“The Mauritanian” Review

The Mauritanian (2020)

Based on the memoir Guantamano Diary (2015), this film tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (played by Tahar Rahim), a man from Mauritania who was arrested on heresy some time after the 9/11 terrorist attack and then spent in total 14 years (from 2002 to 2016) in the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba without charge or trial. Jodie Foster plays his lawyer Nancy Hollander who is determined to see that her client gets a fair trial despite the extremely serious allegations against him, and Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave (2013)) plays military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is more than determined to avenge the attack on America, especially since he knows one of its direct victims personally. Despite its slightly uneven narrative, this film by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void (2003)) is an intelligent legal drama bolstered by the powerful performances from both Tahar Rahim (A Prophet (2009)) and Jodie Foster (Money Monster (2016)). The film, which undoubtedly will make many people uncomfortable, clearly shows the Guantanamo Bay abuses through the eyes of one innocent and sympathetic man.

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5 Great Films Never Made

Book Cover, Notre-Dame de Paris [1831]

I. Tim Burton’s “Notre Dame de Paris

What is it all about?

In 2011, it was announced that Tim Burton is working on his version of Notre-Dame de Paris with Josh Brolin, but the project never moved beyond the early stages. This film was supposed to be an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris, which tells the story of three characters’ lives entangling against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Esmeralda, a beautiful girl who often dances in the square in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, has become the object of ardent passion on the part of three distinct men: severe Archdeacon Claude Frollo, the hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo and dashing Captain Phoebus.

Why this project had the potential to be great?

As far back as 2013, I wrote a post where I talked about 10 classics I would love to see made into major films and Victor Hugo’s novel was at the very top of my list. Tim Burton’s penchant for the unusual and the grotesque would have made this adaptation a dark, intriguing “feast for the eyes”, especially given all the recent advances in special effects technology which could render Quasimodo vividly and bring his world of old Paris and Cathedral-climbing to one magnificent spectacle. Tim Burton is great in establishing that “creepy fairy-tale” atmosphere (Sleepy Hollow (1999)) is one such example) that the film needs and he could have done the book justice. True, there were at least three other well-known cinematic adaptations of the book (in 1923, 1939 and in 1956), but, an “update” or a “remake” is desperately needed since the story is timeless and moving and, at least in my humble opinion, has such a big cinematic potential.

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La Fête Nationale: French Films

Today is 14th July and it is Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale in France, which means it is time to celebrate French films and French directors. Below I present a number of French films I reviewed on this blog, and this includes films from Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Julia Ducournau and François Ozon, as well as three French-produced animations:

Grande Illusion, La (1937) Regle du Jeu, La (1939) Diaboliques, Les (1955)

Pickpocket (1959) Planete Sauvage, La (1973) Roi et L’Oiseau, Le (1980) 

Betty Blue (1986) Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea (2002) Elle (2016) 

Odyssey, The (2016) Raw (2016) 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017) 

L’Amant Double (2017) 

There are so many great French films out there, including the works of René Clément (Jeux interdits), Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins), Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête), Louis Malle (Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud), Agnes Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7)Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai), Jean-Luc Godard (À bout de souffle), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) and Claire Denis (Beau Travail). Do you have a favourite French movie?

Childhood in Cinema: 10 Unforgettable Films

I. Ivan’s Childhood [1962]

Country: USSR

Andrei Tarkovsky‘s film is a a beautiful, powerful story set during the World War II. At its centre is a twelve-year old boy Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) who has taken on the job of an adult, the dangerous job of spying on the Nazi forces that are invading his country. Tarkovsky was able to convey his own particular poetic vision of one fragile childhood that meets the horrors of war. Ivan’s tasks for the Red Army intermingle with his dreams of happiness as Tarkovsky shows the sheer impact of war barbarities on a young mind. This movie is both moving and unforgettable, and remains the best cinematic debut I have ever seen.

