Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Film Review: Batman & Robin

"Batman & Robin"  ** (out of ****)

There is a new Batman in town and the cape crusader must protect Gotham City from freezing over in the fourth installment of the "Batman" series, "Batman & Robin" (1997).

"Batman & Robin" was directed by Joel Schumacher, who had directed the previous "Batman" movie, "Batman Forever" (1995). At its initial time of release some "fan boys" and "Batman" enthusiast felt Schumacher was a poor choice to direct a "Batman" movie, especially when you consider Tim Burton directed "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992) and the approval those movies were greeted with from fans.

What I found so appealing about Burton's "Batman" was its attempt to tell a dark, adult story. Burton's "Batman" was about two disturbed men dealing with their psychological trauma, pitted against one another. It had a great visual style and used Gotham City has a visual metaphor into the mind set of its two lead characters, Batman (Michael Keaton) and The Joker (Jack Nicholson).

In my review for "Batman Returns" I said Burton has injected more humor into the story and given it a sexual vibe with the Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) character. I still recommended that movie but with Joel Schumacher at the helm the "Batman" franchise would continue to move into this campy, humorous direction instead of a more serious approach, examining Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego.

"Batman Forever" was greeted positively by some critics, Chicago Tribune and TV critic Gene Siskel among them, and audiences. The movie grossed more than $180 million in the United States alone, which was more than the $162 million "Batman Returns" grossed. Of course, box-office success or lack thereof, does not nor should not, reflect the quality of a movie and its artistic merit. However, I mention it to show the excitement and support the movie received. Today audiences look down on "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin", so I would like to put things into perspective.

"Batman & Robin" however was always considered the weakest of Warner Brothers original attempt at this franchise. At its time of release I thought the movie was an embarrassment. An ill-conceived mess. I re-watched "Batman & Robin" recently and while I don't think it is a very good movie it was not the disgrace I remember it being.

In "Batman & Robin" a new actor would play the caped crusader and millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne/Batman. This time around it would be George Clooney, who still hadn't quite made it as a box-office draw. Some were questioning his judgement in leaving the wildly popular television show "ER". Clooney even postponed the opportunity to play the Green Hornet, a role he accepted at first, which caused the project to be shelved until years later when Seth Rogen would disgrace the character.

Returning would be Chris O' Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin, a role he played in "Batman Forever", Michael Gough as Alfred and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon. Also joining the cast would be Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl and Jeep Swenson as Bane.

Schumacher and the crew seem to have been inspired by the 1966 television show starring Adam West as Batman. And that is the main problem viewers had with this movie. Like the 1960s TV show the movie is too campy, filled with too many sexual innuendos and double entendres. The movie makes a weird decision to create Batman and Robin's rubber costumes as anatomically correct. The movie goes for cheap laughs by having nipples on the costumes and having close-ups of the character's buttocks.

The movie lacks human emotion and dimensional characters. It has a lot of action scenes but somehow is boring to watch. It feels too long. It lacks suspense. The viewer doesn't accept Mr. Freeze or Poison Ivy as a real threat to Batman and Robin and so the viewer goes from sequence to sequence never fearing the dynamic duo may face their end.

Granted the movie tries to hits on themes of Batman's legacy and deals with themes of family and loyalty, it all amounts to nothing because of the un-even tone of Akiva Goldsman's script. He also wrote "Batman Forever" and would go on to win an Academy Award for his screenplay for the Ron Howard movie, "A Beautiful Mind" (2001). For every attempt at something meaningful in "Batman & Robin" it is proceeded by three scenes of utter silliness.

Like the previous "Batman" movies, "Batman & Robin" gives a lot of screen-time to the villains. Unlike "Batman" or "Batman Returns" this movie doesn't go through great lengths to explain their origins. Poison Ivy is explained in one scene and Mr. Freeze through Batman's voice-over.

