didn't think that it was as good as that. I rated it 6.
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Finzan (1989)
An important movie, but difficult to watch
26 March 2020
Finzan (1989) is a movie from Mali. It was written and directed by Cheick Oumar Sissoko.

The film is basically a human rights story. Women in rural Mali apparently had almost no rights at all. The movie shows two women trying to get a modicum of justice in two critical areas--genital mutilation and forced marriages.

In the midst of this, a subplot concerns the village mayor defying the corrupt district commissioner. He's evil regarding women, but he's right about the defiance.

Also, there's (to me) crude humor about teasing a developmentally delayed man. (Referred to as "the village idiot.") I know about cultural values. However, what's funny in Mali didn't strike me as funny.

This film will work well on the small screen. Believe it or not, we watched it on an old VHS tape. Maybe it's available on DVD.

The subject of human rights for women is so important that I gave the film a rating of 8. The handful of other reviewers gave it a 6.9.
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The President (2014)
Brilliant movie, but sometimes difficult to watch
20 March 2020
The President is a Georgian film co-written and directed by by the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. (The other co-writer is his wife, Marzieh Makhmalbaf.)

Mikheil Gomiashvili stars as His Majesty the President. The brilliant child actor Dachi Orvelashvili stars as his grandson.

Although director Makhmalbaf doesn't specify the country in which this movie is set, it has to be more than coincidence that he is Iranian, and the notoriously cruel Shah of Iran was overthrown by a revolution.

The movie begins with an act of almost casual cruelty by The President. It takes off from there as the revolution begins. Every turn of the plot is powerful and unpredictable. The film grabs you and doesn't let you go for a moment. I can't remember seeing a movie that was so hard to watch and so impossible not to watch.

Like almost all films, The President would work better on the large screen. However, it worked well enough on DVD. This is a movie that you just don't want to miss. It has a solid IMDb rating of 7.4. I think it's even better than that--I rated it 10.
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Béart as a violinist with star quality
19 March 2020
The French film Un coeur en hiver (1992) was shown in the U.S. with its original title. (The translation is A Heart in Winter.) The movie was co-written and directed by directed by Claude Sautet.

Daniel Auteuil portrays Stéphane, a highly skilled craftsman who builds and restores violins. He has to use his mind, his ear, and his hands in his profession.

Emmanuelle Béart stars as Camille, a brilliant young violinist. She sets her sights on Stéphane, although she is in a deep relationship with his business partner. (Played by André Dussollier.)

However, Stéphane is unable to establish a real relationship. He's the one with a heart in winter.

Once you see past Emmanuelle Béart's beauty, you realize that she can act. (Sautet thought so too. She also starred in his film 1995 film, Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud.) In fact, all the actors were remarkably good.

This is a very French film. People sit in cafes and restaurants and talk and talk. It's assumed that everyone has thoughts that they will be willing to share. You simply don't see U.S. films like that.

I assume that Béart can play the violin. Of course, her music in the movie is dubbed, but we do see her playing, and she looks as if she knows what she's doing.

Another reason I enjoyed the film is that it's filled with music by Ravel. It's not a soundtrack. The plot shows us several rehearsals leading up to Camille's international tour.

We saw this movie on the small screen, where it worked well. Un coeur en hiver has a very strong IMDb rating of 7.6. I think it's even better than that.
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Not interesting, just boring
12 March 2020
The Korean movie Bamui Haebyeoneseo Honja was shown in the U.S. with the translated title On the Beach at Night Alone (2017). It was written and directed by Sang-soo Hong.

Min-hee Kim stars as Young-hee, who was apparently a successful actor, but who now describes herself as box office poison. The reason for this is that she had an affair with a movie director, who is married.

The movie is divided into two parts. In the first part, Young-hee is visiting an older woman, who is her friend. Young-hee is waiting for her lover, who may or may not arrive. The last few frames of this part didn't make sense to me, so I don't know if he arrived or not.

In part two, Young-hee has arrived back in Korea after two years abroad. (Another reviewer says she was in Hamburg, Germany. I didn't see that in the subtitles--maybe the reviewer speaks Korean.)

What follows is an interminable hour of Young-Hee either walking on the beach (sometimes alone), sometimes with other people), but never at night.

