Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
A crime caper that takes place in Montreal, "The Fall of the American Empire" is well-paced and amusing. There is a gory murder near the beginning, and a nasty torture scene in the middle, so it's not all fun and games; but on the whole it's a feel-good movie, and leaves you smiling.
An intellectual delivery driver teams up with a high-priced hooker to try and do some good with a windfall of cash that has come their way, while avoiding crime bosses and the police.
The plot is unlikely, the chemistry between the two main characters is hardly believable, but it's still fun to watch. There are many beautiful shots of Montreal at its most glorious. The dialogue is in Quebec French, which sounds quite different from the European variety.
It loses a star in my rating because of a totally unnecessary reference to the Holocaust. Mentioning the Holocaust is supposed to add gravity and seriousness to the scene, I guess, but it doesn't. Instead, it just trivializes and cheapens the Holocaust, and should be avoided.
A Not-Very-Hard Day's Night
It's impossible to write spoilers for this film, since there is no plot to spoil. The film is just a record of an all-night orgy in a European forest around the time of the French Revolution. The participants are a group of international noblemen and women, and their servants.
It takes place at night in a dark forest, so you hardly see anything, and when you do see something, you're not sure what it is. Although the participants talk of wild erotic fantasies, what they actually do is pathetic, boring, and grim. Male masturbation, urinating, and getting whipped seem to be the extent of their perversions. You see several penises, none erect. Nobody seems to be having much fun at this orgy. Participating in it seems to be as unpleasant as watching it. Mostly, you see lots of people standing around doing nothing for long periods of time. It's supposed to be erotic, but the astonishing thing is: it's so boring!
The only reason I can think of for seeing this film is titillation. But you will see far more in a 3-minute clip on an internet porn site than you will find in this endless film. It's over two hours long, and feels more like 5. I give this film one star, for the costumes and makeup, which manage to make each male look uglier than the next. If being depraved and debauched offers such poor benefits, I think I will stay praved and bauched. Perhaps that's the director's intention.
\When the film started, the cinema was full. By the time it finished, there were only about 10 viewers left.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
More Questions than Answers
If you have not already seen the film, skip this review. There will be many spoilers.
It's a well-made film on an interesting topic, but it's annoyingly repetitive and it raises more questions than it answers.
Questions like: Even though the "mad scientist" at the centre of the scheme is dead, and his results are sealed, the filmakers managed to track down and interview two of his research assistants. Yet they seem to have made no attempt to track down any of the former employees of the (now closed) adoption agency. Why is that? Could it be that they did track them down, but are suppressing their interviews because they don't fit the agenda of the film?
The boys' wives and adopted parents are all interviewed. All three boys had older adopted sisters, but they make no appearance in the film. Why is that? Again, I get suspicious that we're being manipulated.
The point is raised that most or all the birth mothers in the twin study had mental problems. But there is no attempt to see if other birth mothers, not in the study, also had problems. Birth control and abortion were widely available to American girls at the time. My guess is that most non-Catholic girls who didn't use them would have had a few loose screws.
The boys and their parents are shocked by the discovery that they were part of a research study, and the professor who conducted it (himself a Holocaust survivor) is treated like some sort of successor to the Nazi Dr Mengele. But what exactly did he do that was so evil? Nobody would have adopted triplets (despite one of the adoptive fathers saying - 20 years later - that he would have.) So they needed to be separated. All he did was not tell them that they had siblings.
The question of the influence of nature vs nurture on who we are is even more relevant today than when the boys were born. We are not allowed even to hint at the possibility of racial differences. The professor's results might have made a big contribution to the discussion. I wonder why he had to seal them?
Making Murder Boring
The film opens with the murder of a prostitute by Peter, a man in a suit. What follows are scenes of Peter and his family and acquaintances that take place around the time of the "catastrophe" (as it's called in the titles), and of the Police interrogation.
The second scene shows Peter's shifty-looking psychiatrist explaining that Peter was wealthy, intelligent, normal, happily married, and gave no hint of the impending murder. We soon learn that the psychiatrist is unethical and also lying. The rest of the film shows just how much he lied. Perhaps Bergman is trying to get us to think that Peter had no choice in his actions, given the circumstances of his life; that he was, in effect, a marionette.