II. The Spirit of the Beehive [1973]

Country: Spain

The Spirit of the Beehive or El espíritu de la colmena comes from Spanish director Víctor Erice and stars young Ana Torrent in the lead role, giving the most exceptional performance. As so many other films on this list, this beautifully-filmed story portrays children coming to terms with the darker side of life. The story centres on two small girls in a Castilian village in 1940 during the Franco regime. Their fascination with Frankenstein leads to their imaginary world colliding with the harsh realities around them, especially when Ana encounters an escaped prisoner. Atmospheric and rich in symbolism, The Spirit of the Beehive is rightly considered to be one of the foremost cinematic achievements from Spain.

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Top 10 Films from Alfred Hitchcock

I. Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo is probably the most “philosophicalof all Hitchcock films. Whatever angle you take (the detailed “stalking” scenes, the acting, the object symbolism, etc.), the beauty of Vertigo comes through, overwhelming the viewer. Set and shot on location in San Francisco, Vertigo is a story of obsession that focuses on Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart (Anatomy of Murder (1959)), a former detective suffering from acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) who is tasked with following one woman by her husband – Madeleine (Kim Novak), because she might be a danger to herself. This film about mistaken identities, grief and seeking love at all costs is also a nuanced psychological thriller. I can’t say I enjoy the very slow pace of Vertigo, but it is an entrancing cinematic experience nevertheless and for a multitude of reasons deserves its number one spot.

II. Psycho (1960)

Psycho is my confident number two choice. This is a quintessential Hitchcock film with some unbelievable twists and deep psychology. Suspense is the word here. In this story, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals quite a lot of money from her employer’s client and hits the road. However, she needs to rest somewhere on her way to her “financial freedom” and chooses the Bates’ Motel. You need to watch the film to know what happens there. In my review, I talked about how “Hitchcock plays expertly with its audience’s imagination and formed beliefs” in this film, that was also ground-breaking in many ways upon its release. Psycho is a the film that stood the test of time.

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“Luca” Review

Luca (2021)

Disney-Pixar’s Luca is an Italian Riviera set animation that tells a story of a merman Luca and his family living underwater and having a hostile relationship with the people living on land. Luca is a boy curious about the outside world, though, and soon becomes very interested in the “land” people. He meets a fellow merman, an “expert” in people, Alberto, and together they venture to discover “the unknown” or the “land” things, already having a goal in mind – to get their hands on an Italian scooter Vespa. The duo soon encounters a local bully, Ercole, and an eccentric tomboy, Giulia, as well as try to win a local race. Luca is gentle and sweet, who can deny this? It also has its share of laugh-out-loud sequences and beautiful images of a small picturesque village. Apart from that, the animation is painfully generic and even forgettable. Its narrative is almost too insignificant, and if it were not for all the wonderful visuals and the Pixar/Disney name behind this “cartoon”, Luca would have qualified perfectly to be just yet another daytime television animation geared towards very young children.

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Film Recommendations based on 8 Finalists of the Copa América

Inspired by my previous post where I recommended 16 films based on the 16 finalists of the UEFA European Championship, I decided to write a similar post but based on Copa América, the South American Football Championship and the oldest still-running international football competition. It started on 11 June and the finale will be held on 10 July 2021. Below I am recommending 8 films based on the 8 South American countries that reached the quarter-finals.

Flag: Argentina on Facebook 4.0

ARGENTINA: The Secret in their Eyes (2009) (dir. Juan José Campanella)

This Argentinian masterpiece is a must-watch film. In this both clever and emotional story, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), once a criminal investigator, looks back on one puzzling rape-and-murder case in his career, the officially unresolved case of Morales. This case once touched him deeply, especially since he was trying to catch the murderer with his beautiful and intelligent co-worker, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman he has always secretly loved. Now, looking back and piecing together all the evidence, including the one gathered by his imperfect co-worker Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), Esposito thinks he has finally found the clues he missed twenty-five years ago. Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows (2018)) is one of the finest Argentinian actors and his film Nine Queens (2000), directed by the late Fabián Bielinsky, is also a tense crime drama to watch, detailing the story of two petty thieves who “try to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of counterfeit rare stamps (the “nine queens”)”.