Interspersed with her walks are conversations with friends during which Young-hee looks vacuous. Mostly they talk about each other. "You are beautiful." "Yes, but the script girl is beautiful too." The highlight of these conversations comes when a character asks Young-hee, "Are you still searching for love?" Her answer: "Where's love? It's not even visible. You need to see it in order to search for it."

Also, by the way, Young-hee is a mean drunk. Apparently that's OK, because she's a beautiful movie star.

Director Sang-soo Hong is an international darling of the film world, so his movies get shown at important festivals, and they get awards. This film was nominated for awards at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. Min-Hee Kim won the Golden Bear award for her acting.

It's not a coincidence that she herself did, indeed, have an affair with Sang-soo Hong. So, art reflects live, or maybe vice-versa.

Fortunately, IMDb raters weren't impressed by the reputation of the director and star. The film has an anemic IMDb rating of 6.8. I didn't think it was even that good. I rated it a 5.

P.S. Normally, IMDb male raters outnumber female raters by two to one, or three to one. In this case it was five to one. My guess is that men went to see it because the title made them think it would be a sex film, a horror film, or both. For the record, it's neither.
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A must-see film about real-life events
11 March 2020
Salt of the Earth (1954) was directed by Herbert J. Biberman. It stars Rosaura Revueltas as Esperanza Quintero and Juan Chacon as her husband Ramon Quintero.

The movie is about equality. Both equality for Mexican and Mexican-Americans, and equality for women. As shown in the film, machismo was as big a challenge for the women as the company bosses were. This isn't a subplot--it's a major aspect of the movie.

The amazing aspect of this film is that it was directed and written by blacklisted film professionals. (Victims of the Red Scare witch hunt of the 1950's.) Rosaura Revueltas was a professional Mexican actor, but Juan Chacon wasn't a professional. You can't tell! Chacon, like many of the actors in the film, had actually participated in the strike. I think he could have become an actor, but he stayed in Silver City as a union leader.

We have good friends who grew up in Silver City. The movie was blacklisted by the U.S. government, and this suppression worked well enough that they didn't even know about the movie until they were in college. When they saw the movie, they could recognize their friends and neighbors!

This movie is based on facts, but presented the strike in narrative form. (Silver City is called Zinc Town in the film.)

Here's more information that I gleaned mostly from Wikipedia:

The Empire Zinc strike, also known as the Salt of the Earth strike, was a 15-month-long miners' strike in New Mexico against the Empire Zinc Company for its discriminatory pay and housing practices. The strike drew national attention . . .

The Empire Zinc Company, a subsidiary of New Jersey Zinc Company, owned zinc mines outside the company town of Silver City, New Mexico. The company had created a two-tier system among its workers, paying white workers more than Mexican and Mexican-American workers and housing them better.

On October 17, 1950, the Local 890 chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers went on strike. The strike lasted 15 months. The worker's demands were for equality with Anglo miners, including hot water with indoor plumbing.

The company didn't treat the Anglo workers very well. However, the company kept them in line by telling them, "You're better off than the Mexicans."

You'll have to see the movie to get a feel for the emotions and struggles that took place during the strike. Salt of the Earth has a solid 7.4 IMDb rating. I think it's even better than that. I gave it a 10.
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Lola (1961)
OK--Anouk Aimée is beautiful
10 March 2020
The French film Lola (1961) was written and directed by the great Jacques Demy. It stars Anouk Aimée as Lola. Lola is referred to as a "dancer" or cabaret singer, but she isn't exactly that. She works in a dance hall, where sailors go to dance with the young women who work there. It's never clear to me whether prostitution is involved. Yes--Lola will let a sailor share her bed on occasion, but I don't think money changed hands.

Two men are in love with Lola, although it's never clear whether this is love or lust. Meanwhile, Lola has spent seven years waiting for her true love to appear. She's raising their son while she waits.

There's a subplot about a somewhat older woman, who is a widow raising her adolescent daughter. Madame Desnoyers is played by Elina Labourdette. Her daughter Cécile is portrayed by Annie Duperoux. Labourdette was a well-known French star. However, as far as I can tell, this was the only movie in which Duperoux appeared. (That's too bad, because she was a good actress.)

Many women in the movie are waiting for a man or the right man, or both. I found this tedious and, frankly, boring. Wait, wait, wait. Hope, hope, hope. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

Director Demy loved to direct beautiful women as his stars. Besides Aimée, he directed Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Jeanne Moreau. OK--they are all delightful to look at, but does the quality of Demy's films match the physical beauty of his stars?