The film takes place in Germany, with German-speaking actors. Although filmed by Sven Nykvist, Bergman's rightly-famous cinematographer, in his usual, wonderfully-lighted close-ups, I didn't feel the intimacy that we usually get with Bergman's Swedish films. Perhaps the German actors' faces lack the expressiveness of the Swedes, or maybe Bergman simply wanted them to seem colder and more aloof.
The characters spend long minutes in monologues in single takes. It gets boring. Instead of caring about what they have to say, I found myself marveling at the actors' powers of memorization.
The film is livened up by many long nude sequences, more than you usually see in a non-pornographic film, but these are not enough to make up for its long boring bits.
"From the Life of the Marionettes" had seven (!) producers, among them Bergman himself and also Ingrid Bergman.
Werk ohne Autor (2018)
A Bit Too Much
"Never Look Away" is a seriously good movie. It tells the life of Kurt, a German artist born just before the Nazis took power, who survives the war and studies in East Germany under the Communists, eventually ending up in West Germany and trying to find his own style.
The story is engrossing, the acting is good, there are some beautiful nude scenes, excellent camera work, interesting characters, and the insight that all totalitarian societies treat their artists as means to an end. What stops it getting a rating of 10/10 is that everything is just a bit too much.
Kurt's beloved aunt Elizabeth, an early victim of the Nazis, is heartbreakingly, almost inhumanly, beautiful. Perhaps she is seen that way by her 8-year-old nephew; but he already shows the precocious artistic talent to see things as they really are.
There is a Bad Guy in the film, and he is unremittingly, almost inhumanly, bad. This is not just an artistic failing. By having the Bad Guy so evil, it tends to distract the viewer from the fact that the Holocaust was conducted by ordinary people, not super-villains.
The film is long, at 3 hours and 8 minutes. It doesn't feel like that, and I didn't find myself looking at my watch. But it could have lost, say, half an hour, and would have been better for it.
And the music is a bit overdone, a bit too emphatic.
"Never Look Away" is a very good film that could have been better.
Bergman is no Bunuel
Bergman's attempt at surrealism fails badly. An artist and his pregnant wife move into an isolated cottage. They meet their aristocratic neighbors, who are weird and sinister.
The whole film feels like a dream, or a nightmare. Is all this a figment of the character's imagination? After a while, you just don't care. Bergman lacks Bunuel's sense of humour and eye for oddities. It's just boring.
I would give this a zero out of ten, as a total boring failure. But Sven Nykvist's photography is, as usual, stunning. And Liv Ullmann is heartbreakingly beautiful and an amazing actress, also as usual.
This is the sort of movie that they don't make anymore, the kind you remember as a child, where everyone is bigger and grander than in real life, where magic can take place, where romance can sweep the globe, and love conquers all. I haven't enjoyed a film so much in years.
Beautiful and Slow
Nanook (played by Mikhail Aprosimov) and his wife Sedna (played by Feodosia Ivanova) are elderly Eskimos (or whatever the current politically correct term is) living in a yurt make of skins stretched over sticks, in what I guess is Siberia. They continue the traditional way of life, even though it is set in modern times. Nanook is a hunter who snares wildlife and catches fish through the ice. Sedna stays at home and looks after the yurt. They have one husky (played by Hector) who pulls the sled which is their only transport.
The film starts slowly, and stays slow. At first, this is irritating, but once you get used to the rhythm you forget about how slow it is because you become hypnotized by the amazing landscapes. This is a film that should be seen on the big screen: you need the endless vistas of snow to get the feel of it. And it feels real: the sharp clarity of sub-zero air, the vast desert-like snow-covered tundra.
Nanook and Sedna are indispensable to each other, and clearly love each other deeply. They are never at rest - constantly preparing and repairing, using the only materials they have: wood, stones, hides.