Mr. Freeze was a renowned doctor, who in an attempt to find a cure for his wife's disease, was involved in a freak accident which left his body dependent upon freezing temperatures to survive. Poison Ivy, was a botanist known as Pamela Isley, who is working towards creating mutant plants, with the plan of helping nature fight back against a human society which is destroying its land. She falls victim to her plants and toxins and is transformed into Poison Ivy.

Schwarzenegger plays Mr. Freeze for laughs, which lessens an audience's ability to view him as a threat. In one scene Mr. Freeze is watching the classic stop-motion animated Christmas movie "The Year Without A Santa Claus" (1974) as he listens to the Snow Miser sing his theme song, conducting his henchmen to sing along. The character keeps saying phrases like "chill out" and consistently makes puns with a "cold" reference.

Uma Thurman, at times, provides her character with a accent much like Mae West, as she tries to lure men into kissing her poisonous lips. She also tries to pit Batman and Robin against each other, as each man believes Poison Ivy is in love with him.

There are some nice production designs but Gotham City is no longer an important visual element to the story. The movie looks like a cartoon, which was clearly Schumacher's intention, however it was a bad move. Batman shouldn't be funny. That doesn't mean the movie as a whole cannot have moments of humor, but, the tone of the movie should be able to address more serious themes. The real issue deals with a more fundamental problem; how does Mr. Schumacher view Batman as a character? He believes, as this movie and "Batman Forever" would suggest, the material should be more tongue-in-cheek. The identity issues and brooding nature of Bruce Wayne should be abandoned. But, in large part I would believe, that's what makes Batman an interesting character.

In fact, if audiences want to see a movie treat Batman as a serious character, besides the Tim Burton movies which proceeded this, I would also suggest viewers watch the animated Batman movie, "Mask of the Phantasm" (1993), which was a spin-off of the acclaimed "Batman: The Animated Series". Even though it is an animated movie it actually treats Batman and his origins with more respect than this live action movie and takes its story more serious.

George Clooney also doesn't fit in the title role. If anything he makes for a good Bruce Wayne, but, Clooney is no action movie star. Fight scenes as Batman are not his foray.

At one time viewers wanted their superhero movies to have a bit of camp to them. It was supposed to feel like a live comic book with nice visuals, a bit of over-acting, especially from the villain, and exciting fight scenes. Today though audiences want something different from their superhero movies. They want the movies to take place in a world which resembles our own. They want a serious tone. They want the movies to examine the psyche of the characters. In other words, once upon a time a movie like "Batman & Robin" could please some portions of the audience today however the movie is a disappointment.

"Batman & Robin" was such a disappointment that Warner Brothers scraped plans for another entry into the series. Years passed until the entire Batman franchise would be given a re-boot from director Christopher Nolan who would direct "Batman Begins" (2005) and two more "Batman" movies which audiences responded kindly too.

"Batman & Robin" is a failed attempt to breathe life into the "Batman" franchise. It lacks a consistent tone, believable characters, suspense and drama. And even if we accept it on its own terms, its not funny.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

"X-Men: Days of Future Past"  *** (out of ****)

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) is the X-Men movie I had hoped the first "X-Men" (2000) movie would have been.

I have been terribly slow coming around to comic book movies. I completely disregarded them ever since the movie studios started releasing them on a daily basis, to the public's delight, with the release of the first "X-Men" movie. The success of that movie brought with it an avalanche of superhero themed movies including, "Spider-Man" (2002), which spawned several sequels and eventually a re-boot series of movies, "Hulk" (2003), which was also re-booted, "Iron Man" (2008) and two sequels, so far, "Captain America" (2011), Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" and two "Avenger" movies.

I initially disliked nearly all of them, but, for the past few years I have tried to make amends and re-watch some of these movies a second time and give others a first viewing. There are some I don't like such as "X-Men", "Iron Man 2" (2010) and three and "Daredevil" (2003) but I have stumbled upon some I have liked such as "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), which I placed on my top ten list of 2012, and most recently "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014). And now to that list we may add "X-Men: Days of Future Past".