In my opinion, sometimes yes, sometimes no. In this case, it would be no. However, I'm in the minority here, because Lola carries a very strong IMDb rating of 7.6. I didn't think it was that good--I gave it a 7.
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Tickets (2005)
Three directors and three stories
10 March 2020
Tickets (2005) was directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, and Ermanno Olmi. Olmi and Kiarostami also wrote the screenplay.

Almost the entire film takes place on a train to Rome. Each director presumably directed one of the three short films that make up the movie. There are, indeed, three plots, but the same characters appear in all of the three movies. Sometimes they're protagonists, sometimes you barely glimpse them.

Ken Loach certainly directed the third segment, about three working-class English guys who are on their way to a major football (soccer) event. I couldn't tell which of the other two directors directed which of the other two segments.

The Loach segment will tug at your heartstrings, but I thought the first segment, which was the simplest, worked best. In that segment, a scientist (Carlo Delle Piane) is helped to get home by an employee of the firm for which he consults. The employee, played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, is very solicitous. That's her job, and she does it well. However, the scientist daydreams about the young woman throughout the trip. We can see that there's no real basis for his daydreams, but apparently he cannot see this.

It's an interesting concept to have three great directors combining to make one movie. However, for me, it didn't really work. It's not a bad film, but I don't think it's good enough to seek out and view. The movie has an IMDb rating of 7.0, and I agree. I gave it a rating of 7.
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Beanpole (2019)
The war in Russia wasn't over after the Germans surrendered
2 March 2020
The Russian film Dylda was shown in the U.S. with the translated title Bean Pole (2019). It was co-written and directed by Kantemir Balagov

The movie is set in Leningrad right after World War II. Viktoria Miroshnichenko plays Iya, who has suffered brain damage in combat during the war. She has been discharged, and now works as a nurse or attendant at a hospital for wounded soldiers. (She is, indeed, a head taller than the other women, and very slender, so that's why she's called Bean Pole.)

She is joined at the hospital by her wartime friend, Masha, portrayed by Vasilisa Perelygina. Masha, who was also wounded, stayed in combat until the war ended. When we first see her, she's still wearing her army uniform.

The film was very grim, as it focused on the wounded men in the hospital, and the physical and emotional problems of the two women. I was surprised that there was very little anti-Stalinist material. In the movie, the government recognizes the sacrifices that the people have made, and appears to be doing its best to help. I don't know whether this reflects the reality of the time or not.

This is a complex film, because it portrays two very different women, each of whom has suffered terribly, and both of whom are trying to bring some normalcy into their lives.

As far as I can remember, there were only a few moments where anyone smiled in the movie. Those were hard times, and people were glum and depressed.

However, the film is so well constructed, and so well acted, that it's worth seeking out and watching. We saw Dylda at Rochester's excellent Little Theatre. However, it should work well enough on the small screen. The film has a solid IMDb rating of 7.2. I think it's even better than that.
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The Peddler (1987)
Strange and disturbing movie--actually three of them
28 February 2020
The Iranian movie Dastforoush was shown in the U.S. with the title The Peddler (1987). It was written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

I've seen other films by Makhmalbaf, which I've enjoyed, but I didn't enjoy this one. The first short film is very grim, but at least it made sense. The second and third films varied from strange to bizarre. (However, also very grim.)

In these three movies, there's not one cheerful moment, and not one smile. After 1 and 1/2 hours of this, I found myself depressed. Very discouraging, especially after the effort it took to find the film. (I finally tracked it down on eBay, as a VHS tape, used, and "withdrawn" from a library in Illinois.)

I was surprised that the movie had a not-so-bad IMDb rating of 6.9. I didn't think it was that good, so I gave it a 6.0.

P.S. Note that although several hundred people rated the film, I'm the first person to review it. That, in itself, is strange.
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A brilliant movie by a brilliant director!
25 February 2020
The Iranian movie Khane-ye doust kodjast? (1987) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title, Where is the Friend's Home? It was written and directed by Abbas Kiraostami.

The movie is set in the rural Iranian village of Kokar. Babek Ahmedpour portrays Ahmed, a young schoolboy who inadvertently takes home his friend's notebook. That would normally just be annoying. However, in this case, it's truly serious. Their teacher has told them that if his friend again doesn't bring his homework to school, he'll be expelled.