Nanook observes that spring is arriving earlier than it used to and that he never before experienced four days of unsuccessful hunting. This might be a hint of global warming, except that Sedna reminds him that this has, indeed, occurred before. Sedna is slightly clairvoyant, predicting the weather and a visit from their son, and dreaming a prophetic vision. This befits her name (Sedna is the name of an Eskimo goddess). Nanook's name is also significant: it is a reference to Robert Flaherty's groundbreaking early documentary "Nanook of the North".
They have two children, who have both left the traditional ways and live more modern lives. Their son visits them on a snowmobile. Their daughter, Aga, works in a mine. It is clear that Nanook and Sedna have chosen to continue their ancient ways, when they had other options.
The day-to-day lives of the Eskimos are fascinating and well photographed. It is a very hard life. They seem to be the only humans for as far as the eye can see. Food is scarce. Conditions are harsh.
Once you get used to the slow pace, Aga is very interesting and incredibly beautiful.
Toppen av ingenting (2018)
Inheriting a run-down apartment building in Stockholm, a woman in her mid-sixties discovers that her relatives have been illegally subletting the apartments, while neglecting their maintenance. She wants to sell the building, but gets entangled in problems which become more surreal and nightmarish as she goes along.
While it's interesting and rare to see an elderly woman take on the sort of role usually filled by Bruce Willis types (the ordinary citizen driven to take the law into his own hands), this isn't enough to keep our interest. The scenes are shot in cinema-verite style with handheld cameras and grainy, almost monochrome closeups, but they are invariably held for too long, making the viewer want to doze off.
The discordant music in the sound track is MUCH TOO LOUD, painfully so. I suppose it is supposed to give you a feeling of immediacy, but instead it makes the whole experience more unpleasant.
Léonore Ekstrand is excellent as the harassed landlady, but she's not enough to make up for the pain and boredom that the film brings on. Still, it's a nice change to see a 67-year-old enjoying sex. It is Sweden, after all.
Juliet, Naked (2018)
Clever and Funny
Duncan is a lecturer in a 3rd-rate college in a forgotten English sea-side town. He also runs the fan-club of a once-popular American singer-songwriter called Tucker Crowe, who disappeared 20-years ago after releasing an album called "Juliet". One day a cd arrives of early versions and outtakes of the songs on "Juliet", called "Juliet, Naked". Duncan's long-suffering girlfriend, Annie, writes a critical review of the disc on Duncan's blog, eliciting a talkback from Tucker Crowe himself. Their email relationship will grow into something more serious.
Based on Nick Hornby's amusing book of the same name, the film is deliciously funny and full of clever twists. It pokes gentle fun at all the characters, who seem a little ridiculous but still ring true. The acting is superb, especially Rose Byrne, who plays Annie: middle-class, nearing middle-age, childless, attractive in a pinched, worried way, trying to do the right thing instead of letting herself go.
You'll be grinning all through this delight, as Crowe tries to live down his past while Annie tries to break away from hers.
Incidentally, Ethan Hawke, who plays Crowe, (yes, a Hawke pretending to be a Crowe: talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing!) also sings the vocals in what are supposed to be Crowe's songs, which play in the background.
Mes provinciales (2018)
French and Long
A handsome French film student moves to Paris. Although full of self-doubt, he projects an impression of serious purpose. Everyone he meets, male or female, seems to fall in love with him.
Which year the film is meant to be taking place is unclear. The students despise the leaders of the student rebellion of 1968 for being phonies and sellouts. But they still speak to each other, and there are no smartphones to be seen.
The film is very French. The young people are almost an Englishman's caricature of French intellectuals: they talk endlessly, read voraciously, quote philosophers and poets, smoke cigarettes, strike poses, and argue interminably about changing the world. It is charming at times, but tedious too often.
It is also very long. 2-and-a-quarter hours feel more like 3-and-a-quarter. The youths are supposed to be film students. Have they never learned about editing, about pace?
One to Avoid
Don't let "Dreams" be your first Bergman: you will never watch a second, and that would be a pity. Bergman directed some of the best films ever, but "Dreams" is not among them.