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Cannes Film Festival 2021: Official Competition Selection

This year’s Cannes Film Festival has got to be very different from the others, not least because of the pandemic and its consequence for the film industry. This year, the festival is held from 6 to 17 July 2021, and the Jury of the Main Competition are: Spike Lee, Mylène Farmer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mélanie Laurent, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Tahar Rahim and Song Kang-ho. It is hard to talk intelligently about individual films (since so few details are yet known about them), let alone try to guess winners, but I have decided to single out just five films out of twenty-four competing entries in the Official Selection and talk about them:

I. The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson

From the director of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) comes The French Dispatch, “a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine” (IMDb). As you read this post further you will notice that this is not the only film in the Official Selection that blurs reality and fiction, and the cast here is to die for: Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Benicio del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, Elisabeth Moss and Edward Norton, to name just a few. It promises to be a fun and aesthetically-pleasing cinematic experience that also apparently pays tribute to such French films as Mon Oncle (1958) and Le Cercle rouge (1970) (the trailer).

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Film Recommendations based on 16 Finalists of the UEFA European Championship

The UEFA European Football Championship 2020 is underway and we now have 16 country finalists who will compete for the coveted trophy. That led me to the idea to recommend 16 films from each of the 16 European countries currently remaining in the competition:

AUSTRIA : The Counterfeiters (2007) (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)

Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher (2001), The White Ribbon (2009), Amour (2012)) is the greatest Austrian film director, but the country also has other talent to boast about. Stefan Ruzowitzky, born in Vienna in 1961, is known as director and writer of The Counterfeiters, an Academy Award-winning film based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a man who was imprisoned by the Nazis for forging baptismal certificates to save Jewish people and who was later forced to work on the Nazi Operation Bernhard designed to destabilise UK economy.

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Classic Courtroom Dramas: Witness for the Prosecution, & Anatomy of A Murder

I am continuing the celebration of classic films this month with this double film review post. American legal dramas of the 1950s were in a league of their own, and, apart from the two films I will discuss below, there were also such films as Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men [1957], Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny [1954] & Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [1956].

Witness for the Prosecution [1957]

This is a mystery legal drama directed by Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend (1946), The Apartment (1960)) and based on Agatha Christie’s theatrical play.

Charles Laughton plays eminent British barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts whose declining health prevents him from participating in major criminal trials, but who, nevertheless, reluctantly agrees to take on a very strange murder case. Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering his female acquaintance who, quite unexpectedly, left him a large inheritance. But, did Vole actually murder her or was her tragic death the result of a burglary gone wrong? Vole’s enigmatic German wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, and the murdered woman’s housekeeper give evidence in court as Sir Wilfrid, acting for the defence, soon finds that his hands are more than full as a result of all the confusing details emerging in this case. Although initially rather “slow-burn”, this film finally has so many “mind-blowing” twists it can still put to shame many modern productions. Moreover, its use of humour, brilliant acting and intriguing flashbacks all mean that the story is as engrossing as its characters are mesmerising to watch.

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National Classic Movie Day: 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon

As some of you already know, today is the National Classic Movie Day and I am participating in the 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon hosted over at Classic Film & TV Cafe. The aim is to list 6 favourite films from 6 different decades, and my choices are:

  • The 1920sMetropolis [1927]

Truthfully, I can’t be too original in this category because I have not seen many films from the 1920s decade, but, from all those that I have seen, Metropolis is a definite stand-out. This German expressionist film by Fritz Lang is a sci-fi masterpiece made before any visual effects were even there to help underpin the futuristic concept introduced. Wonderfully acted and brilliantly directed, it tells of a wealthy magnate, Joh Fredersen (the master), who has a rift with his son Freder, who, in turn, feels uneasy about the oppression of people in his city. Meanwhile, a “mad” scientist proposes the unthinkable to the master just as Freder falls in love with a girl from the working class segment of the population. A very creative design of the film, its ambition and dramatic passages are just some of the highlights as the film also introduces a take on the Romeo & Juliet story, and works magically on both the hearts and minds of the audience. “The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart!

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Classic Films

This week is the National Classic Movie Day (on 16th May), but because I am already committed to do a classic film blogathon on that day, I thought I would share today my own pre-celebratory post, listing all the classic (or just pre-1970s) films that I reviewed on this website. Click on the titles to see full reviews or tell me which classic film is your favourite.