Ahmed starts out on an odyssey to a neighboring village in order to bring the assignment book to his friend. Along the way he meets an unusual set of characters. Some are friendly, some are not, although no one is hostile. They just don't know where the friend lives.

Kiraostami isn't a Hollywood director. There are an infinite number of ways to begin this movie, but the way Kiraostami begins it is unique. We see an old, battered door. Behind that door we hear children's voices. OK--let's get inside and see what's happening.

That's not what Kiraostami does. He shows us the door. Then he keeps showing us the door. We don't want to see the door, we want to see the kids. For Kiraostami, that's our problem, not his.

Finally, when the teacher arrives, he opens and closes the door. However, the door swings open. By this time, the door is playing a supporting role in the movie. You can call this strange, or you can call this brilliance. I go with the latter.

Young Babek Ahmedpour is a great child actor. We agonize with him while he gets caught up in a high-pressure salesman trying to sell iron windows, and the old man who made the wood windows that may be replaced. Time is running short, and the old man wants to help, but he's too old to walk quickly. When you're eight, this is a nightmare.

Where is the Friend's Home is a wonderful movie, which works well on the small screen. It's the film that brought Kiraostami to the notice of the world. It has a very high IMDb rating of 8.1. I think it's even better than that.
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Bad title/Weak Film
18 February 2020
The Korean movie Oh! Soo-jung was shown in the U.S. with the terrible title, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000). It was written and directed by Sang-soo Hong.

Eun-ju Lee stars as Soo-jung, a young woman who is a script-writer for a TV series, produced by Young-soo (played by Moon Sung-keun). Jae-hoon (portrayed by Jeong Bo-seok) is a wealthy art gallery owner. Young-soo hopes to get Jae-hoon to finance a film that he is directing.

Soo-jung is very beautiful, and both men would like to get into bed with her. As the title suggests, she is a virgin, although whether she would like to stay a virgin is never clear.

Sang-soo Hong is an interesting director, but you'll have to decide whether you like his style. The characters talk, smoke, and eat out at what I think are the Korean equivalent of our diners. Scenes start and stop almost at random. Sometimes we see the same scene from a slightly different point of view. The dialog is almost the same, but not quite.

One scene stops in the middle, and then picks up later in the movie. The movie isn't preseted in a linear fashion. Sometimes we see flashbacks of how scenes begin after we've viewed the scene itself.

The movie is all about sex, but we don't actually see much sex. There's one sex scene that's hard to watch. It's consensual--sort of--but it's about as erotic as the Korean dish kimchi.

We had seen another film by Sang-soo Hong, Claire's Camera (2017), and enjoyed it. That was a hit, but this was a miss.

The movie worked well on the small screen. It's shot in grim black and white, which is OK. I don't think it would have been improved by color. The film has an adequate IMDb rating of 7.0. I didn't think it was quite that good--I gave it a 6.
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Harriet (I) (2019)
Some people--including me--believe that this is a great movie
18 February 2020
Harriet (2019) was co-written and directed by Kasi Lemmons. Lemmons is an excellent director. Also, an excellent scriptwriter. That is obvious throughout the film.

Cynthia Erivo portrays Harriet Tubman, and, naturally, the movie hinges on her performance. Erivo is a skilled, award-winning actor. Her talent becomes clear from the first frames of the movie. A lesser actor might not make Tubman come alive, but Erivo accomplishes this feat.

If you read other reviews of this movie, you will find that many reviewers heaped scorn on it. Why? The basic facts are true. For example, Tubman did, indeed, lead an attack force of Union troops during the Raid on Combahee Ferry. She was an amazing human being, which is clear in the film

Apparently, some people thought that Tubman, who was certainly a hero, was cast in the mode of Hollywood Superhero. In fact, I see it in exactly the opposite way. Tubman was a superhero. The portrayals of Hollywood Superheroes are informed by the lives of people like her.

This film would work better in a theater, but we saw it on the small screen, where it worked well enough to be enjoyable.

Harriet has a dismal 6.3 rating. I looked further into the statistics. Men rated it 6.1. Women rated it 7.1. As is usually the case for IMBD raters, men outnumber women by three or four to one. So, the larger numbers of men raters drags the average down.

