The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)

greatest1Debbie at Moon in Gemini is hosting The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon, which is a fabulous idea since it is an opportunity for everyone to discover or re-discover classic and “must-see” films, or even find hidden gems. I have chosen to write on Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” because it is considered one of the greatest of films (at least in some circles). It is a definite achievement of Robert Bresson, an acclaimed film director, and the film is ranked as one of the greatest films by the Sight & Sound magazine (the 2012 poll). Moreover, Roger Ebert, the late popular film critic, once included it in his “Great Movies” list. And, “Pickpocketis great, just not in a conventional way. This is because Bresson is a French director who practices some form of austerity in his films, and his films do have a minimalistic quality, even though all the philosophical observations in his movies more than make up for the understated presentation or plot. 

Pickpocket Poster Pickpocket (1959)

This film is Bresson’s debut as a scriptwriter for his movie, but it is also fair to say that he was in some way adapting Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment” (1866) to make this film because “Pickpocket” more or less follows the stages of Dostoevsky’s novel and has similar characters. Like in the classic novel, Bresson is preoccupied with fear, guilt and redemption in his story as we follow Michel (Martin LaSalle), a recently released thief, who struggles to get back to his “job”. Michel is reclusive and apathetic, but he does make friends with Jeanne (Marika Green), a young woman and his mother’s neighbour, and has a friend called Jacques. Bresson conveys to the screen the intrigue of the trade which is called pick-pocketing, as well as its dangerous, claustrophobic and lonely nature. What works best in the film is the portrayal of Michel as a societal outsider who tries inwardly to come to light and good. The main character becomes quite sympathetic, maybe even more sympathetic than in “Crime Punishment”, because the crimes of Michel are less horrendous than the murders of Raskolnikov.  Continue reading “The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)”

The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Dial M for Murder (1954)

banner-5Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema and Emily at The Flapper Dame are hosting The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon to honour Grace Kelly, the icon of beauty and elegance. She was a terrific actress, who worked most notably with Alfred Hitchcock (see “Rear Window” (1954) and “To Catch a Thief” (1955)). In “Dial M for Murder“, Kelly is Margot Wendice, the wealthy wife of an ex professional tennis player Tony Wendice, played by Ray Milland. She is to become the centre of the plot whereby the husband hires a hitman to kill the wife. Kelly’s character (that wonderful lady in red, and then in blue) comes off as a beautiful, brave and stoic woman who wants personal happiness, and would have stolen the show completely if not for the intricate, clever and psychologically-interesting plot and the cunning personality of Tony Wendice, played brilliantly by Milland.  

Dial M for MurderDial M for Murder (1954)

You know you are in for a treat when a film you are about to see is made by Alfred Hitchcock, and “Dial M for Murder” does not deviate from this rule. In the midst of it is a cleverly-constructed plot whose entangling may cause some to pause and ponder. Hitchcock is basing his movie on a screenplay by Frederick Knott and is concerned with the proving of guilt, rather than with the usual whodunit mystery. “Dial M for Murder” starts with the blackmail and the deceit by the wife of her husband, but it ends in an unexpected area. The interesting thing about this movie is that we know from the beginning who is the (attempted) murderer, and we follow every step to the conclusion, but we are still in for some surprises. Initially that is because the murder of Margot, as planned by her husband Tony, does not exactly go according to plan. Continue reading “The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Dial M for Murder (1954)”

“The Babadook” Review

Babadook PosterThe Babadook (2014)

I am wishing all my followers and readers a very Happy Halloween, and am presenting a scary and psychologically-interesting Australian horror film “The Babadook“. This film by Jennifer Kent takes its concept from her own short film “Monster” (2005) about a spooky presence pestering a family of two. Similarly, in “The Babadook”, a widowed mother and her son, who has behavioural problems, are trying to cope with the death of their husband/father, while their house is slowly being invaded by a terrified being from a children’s story-book. This wonderfully thought-out, acted and designed film can be read deeper than it initially appears. In “The Babadook”, what may seem to be a straightforward horror story could actually be a thought-provoking cinematic allegory of people learning to deal with and accept the trauma in their lives.