This tedious film plods slowly along as one stereotyped character follows another. We have a pretty, air-headed model who just wants to have fun, an aging would-be lecher, a bitchy female boss making a fool of herself for love, an ungrateful selfish greedy daughter.... None of them develop or change during the film. "Dreams" commits the ultimate movie sin: it's boring!
I don't know why this film got such a high rating. I can only guess that viewers were so overawed at Bergman's reputation that they failed to notice that the emperor was naked. It's amazing to think that the same director and crew and actors who made the great masterpieces also made "Dreams".
The cinematography is by Hilding Bladh instead of Bergman's usual Sven Nykvist: could this be the reason the film's so bad?
The Testament (2017)
Be Careful What You Wish For
Yoel Halberstam is an Israeli Holocaust researcher, a former 'haredi' (super-religious) Jew who has left the yehiva but still maintains an Orthodox lifestyle. He is the divorced father of a 12-year-old boy studying for his Bar-Mitzvah. Living a very frugal life, he is trying to uncover the details of a massacre that occurred in 1945 in Lensdorf, Austria, in which 200 Jews were massacred, and which has been covered up by everyone involved.
Lensdorf is a fictional village, based on Rechnitz, Austria, which did conduct a massacre, whose details are even more horrible than the one in the film.
Halberstam is fighting an Austrian attempt to literally cover up the killing ground. In the course of his investigations, he uncovers information that could badly affect him, his family, and his lifestyle. Will he push on?
Quiet and low-key, The Testament is riveting and very believable. The star, Ori Pfeffer, is on camera in nearly every scene, and you can't take your eyes off him. He has perfectly mastered the body language and facial expressions of the 'hardal' (nearly haredi) male.
The most chilling line is given by one of the survivors: "The war is still going on". When you see The Testament, you'll understand why.
Lies My Father Told Me (1975)
Ted Allen wrote a wonderful short story, about 4 pages long, called "Lies My Father Told Me" which was short on plot but very evocative of the Jewish ghetto in Montreal in the 1920s. It reminisced about a young boy who accompanied his grandfather on a horse-drawn cart collecting rags and bottles.
This is the third attempt to fill out the story into a film. Allen wrote the screenplay, which was nominated for an Oscar. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1960 film, which I haven't seen.
Pretty much everything that can go wrong with a film has happened here. The story is melodramatic and predictable. The characters are one-dimensional caricatures rather than human beings. The main character, a young boy, is so tousle-haired and gap-toothed and sweet that you want to kick him. His father is a total loser (or "schlemiel") who keeps thinking up get-rich-quick schemes, and wastes his money on the races. The mother is noble, loving, self-sacrificing, etc. The boy's wise old grandfather (the other main character) has a gruff exterior but a twinkle in his eye. You expect the characters to break into song at any minute. The only believable character in this film is the horse!
The acting is way over-the-top, the actors striking poses like in a silent film, rather than acting like people.
Most of the film takes place in an obvious stage set of Montreal's slum. There are a few nice exterior glimpses of the real Montreal.
The whole thing is sentimental and mawkish and embarrassing.
Ugly and Tedious
One of the ugliest-looking films ever, "Wonderland" (the title is ironic) looks like it was filmed through an early mobile phone camera: very grainy with colours so washed out they look like monochrome, especially the exterior shots. Passage of time is indicated by speeded-up montages of car headlights at night. You soon wish they had speeded it up a lot more.
The film follows the lives of a group of working-class Londoners, mainly three girls and an older couple, and some of their acquaintances. By the end you realize that two of the girls are sisters, daughters of the couple. Only by reading reviews did I learn that all three are supposed to be sisters: their accents differed slightly, which should not have happened with sisters. One is a hairdresser with a 10-year-old son, one is single and looking, one is pregnant. The single sister wears her hair in a very ugly Minnie Mouse hairdo, surprising for the sister of a hairdresser.
Their men are losers, liars, alcoholics, or all three. The most sympathetic man is the father, but he is despised by his dour unforgiving vicious wife, who calls him "pathetic".
"Wonderland" goes on and on, one noisy crowded incident after another, leaving you wondering who the people are and how they connect with each other. It's very tedious.