Don't let the low rating deter you. You owe it to yourself to see this movie, and then decide. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
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Maybe it loses something in translation
17 February 2020
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1995) was co-written and directed by Ivo Barnabò Micheli. It runs for just 58 minutes, but they are 58 long minutes.

Director Micheli tries to give us on overview of Pasolini, based on his own words and some clips of film footage. The problem is that Pasolini's words, in subtitles, didn't make much sense to me. I could understand each word, but I couldn't understand what his meaning was.

Yes, he was gay, but everyone knew that at the time. Yes, he had some weird thing going with mother/son relationships, but if you watch Mama Roma, you can see that. Yes, he made three pornographic films at the end of his career, and then "repudiated" them. (How do you repudiate a film--it's there, and always will be.)

We saw this movie as an extra on the Criterion version of Mama Rosa. I don't think it's worth watching. However, if you decide to watch it, don't see it before Pasolini's "La Ricotta." The key scene from "La Ricotta" is shown in this movie. Watching this film will ruin that scene for you.
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A man with a broken heart
16 February 2020
Les horizons morts (1951) is an eight-minute film directed by and starring Jacques Demy.

This was Demy's first film, done when he was only 20. Although Demy would later become renowned for his use of bright, primary colors, this film is shot in cold black and white.

There's no dialog, but the theme is simple enough to be understood by anyone watching the movie.

Normally, I wouldn't see this movie, but it's part of the Criterion package for the feature movie Lola. My thought was, "It's only eight minutes long. How bad could it be?" Actually, pretty bad. It has an IMDb rating of 6.1 with which I agree. I gave it a 6.
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Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963)
I watched "La Ricotta" as a stand-alone film
14 February 2020
The short movie "La Ricotta" (the curd cheese) is one of four films by four Italian directors in a move called "Ro.Go.Pa.G (1963). Pier Paolo Pasolini directed this segment.

This is a movie about making a movie. Pasolini's film-within-a-film is about the death of Jesus. Orson Welles portrays the director of this movie. I read that we're supposed to understand that his career has declined to the point where he can only make low-budget movies in Italy. (That's reasonable enough, although I don't understand how we would know that.)

In Welles' movie, we learn that, with the exception of a few stars, who play Mary and Mary Magdalene, the rest of the cast are supposed to be local people from the surrounding poor community. (Some of them may actually be those local people, but one of the angels is played by Ettore Garofolo, who co-starred with Anna Magnani in "Mama Rosa.")

Mario Cipriani stars as Stracci, the character who portrays the Good Thief. There is a running joke throughout the movie about Stracci somehow missing out on every meal. He ultimately steals a dog and sells it to make money. Then he buys an immense amount of cheese. (That's where the title of "La Ricotta" comes from.)

The movie switches back and forth between color for the movie-within-a-movie, and black and white for the movie itself.

The whole movie has a rough, slapped together quality about it. It's not a great film, although reviewers who have seen all four segments say it's the best one.

We saw this film on the smal screen, because it was a bonus DVD packaged with the Pasolini movie "Mama Rosa." Mama Rosa is worth seeing. If you buy it as part of the Criterion Collection, you will have "La Ricotta." Because it's short, and it's there, I would watch it. I don't think it's worth seeking out otherwise.
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Workers with no work. Loach knows this territory.
12 February 2020
Raining Stones (1993) is an English film directed by Ken Loach. In this movie, director Loach hammers home his frequent message--workers who can't find work are driven to more and more desperate actions.

Bruce Jones plays Bob, a loving husband and father. Julie Brown portrays his wife, Anne. Bob and Julie are just barely managing to get along, but, as the title suggests, they gradually get pushed to the point when they just don't have enough money for a key purchase.

This purchase is an expensive communion outfit for their daughter. Their parish priest suggests a gown donated to the church, but they are too proud to accept this. They may have problems, but they will have a new dress for the young girl's first communion.

As the plot continues things get worse. The ending of the film was a surprise to me. I didn't see it going that way, and it didn't seem typical for Loach. However, I believe it works.

We saw this film on the small screen, which was OK. Raining Stones has a strong IMDb rating of 7.4. I think it's even better than that.