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“In Fabric” Mini-Review

In Fabric ImageIn Fabric (2018)   

Peter Strickland is known for such unusual and, in some way, brave films as “Berberian Sound Studio” (2012) and “The Duke of Burgundy” (2014). In “In Fabric”, he takes his boldness and unconventionality to a whole new level and crafts a film which is an eerie ghost story involving a dress on the one hand, and a critique of consumerism with much humour, weirdness and some shock thrown into it, on the other. Can horror and comedy, and a consumerism critique and a ghost premise be fused together successfully? Strickland thinks they can, and, probably, only he can pull off such a mix of premises without a film becoming a disaster. The story here is that a woman, Sheila, stumbles upon a gorgeous, silky red dress, without realising that it is possessed by a ghost of a woman who modelled it before. Sheila goes on a blind date wearing the dress, but also develops a strange rash after wearing it. Then, the ghostly dress ends up in the hands of a mechanic and his girlfriend, while also having evil intentions. In the meantime, in the department store that sold the dress, strange, shocking rituals take place, with sales assistants knowing the power of the dress only too well not to want to have it back. The plot may sound a bit ludicrous and not everything works there, but it is the film’s aesthetics, music and colour, its feel of the 1970s decade, recalling Italian giallo movies, and its strange humour which all work best.

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The “October Birthdayz” Blogathon: Repulsion (1965)

october-birthdayz-blogathon-image-5It is that time of the year again when everyone is writing about exciting spooky stuff, and to accomplish two objectives with one action, I am contributing to the “October Birthdayz” blogathon by Nuwan at No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen to celebrate the birthday of his sister. The theme is famous people who were born in October, and, to celebrate Catherine Deneuve’s 75th birthday, I am reviewing Polanski’s “Repulsion” with Deneuve in the lead role. A review of this highly influential psychological horror film, that showcases Deneuve’s talent to the full extent, will not only fit nicely into this blogathon’s theme, but can also get you early into the Halloween spirit. Thanks for hosting and inviting me, Nuwan, and the readers can also check out other entries for this blogathon here, here and here

Repulsion PosterRepulsion (1965)

Repulsion” can be considered a classic in the psychological horror genre. The plot revolves around Carole (Deneuve), a young woman from Belgium who works in a beauty parlour in London and lives in an apartment with her older sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux). Sweet and shy, Carole often finds herself day-dreaming, and tries to politely rebuff the advances of her obsessive suitor Colin (John Fraser). She also expresses hostility towards her sister’s married boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). Things take a turn for the worse when Carole’s day-dreaming leads to her mind having the life of its own and the triggers seem to be any sexual hints or attempts made at intimacy. When Hélène leaves for a vacation in Italy, Carole is unable to cope, and, feeling abandoned, slowly starts her descent into madness. 

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“The Third Murder” Review

The Third Murder Poster The Third Murder (2018)

People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers” (Shigemori Akihisa in “The Third Murder”).

This film by an acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After the Storm” (2016), “Shoplifters” (2018)) begins with a scene of a murder in progress. A man kills his boss in cold blood and burns his body. The man – Misumi (Kōji Yakusho) – has previously been in prison for around 30 years for other two similar crimes he had committed. A legal team prepare a case, but since Misumi has confessed, there is nothing much to debate or investigate, and the sentence of death penalty looms over his head. The case of Misumi seems to be an open and shut one, or does it? When a new lawyer Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes over the case, he slowly begins to realise that something does not make sense in Misumi’s confession, and the centrepiece of confusion is the motivation of the killer. It also does not help that Misumi starts to change his story of what happened with an astonishing ease and conviction. In Kore-eda’s legal drama, it is interesting to uncover both personal connections to the case and the foreign legal system’s intricacies, but the quiet beauty of the picture can still be found in the slow unveiling of the truth.

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“Burning” Review

Burning Poster Burning (2018)

You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).

In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).