The music is boring and unrelenting, mainly variations of "We Are The Champions". I suppose this, too, is meant to be ironic.
The best scene is when the pregnant sister gives birth, screaming and crying. It's well done, but not good enough to redeem the film.
Hidden Figures (2016)
History Dumbed Down
Engineers and adding-machine operators (called "computers") working at NASA in the early 1960's included a few black women. Since the Civil Rights movement was only beginning, and NASA was located in southern regions of the US, these women were subject to legal discrimination. "Hidden Figures" follows the careers of some of these women. But it does this in a heavy-handed, formulaic way.
Ever since "The Ugly Duckling" of Hans Christian Anderson, the formula has been predictable: a member of a despised minority is grudgingly admitted into a previously exclusive activity. Will the minority figure excel in the new position, or will he/she fail miserably, justifying the prejudices of the ruling class? Telling you the answer would be a spoiler, so you'll have to guess it for yourselves, but it's not too difficult.
In "Hidden Figures", all the whites are bigots (except for John Glenn and one department head), and all the blacks are hard-working, clean, patriotic moral wonders. This is history dumbed down to junior high-school level. The heroine, a mathematically gifted black widow has managed to stay chaste and raise three perfect children while handling a difficult job under trying conditions. The other characters are no more believable.
The period detail is mostly well done, with electric typewriters and glass-knobbed coffee percolators. But in the early '60s, all engineers would have carried slide rules, the way doctors wear stethoscopes. There are none to be seen here. Also, any time the heroine wants to work out a mathematical problem, she has to climb a ladder and write it out on a large blackboard. Scrap paper existed in the '60s.
If you want to watch a simple-minded morality play rather than a movie, history reduced to the level of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", then "Hidden Figures" is for you.
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Politically correct remake
This is a remake of an earlier Magnificent Seven, which was itself a westernized remake of the Japanese film The Seven Samurai. Each remake is inferior to its predecessor. The genre was well parodied in The Three Amigos (1986).
The film opens with the bad guy, Bart Bogue, terrorizing a peaceful western town because he wants the land for gold mining. Just to show you what a rogue is Bogue, he guns down several innocents and sets the church on fire. The pretty widow of one of his victims approaches a bounty hunter and hires him to protect the town.
The bounty hunter, played by Denzel Washington, assembles a gang of hard cases who all have uncanny skills in killing people. Because this is a modern remake, the gang of mercenaries has to be politically correct, ticking off all the right categories of minorities: there's an Indian, a Chinaman, a Mexican, all taking orders from a black man (this is supposed to be just after the Civil War!), with the widow thrown in for feminists.
The gang have one week to prepare defenses and train the hapless townspeople before Bogue and his army of Bogueymen fall upon them like the wolf on the fold.
The predictable mayhem ensues, during which the viewer is left to ponder questions like: why are there no representatives of other fashionable minorities - where is the homosexual, the handicapped, the Good Muslim? Why is Baddie Bogue just a greedy gold miner when he could have been the agent of a giant corporation dedicated to Global Warming? (Maybe they're saving this for the next remake.) Why is the music so insipid and nondescript, when they could have used the stirring soundtrack from the previous version? (Maybe they couldn't afford the royalties.) When is X going to kill Y (no spoilers here!) and end this melee? Luckily, I saw a version with subtitles, so was able to understand the dialogue, which I could not hear properly. I don't know if this was owning to bad sound recording, or poor projection facilities in the cinema.
Despite its predictability, the movie is competently made, and holds your attention. If you haven't seen the previous versions, it's worth a look.
Jason Bourne (2016)
Not for Newcomers
This is the latest in a series of action films. If you've seen the others, you will know what is going on, I guess. But if, like me, this is your first Bourne film, you'll spend the first half of the film trying to figure out what's happening.
Jason Bourne is a man who has been through some sort of covert CIA programme which has gone wrong. Now the CIA are out to kill him. But Bourne, as usual in these sorts of action/paranoia films, has some near superhuman powers. For example, he can knock out any opponent with a single punch.