P.S. On the case of the DVD, Roger Ebert is quoted as saying. "The funniest of Ken Loach's films about working-class life in modern Britain." I don't know what film Ebert saw, but it couldn't have been the one I saw. Raining Stones is an excellent movie, but it's not funny.
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Mamma Roma (1962)
Magnani is unmatched, but the film is not a happy one
12 February 2020
Mamma Roma (1962) was shown in the U.S. with the title Mama Roma. The film was written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Anna Magnani plays Mama Roma, a former streetwalker who wants to leave that part of her life behind. Ettore Garofolo portrays her son, Ettore, who comes to join Mama Rosa in her new apartment in the city.

Mama Roma lives for her son, but he doesn't live for her. Despite good opportunities--provided by his mother--Ettore has the habit of going down the wrong road when he comes to a choice point.

Garofolo is a a good enough actor, but Anna Magnani is unique in her abilities. In every one of her movies that I've seen, she embodies the role she plays. She is a force of nature.

The movie is shot in the Italian Realism style, even though it was filmed somewhat later than the dates usually applied to that era. It's not a happy film, although there are happy moments in it. This is a film worth seeing, because it gives us a panoramic view of Anna Magnani's talent. It's worth viewing for that alone.

We saw the movie on the small screen, where it worked well. Mama Roma has an excellent IMDb rating of 7.8. I think it's even better than that.
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What happens to workers when there's no work to do?
11 February 2020
Looks and Smiles (1981) is an English film directed by Ken Loach. The film is set in the industrial midlands during the Margaret Thatcher years.

Graham Green (note that he's not the First Nations actor or the author) portrays Michael 'Mick' Walsh, a young man with mechanical talent who is ready to work. Unfortunately, work is hard to come by. Young men, without formal training, simply couldn't find a job.

Their options are limited: they can go on the dole, they can get into trouble, or they can join the army. One of Mick's friends does join the army, and gets sent to fight the IRA in Northern Ireland. He doesn't appear in many scenes, but, when he does, we can tell that he's become tougher and is losing his basic decency.

Carolyn Nicholson portrays Karen, a wonderful young woman who falls in love with Mick. She has a job, in a shoe store, but faces challenges at home. If Mick had a job, they could make it work. But . . .

Loach is a skilled director and he makes us care about Mick and Karen. Unfortunately, the government doesn't care about them, and that's the sad, basic problem.

We saw this film on the small screen, where it worked very well. It carries a weak IMDb rating of 6.9. I'm not sure why the rating is that low. I think it's much better than that.
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Mughal-E-Azam (1960)
The great Bollywood epic (12 songs by Lata)
11 February 2020
Mughal-E-Azam (1960) was co-written and directed by K. Asif. It is considered the great Bollywood epic movie. It's the Magnum Opus of Indian Cinema.

The film stars Prithviraj Kapoor as the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and Dilip Kumar as his son, Prince Saleem. The role of the dancing girl Anarkali is portrayed by Madhubala, "The Queen of Indian Cinema." "Known for her beauty, personality, and sensitive portrayals of tragic women."

The movie is very long by our standards--over three hours. True--but the length fits the epic nature of the plot. And, as expected, there are many, many episodes of singing and dancing. (Also, battle scenes with--literally--a cast of thousands.)

The film was originally show in black and white, but it has been meticulously colorized. (Usually, I'm not fond of colorization. However, in this case it works.)

The basic plot is simple. Prince Saleem falls in love with the beautiful dancing girl, Anarkali. His father opposes the marriage of his son to a lowly servant girl. Everything else follows.

Not only is the movie a treat for the eye, it's also a treat for the ear. Lata Mangeshkar is the playback singer for 12 songs. She is the most famous playback singer in the world--"The Voice of India."

This film cries out to be seen on the large screen. In fact, it was shown at Rochester's Dryden Theatre. However, we couldn't see it then, so we settled for the DVD. (There are two different DVD's of this film. The one we saw was from Shemaroo Entertainment.)

Mughal-E-Azam carries a fantastically high IMDb rating of 8.3. Believe it or not, I thought it was even better than that. I rated it 10.
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Ireland, 100 years ago
4 February 2020
The Rising of the Moon (1957), directed by John Ford, is actually three short films about Ireland.

The first is "The Majesty of the Law," from a story by Frank O'Connor. O'Connor was an outstanding author, and the story itslef is worth reading. Ford keeps O'Connor's concept, but adds many embellishments. I wasn't impressed by these additions, but I was impressed by Ford's direction, which was outstanding in all three segments.