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Classic French Animations: “Fantastic Planet” (1973) and “The King & The Mockingbird” (1980)

La Planete Sauvage Poster Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) (1973)   

Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.

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Jean Renoir: “La Règle du Jeu” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937)

Yesterday was Jean Renoir’s 124th birthday, and, to pay tribute, I am reviewing two of this eminent French director’s most famous cinematic creations, which both influenced numerous films made after them and are now considered cinema classics – “The Rules of the Game” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937).    

The Rules of the Game PosterLa Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

This film is, arguably, Jean Renoir’s greatest achievement. In the story, a circle of rich socialites meets up in a country house of Christine and her husband Robert de la Cheyniest. The complications then follow as it becomes apparent that aviator André Jurieux is deeply in love with Christine, and Christine’s own husband, Robert, is entangled in a love affair of his own. Coupled to this, Christine’s personal maid Lisette becomes interested in the recent addition to the servant staff – a poacher Marceau, despite having a husband. An intermediary between the couples is Octave, Christine’s trusted friend, played by Jean Renoir himself. “La Regle du Jeu” is very much an “upstairs/downstairs” film where the director satirises the life of the bourgeois on the eve of the war, often contrasting them with their servants. The socialites’ frivolousness, including the fleetness of their passions, are exposed and ridiculed, and, in the end, the characters’ paths and motivations collide and the ultimate sacrifice is made on the societal altar to self-absorption and complacency.

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“L’ Amant Double” Review

double_LoverL’Amant Double (Double Lover) (2017)    

François Ozon (“Frantz” (2016), “In the House” (2013)) is a French director who is uninhibited when it comes to portraying sexuality/erotica on screen and was exploring it freely in his past films “Jeune et Jolie” (2013) and  “Swimming Pool” (2003). His latest psychological thriller “L’Amant Double” is another testament to this director’s fascinating way of portraying psychologically interesting scenarios and sensuality/sexuality on screen. Based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, “L’Amant Double” presents Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman who seeks help for her psychosomatic stomach pains from a psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier). It is not long before Chloé and Paul fall in love and move in together, and all is going well until Chloé becomes troubled by her lover’s personal secrets. This erotically-charged film is not without its problems, but it explores the nature of personal identity from an interesting angle, portrays sexually-charged romance unflinchingly, and plays with our beliefs, expectations and what-if questions. In the end, ‘L’Amant Double” becomes a film not so much about an obsessive romance and morbid fascinations as about the question of the extent to which one’s imagination can overrun one’s sanity and eventually completely undermine one’s perception of reality.

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“Hereditary” Review

Hereditary Poster Hereditary (2018)  

**SPOILER ALERT** 

Ari Aster’s debut feature horror/drama film has caused quite a stir so far. With such quality horror films that have come out in recent months/years as “A Quiet Place” (2018), “Get Out” (2017) and “The Witch” (2015), to name just a few, it may be safe to say that the calibre revival of the genre is in full swing. It also seems like a long time has passed since we had to rely solely on James Wan (“Insidious” (2010), “The Conjuring” (2013)), horror sequels or classic movies for some kind of decent horror entertainment. “Hereditary” is an impressive and scary film, but not in the way most will assume. Its tricks, twists and general horror content may have been recycled from previous movies, and its inner intelligence and coherence will no longer awe discerning horror/thriller fans that have followed recent movies. Nevertheless, where “Hereditary” really impresses is in the setting-construction, in the unhurried building of the right, creepy atmosphere, in its attention to detail and characterisation, and, of course, it impresses with its top-notch acting, the kind that we probably have not seen in a horror film, maybe even since “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

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“The Bookshop” Review

The Bookshop PosterThe Bookshop (2018)

Leo Tolstoy once said that all literature can be divided into two types of stories: a man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. “The Bookshop” falls into the latter category. The film first caught my attention when it won a number of Spanish Goya Awards, including the Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Awards, and also two Gaudi Awards. It is based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald and is set in England in 1959. In this story, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a widow, opens a bookshop in a small coastal town and is taken aback by all the amazement of its inhabitants at such a move. Florence begins friendship with a reclusive book-lover Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) and employs a schoolgirl Christine to assist her bookshop, not even realising the strings that a local woman of power Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) is willing to pull to whisk Florence out of her property and turn the premises of the bookshop into an art centre. It is clear that this little movie can work its charm to the hearts of the audience. However, it has so many problems, including the incredulous tension/antagonist moves and the slow pace, that the film may be best described as a beautifully-wrapped gift in a mawkish gift paper which really takes too long to open and when it is opened – nothing but a pile of saccharine and a bitter sense of disappointment are to be found inside.