So the bad guys are out to get him before he can get them, resulting in the usual chases and mayhem. There are chases overground, underground, by car, by motorcycle, by a SWAT van that would put a tank to shame...(I wish I could get one of those for my daily commute!)
The action scenes are very well directed, and keep you excited despite the clichéd plot. The music, too, is excellent, and keeps the tension up without getting in the way. And it's nice to see Tommy Lee Jones, one of the few Hollywood actors who's not afraid to look ugly.
For those who have seen previous Bourne films, this is probably an 8 out of 10, maybe even a 9 out of 10. But for newcomers, it rates only a 6.
The Childhood of a Leader (2015)
Manipulative and Second-Rate
The film begins with a musical score (by Scott Walker) which is too loud, manipulative, domineering, and pretentious. It takes itself very seriously indeed, but, when listened to closely, is second-rate.
The film imitates the music.
The story of Childhood of a Leader comprises scenes in the upbringing of Prescott, the rich, spoiled son of an influential American diplomat and his beautiful wife. The father is hammering out the details of what will become the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War, and set the stage for the Second. Neither parent has much time for Prescott, and he is raised by servants, who can be dismissed on a whim.
Prescott eventually grows up to be (here's the spoiler): a fascist leader.
The takes and the scenes go on for far too long, leading to boredom. But the director and writer, Brady Corbet, isn't interested in making a good movie. He wants to deliver a message, even if he has to hit you on the head with it. He wants you to know that there is no free will; that your attitudes and place in society are determined by your class and upbringing; that any child raised under these circumstances would turn out this way.
What he fails to notice is that nearly all upper-class children in pre-WWI times were raised like this. Yet somehow they did not all end up leading fascist coups.
Childhood of a Leader's only redeeming feature is the acting. It is excellent throughout, especially Liam Cunningham as the father, who expects his orders to be obeyed and his son to be disciplined. Cunningham is completely believable playing this unattractive character.
We shouldn't blame director Corbet for making such a second-rate film. Given his class and his upbringing, it was inevitable.
Les premiers les derniers (2016)
The First, the Last is a Belgian film noir in which all the characters are seedy lowlifes. A moron couple are on the run, but also searching for a child they seem to know little about. Two tough older losers are being paid by a gangster to find a missing cellphone. The two pairs interact with each other and with another gang of local thugs.
Why should we care? Because each of the main characters has a distinct and interesting personality which is revealed through their dialogue and reactions. And because the film is full of quirky insights and unexpected sidetracks. And because the characters change and grow as the film progresses.
The photography is outstanding: Belgium is shown as unrelentingly gloomy, grey, rainy, flat, dirty, squalid... and that's in the daytime shots.
There are two unexpected cameo appearances by veteran Swedish actor Max von Sydow and by Jesus, both speaking French!
There are a few loose ends in the film. For example, at one point one of the cellphone hunters is hosted by a local woman and her daughter. A large wounded deer collapses in front of her house. (We never find out who shot the deer.) Although the women have a shotgun, they give it to their guest and insist that he put the animal out of its misery. Once killed, they load it onto the man's pickup truck. Why don't they eat it? Nobody in this film has much money.
As is inevitable these day, some of the takes run on too long. But the viewer is seldom bored.
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Hippies Encounter Outside World
Ben and his large brood are living the hippie dream: they have totally withdrawn from the consumer ratrace, and are living on their own in the mountains of Western USA, sleeping in a teepee, hunting and gathering their own organic food. The children are homeschooled to a very high level, can chat in many languages, and are as fit as athletes. There is no TV, nor TV dinner here.
But there is trouble in paradise: it's driven the mother crazy. We never see her: she is away in a mental hospital. Ben explains that post-partum depression has led to bipolar disorder, owing to low serotonin levels. It's a mark of the children's education that they can all understand this.
The idyll comes to clash with American civilization when a family funeral forces the kids to encounter 'normal' America. They are fascinated and horrified, and the dream begins to give way....
This is a very interesting film which raises lots of questions. But it has flaws. Winters in the Montana mountains are long and harsh. What do they eat? We see them hunting, but not farming, so where do they get crops to preserve?