The second story, "A Minute's Wait," is by a less-known Irish writer, Michael J. McHugh. It's a fairly repetitious piece about a train that, for many reasons, never quite leaves the small station where it has stopped. It's the comic relief film. An English colonel and his wife are on the train, and they are presented as perfect stereotypes. At one point a sports team arrives, with great fanfare. The colonel tells his wife that it's probably the local cricket team. Of course, it's actually a victorious team that competes in the Irish sport of hurling. One reason not to fast-forward is to listen to the most bizarrely worded marriage proposal that you'll ever hear.

The third segment is adapted from Lady Augusta Gregory's play, "The Rising of the Moon." Lady Gregory was an English aristocrat who lived in Ireland, and adopted the Irish revolutionary cause as her own. She was the founder of he famous Abbey Theatre, which still exists today.

This segment has two serious plots. One is obvious--an Irish revolutionary is about to be executed. The other is less obvious but, in my opinion, it's the more important plot. It involves an Irish Constabulary sergeant and his wife. We see them first at the very beginning of the story, and again at the very end.

We saw this movie on the small screen, where it worked well. It's uneven, and not a masterpiece, but it's worth seeing. It has an anemic IMDb rating of 6.8. I think it's much better than that.
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Georgian dance has no room for innovation
2 February 2020
And Then We Danced (2019) is a film from the Republic of Georgia. It was written and directed by Levan Akin.

The movie stars Levan Gelbakhiani as Merab, a skilled dancer at the Georgian dance academy. Ana Javakishvili portrays Mary, his long-time partner. Everyone at the academy is striving to be called up to the National Georgian Dance Ensemble.

A new dancer enters the academy--Irakli, played by Bachi Valishvili. Irakli is also a skilled dancer. Naturally, the two men see themselves as rivals. The question is whether rivals can be friends as well.

Of the two, Merab is the more creative dancer. However, creativity isn't valued in Georgian dance. As portrayed in the film, Georgian dance is traditional, with no room for change. The dancers at the National Georgian are expected to follow strict Georgian dance tradition. The best dancer is the dancer who can best display that tradition.

Mary loves Merab, but it's not clear whether her love is returned. Certainly, there's opportunity for intimate relationships, but Merab is reluctant to use these opportunities. The plot moves forward from there.

Additional information: the film is technically a Swedish-Georgian production. Director Akin is Swedish, but he's of Georgian descent. Sweden submitted this film for the Oscars, but it wasn't nominated. It was so controversial in conservative Georgia that riot police had to protect movie goers.

The singing and dancing in the film are both outstanding. The film has many virtues, but even without reference to the plot, it's worth seeing just to watch and listen.

We saw the movie on the large screen, thanks to ImageOut, Rochester's LGBT film festival. It will work almost as well on a small screen.

And Then We Danced has an extraordinarily high IMDb rating of 8.1. I think it's even better than that.
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The Tenth Man (2016)
Why doesn't Usher appear?
26 January 2020
The Argentinian film El Rey del Once (2016) was shown in the U.S. with the title The Tenth Man. (The U.S. title makes sense in the context of the movie, but the Spanish title is The King of Eleven.) The movie was written and directed by Daniel Burman.

The film stars Alan Sabbagh as Ariel, who was born in Buenos Aires, but is now a successful businessman in New York City.

Ariel is estranged from he father, Usher, because Usher is an orthodox Jew, and Ariel is not. Ariel travels to Buenos Aires to try to come to a rapprochement with Usher.

However, Usher never appears. He runs a charity organization--I think mostly for Jews--and he's always somewhere else when Ariel visits the charity.

The charity organization is more or less a success, but it is horribly disorganized. Usher apparently holds this chaotic situation together, but barely.

Instead of Usher, Ariel meets the beautiful, enigmatic Eva (Julieta Zylberberg). She's an orthodox Jew, so she's not allowed to touch him. However, she's also silent. She can speak, but she chooses not to.

The plot progresses with the growing relationship between Ariel and and Eva, and the growing absence of Usher. There are funny and tender moments, as Ariel meets old friends, and starts to make sense out of what's happening at the charity.

I enjoyed this movie, and I recommend it. It has a horrible IMDb rating of 5.7. It's much better than that. The low rating for this good movie reminds me that sometimes you need to listen to a friend who recommends a film. The IMDb rating is important, but it's not essential when choosing a movie.
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