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Films that “grapple” with Faith: “First Reformed” (2018) and “Novitiate” (2017)

First Reformed PosterFirst Reformed (2018)  

First Reformed” comes from director Paul Schrader, who co-wrote the scripts to such films as “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980), and who directed “American Gigolo” (1980) and “Affliction” (1997), among other films. It tells of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), a priest in the First Reformed church in Snowbridge, New York, who tries to help one man with his obsessive radical-environmentalist beliefs, but who ends up fighting his own inner demons instead. This film works well on many levels, but it is probably its deep philosophical, existentialist-like quality, as well as its masterful execution, which distinguish it above others. Deep, thought-provoking and resolute, “First Reformed” grapples interestingly with the questions of faith and morality, and, by the end, becomes both a subdued and quiet meditation on life and internal despair, and an explosively powerful statement on hope.

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“The Lost City of Z” Review

The Lost City of Z Poster The Lost City of Z (2016)           

There is very little doubt that the forests cover traces of a lost civilisation of a most unsuspected and surprising character” (from a letter of Fawcett to the Royal Geographical Society, December 1921, Grann (2009) at 55).

Based on a great book by David Grann – “The Lost City of Z”, the film tells a true story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, an eminent explorer who believed that there was a hidden ancient civilisation to be found deep in the Amazon jungle and who vanished with his son in the jungle in 1925 while trying to prove its existence. This beautifully-shot film, directed by James Gray, tries to remain faithful to the timeline of the true story as it focuses intensely on the will and determination of Colonel Fawcett, played with dignity and zeal by Charlie Hunnam. The supporting cast is no other than Robert Pattinson as Corporal Costin and Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife, but the biggest appeal of the film is probably still the fascinating true story of one explorer on a mission to prove his cause. However, the film’s length is worrying (circa 140 minutes), and, although the film may shine sporadically as a “biography” film, it is largely disappointing as “a jungle adventure” movie. NB. As I will talk at length about the story, there will be spoilers.

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“Tully” Review

Tully Poster Tully (2018)

I would like to begin this review by saying that I am a big admirer, even a fan, of Jason Reitman’s work. I think his previous films “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “Juno” (2007) and “Up in the Air” (2009) are great examples of a particular kind of comedy, where he managed to successfully turn difficult issues into fun and entertaining cinematic material. “Tully” is his newest film, which was penned by Diablo Cody, the screenwriter of “Juno” and “Young Adult” (2011). “Tully” is about a mother of three, Marlo (Charlize Theron), who struggles with her hectic parenthood when she decides to get a night nanny for her new-born girl. After that, Marlo seems to breathe easier and the nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), provides a huge relief for the family, maybe until Marlo and Tully’s ties become too close. “Tully” is an insightful little film and Theron and Davis’s performances are strong, but, as with “Labour Day” (2014), Reitman still faults when it comes to presenting real drama (even though he still excels with his insight and satire).

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The Winter in July Blogathon: The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone PosterThe Sword in the Stone (1963)

My second post for Debbie’s Winter in July Blogathon is on Disney’s animation “The Sword in the Stone” (1963), and, like my previous post, take note of spoilers! This animation is based on a book (1938) by T.H. White and has a distinction to be the last one produced under Walt Disney himself. In “The Sword in the Stone”, we have merry old England and an innocent enough plot. Wart (aka Arthur) is a young helper to an aspiring knight Kay, before Merlin, a great wizard, comes into the scene and spots Arthur as having great potential and future. After Merlin and Arthur’s initial encounter, Merlin takes the young boy under his wing and teaches him by experience the power of love, knowledge and bravery The snowy scenes come very late into this film, when it is Christmas and the knights’ tournament is held in London. Sir Kay participates with Arthur being his squire. The tournament takes place near the place where the legendary sword in the stone stands. The legend has it that whoever draws the sword from the stone is the true heir to the English throne. When Sir Kay’s own sword goes missing, young Arthur has no choice but to consider taking the sword residing in the stone. 