The Lost Weekend (1945) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Lifeboat (1944) 

La Grande Illusion (1937) Spellbound (1945) Psycho (1960) 

Les Diaboliques (1955) The Servant (1963)

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“Chico & Rita” Review

Chico & Rita (2010)

Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire to make it big. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about passion for music.

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“Rabbit Hole” Review

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Based on a Pulitzer-winning play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is a film about a husband and wife pair, Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Nicole Kidman), who live in suburban America and face a very difficult period in their life: they have lost their small child and are grieving. However, their coping strategies begin to diverge drastically, especially when Becca makes a contact with a teenaged boy who was involved in their son’s tragedy. Nicole Kidman gives one of the best performances in her career in this beautiful, nuanced film that sometimes feels like a slow train-wreck, but which ultimately says a lot about seeking solace in the most unexpected of places, overcoming hardest losses in life and finding hope.

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5 Films Based on Remarkable True Stories

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can [2002], The Pianist [2002]) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.

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I. The Sound of Music [1965]

The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummermight have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers [1949], Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.

Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family [1956], which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

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Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Since my previous post was about Russian animations, I thought I would share this 2006 animation coming from Russia. My Love, based on a novella A Love Story [1927] by Ivan Shmelyov, tells of a sixteen year-old boy’s sexual awakening one summer in the nineteenth-century Russia. Longing for a “spiritual union” and “pure love”, the boy becomes torn between a young and pretty servant girl Pasha and an older and richer woman living next door. There are themes in this beautiful animation of the innocence of first love and the dangers of pursuing unreachable ideals. The animation comes from Aleksandr Petrov, previously known for The Old Man and the Sea [1999], and uses the same wondrous paint-on-glass-technique. Aleksandr Petrov’s work especially shines in the presentation of images that fuse reality and fantasy.

3 Russian “Fairy Tale” Animations

Previously I made this list where I talked about some Russian winter animations, so today I thought I would talk about other examples from the Russian/Soviet animation history. The three animations below were all made by the Soyuzmultfilm Studio between 1947 and 1964, and are good examples of animations made for children in the USSR that are based on fairy tales.

I. The Scarlet Flower [1952]

This animation is based on a story of 1858 by Sergei Aksakov who, in turn, re-worked the tale of Beauty and the Beast . In The Scarlet Flower, three daughters of one wealthy merchant request from their father overseas presents. The eldest daughter wants a diamond tiara, the middle daughter – a mirror that only shows the beauty of a person looking in it, and the youngest, Nastenka, says that she wants the Scarlet Flower. The father gets the presents for his two daughters in his travels, and the present for Nastenka he picks in the surroundings of one strange, enchanted castle. The hidden master of the castle is so angry at the father for taking the Scarlet Flower that he demands that the father sends one of his daughters to him.

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5 Films That Were So Evidently Influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky

All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) was a Soviet director and screenwriter known for his cinematic masterpieces, including Solaris [1972], Stalker [1979] and his debut Ivan’s Childhood [1962]. He inspired generations of film-makers, and Steven Dillon, a film historian, even went so far as to say that “much of subsequent film” was influenced by Tarkovsky’s work. Always favouring long takes, Tarkovsky belonged to a group of film-makers (for example, others are Robert Bresson (Pickpocket [1959]) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story [1953])),that explored spirituality, the transcendental and the metaphysical on film, often focusing on morality or religion, and sometimes employing certain very vivid imagery to convey that. A list of films that were inspired by Tarkovsky’s work in some way or another will probably be never ending, but here I would like to focus on just five of them. Another thing to note is that Andrei Tarkovsky himself drew influence from such directors as Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel and Akira Kurosawa, and this list is not to disparage any of the films listed, which are very good, but to simply draw similarities with Tarkovsky’s work and style.

I. Melancholia [2011] by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a work of beauty. Sublime and thought-provoking, Melancholia focuses on one well-to-do family that starts getting to grips with the fact that the end of the world may be near. Another planet is on the collision course with Earth and members of this family, who have a straining relationship with each other, respond differently to the news. Tarkovsky’s influence (including almost his entire filmography) can be seen or felt in almost every other shot of Lars von Trier’s 2011 work.

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Recently Watched: Films: Dark Waters (2019) & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters (2019)

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven [2002], Carol [2015]) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

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