The eldest has been accepted by all the top US universities. They would be fighting with each other to give him scholarships. So Ben would have no need to seek help with tuition.
Ben's training regime reminds me of the Trapp Family at the beginning of'The Sound of Music'. But no Maria comes to teach these kids the 'Do-Re-Mi' song.
The photography is good, but the shots are held overlong, which seems to be a universal flaw in modern films. If viewers these days have short attention spans, why do editors give them such long takes?
Wonderful Acting, Sharp Observation
Rara is about Sara, a 13-year-old girl in a town in Chile, who lives with her mother, her younger sister, and her mother's lesbian lover.
The film follows Sara as she navigates the usual perils of puberty and of growing up after a divorce. Sara tries to make sense of her world and gain some sort of control over it by playing her mother against her father, unwittingly setting off a legal battle that may destroy what little remains of her home.
Rara is full of sharp observations of family dynamics. Sara's squabbles with her pesky, insecure sister are totally believable. So are the grown-ups' reactions as the stress builds.
All the performances of the actresses (and the one actor) are excellent, except for Sara's best friend, who is merely good. Two of them, Sara and the mother's lover, are perfect.
The photography is clear and well-lighted and as sharp as the observations.
My only negatives about this film are that it was a bit too slow, the takes were too long, and that nothing really happens in it: the legal story takes place off-screen.
Hele sa hiwagang hapis (2016)
Endless and strange
Imagine walking into a museum of the Philippines Revolution. It is filled with dioramas or tableaux vivants of famous scenes and people from the revolution, portrayed by actors who act out the events. Each diorama is behind a glass wall: you can only watch from a distance. You walk from one scene to another, spending the same amount of time at each tableau. The museum goes on forever....
That's what watching this film is like. If that sounds like your idea of fun, the A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mysteries is the film for you.
All the scenes are shot in black-and-white with a fixed camera set to middle/long shot. There are no traveling shots, no close-ups, no long distance shots, no zooms, very few slight pans, and no editing. And it goes on forever.
Why did they make the film this way? My guess is that because the revolution occurred at the end of the 19th century, the director was trying to give the impression of what it would have looked like had it been filmed at that time. That was before editing had been invented, when all shots were the same length and just spliced together, and when cameras were only fixed focal length. The only special effect is an overused fog machine (perhaps a metaphor for "the fog of war"?) The actors don't actually act or speak dialogue: instead, they strike poses and declaim in highfaluting literary language. This was, I guess, the style of acting at the time.
I don't know why they didn't go the whole hog, and film it silently with dialogue cards. Perhaps they should have used nitrate stock, which could then burn up in the projector.
It could be that the film gets better as it goes along. I don't know. I escaped after two hours. The film lasts for an unbelievable eight!
The Jungle Book (2016)
If, like me, your exposure to modern animation has been limited to cartoons and Plasticine, you'll be amazed. The animals in Jungle Book look like the real thing, and move like real animals do. They are not prettified or humanized in any way. It's hard to believe they are animations, and not photographs.
The storyline is simple but terrifying: a human child is pursued through the jungle by a man-eating tiger. Because the visuals are so realistic, you get swept up in the story. At times I wondered how they could let children in to see this: it was so frightening!
What lets the movie down is the talking. The animals are given the sorts of voices and dialogue you would expect to find in a cartoon comedy. A ferocious-looking bear starts talking English in a Bronx accent. Other animals have various British accents. It jars with the visuals. It feels like two separate movies have been glued together: a superb nature documentary and a second-rate comedy.
But the visuals are so astonishing that they outweigh the clumsy soundtrack.
Slow and Sentimental
I seldom look at my watch during a movie, but I looked at it a lot in this one. Very slow scenes. You could doze off at the beginning of a scene (say, someone walking down a country lane), and wake up to find the scene hasn't finished. You'll doze off often in this film.
And for what? The photography is nice, and the actors are fine. But the whole thing is like an oversweet pancake wrapped around a sentimental core of bean paste, delivering the message that society's rejects still have something to teach us, and that we shouldn't shun those who are different from us. Gee whiz. You could get the same message in an episode of Sesame Street, and have a lot more fun.