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The Winter in July Blogathon: Frozen (2013)

The Winter in July BlogathonThere is nothing like snowy and wintery films to cool us all down in the middle of this summer, and Debbie at Moon in Gemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon for that very purpose. For this fun blogathon, I chose to write on animated films “Frozen” (2013) and “The Sword in the Stone” (1963). While “Frozen” is, essentially, the winter animation, there is also some winter scenery at the very end of “The Sword in the Stone“. These are both Disney-productions, with some fifty years separating the two, but one is computer-generated, while the other one is hand-drawn. My arguments will be that there are good enough animations, but they both fell short of their desired mark. While “Frozen” has great visuals, some music and concepts, the animation’s plot and characters can be criticised. Equally, while “The Sword in the Stone” relies on a fascinating legend and is entertaining, its visuals sometimes leave much to be desired and its episodic plot is uninspiring. My first post will be about “Frozen“, and because I critique it in depth, I am also warning about spoilers!

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The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: The Birds (1963)

The Birds PosterThe Birds (1963)

Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films hosts a second blogathon in honour of Alfred Hitchcock and his films, and I am writing, as they say, on his most terrifying film – “The Birds” (1963). The film takes inspiration from a story by Daphne Du Maurier (“Rebecca” (1940)) of the same name, and it is about a strange behaviour of birds in Bodega Bay, California. The centre of the story is Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), a wealthy socialite who romantically pursues a lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), whom she has just met. While we watch all the romantic tensions and a love triangle developing, the birds in the area start to attack people, and what initially looks like a light and intriguing romance story takes a sinister turn and we are confronted with unimaginable horrors. Complex and technical to film, “The Birds” represents one of Hitchcock’s most admirable accomplishments. Here, an intriguing romance story with thought-provoking elements meets an original take on horror and the result is a classic, “must-see” film.
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“Millennium Actress” Review

millennium-actress1Millennium Actress (2001)  

All the world’s a stage, [and] all the men and women [are] merely players”, famously stated William Shakespeare. It appears that this quote is given life in the animation “Millennium Actress”. This anime comes from no other than Satoshi Kon, a director known for such great films as “Perfect Blue” (1998), “Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) and “Paprika” (2006). In this story, a team of documentary-makers interview a once top-star Chiyoko Fujiwara as she tells them about her story, her rise to fame and the personal motivations behind her role-taking. Together with the duo of documentary-makers, we explore Chiyoko’s life through a series of events that hint at both make-believe film scenarios and real stories, but which had a very meaningful impact on Chiyoko and her worldview. The historical settings are either Kyoto in the Edo period, Japan in the World War II, or the country in the 1950s, etc. As in other Kon’s films, reality and fantasy fuse deliciously in “Millennium Actress”. The result is that this beautiful animation becomes an engrossing celebrity story, a touching romantic ballad, a historical account of a country through the ages, and a thought-provoking philosophical study all in one.

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“Thoroughbreds” Review

Thoroughbreds PosterThoroughbreds (2017) 

What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who can feel emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of “Thoroughbreds”. Extremely talented rising stars Olivia Cooke (“The Limehouse Golem” (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split” (2016) and “The Witch” (2015)) star as Amanda and Lily respectively, two girls from a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut who have the so-called “meeting of the minds” and join their forces to put aside their problems for good. Lily has a problem with her stepfather, while Amanda is curious how far she can go on her unemotional spectrum and commit acts she would otherwise not even consider. When the duo meets criminally-minded Tim (Anton Yelchin (Green Room” (2015)) their sinister intentions take a step closer to reality.  

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