My problem with "X-Men" was I felt there were too many mutants which weren't given enough screen time to explain their origins. As someone who doesn't read comic books and therefore I am not familiar with these characters, the movie seemed to glance over too much and not explain its characters and the idea behind X-Men. My suggestion in that review was to limit the mutant characters, explain their background stories, and end the movie with the suggestion the X-Men, as a group,has been started. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" nearly does just that and it truly helped me, as a viewer, understand the X-Men and this Marvel Universe being created. For me "X-Men Days of Future Past" serves as a sequel to "X-Men", though I understand that was not the intention. This movie was meant to be a sequel to two other movies in the X-Men series, which I have not seen. But, having seen both movies recently helped me understand characters much better.

In "X-Men: Days of Future Past" we learn the future is a bleak place for mutants. They are being killed off by Sentinels, robots created to recognize a mutant's power and make themselves immune to it, rendering the mutant helpless and incapable of defending itself.

The Sentinels were created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who initially had difficulty convincing congress that the next great threat facing not only America but the world after the Vietnam War, would be mutants. Mutants, congress believe, are peaceful. If mutants do exist, they have not harmed humans so far. They mainly live in the shadows. They keep to themselves, not wanting to be exposed and shun from society. As a result, Dr. Trask's program is not given funding. But, when a mutant called Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) kills Dr. Trask, the government now fears mutants and sees them not only as harmful but a possible government threat. Mystique is captured and experimented on. She has the ability to change her appearance to anyone or anything. Her DNA is needed to be used in the Sentinels.

This all happened in 1973 and brings us to the modern day as mutants are unable to survive. If only there was some way to go back in time and stop Mystique from ever killing Dr. Trask and preventing the Sentinels from being used. But there is a way! We learn from Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) of a way to send someone back in time. Kitty has the ability to do this but she can only send someone back a few days, possibly a month. To send someone back further in time may cause harm to their body. Because of this Professor X, as he is known, cannot go back to 1973 to stop Mystique, who was at one time his friend. Instead Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent because one of his powers, besides claws emerging from his knuckles, is his ability to rapidly heal himself. He would be able to withstand any damage which occurs to his body through time travel.

Wolverine must now find a young Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbinder), convince them to join forces, and help him find Mystique and prevent her assassination of Dr. Trask.

Yes, it may all sound silly but we must remember we are dealing with mutants and superheroes here. You walk into a movie like this and have to suspend believably and accept the movie on its own terms. You can't question the accuracy of events. Because even if superheroes weren't involved it is still a time travel story. If you are going to question this movie on its science then I also suggest questioning "Back to the Future" (1985) and its sequels. Those movies have quite a following as well and those fans seemed to have accepted the merits of that trilogy.

But that is what makes me like "X-Men: Days of Future Past". Like "Back to the Future" the movie presents everything as realistic. It follows it's own logic and creates a world the audience can believe in. Everyone plays their parts as real characters, facing real issues. Characters caught in complex moral dilemmas. All of these characters have something at stake. That creates an interest in the plot and keeps you watching until the end.

The source material for this movie comes from the comic book "The Uncanny X-Men" and a storyline published in 1981 called "Days of Future Past" in which it is Kitty Pryde who travels back in time to acquire the help of X-Men to assist in preventing Mystique from assassinating a U.S. senator. What some may find interesting is the story takes place in the future of 2013.

I did not know any of this prior to watching this movie nor have I seen all of the seven movies in this series but in the end it doesn't matter because I was able to follow the events of this movie and knew some of the characters. For me "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a stand alone movie. In fact maybe it is the movie you should watch before watching any of the other movies in this series.

One of the reasons I enjoyed "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" so much was because I was surprised the movie made a social commentary on issues currently going on in society, namely government surveillance. That, I felt, gave the movie something extra. The first "X-Men" movie I thought was making a subtle commentary on illegal immigration. "X-Men: Days of Future Past", one can argue, comments on America's military-industrial complex. This movie takes place at the end of the Vietnam War. As that war is coming to an end Dr. Trask is trying to start another one with a new enemy. America always needs a enemy. The military always needs society to face a threat.

Some viewers have also tried to make the argument that "X-Men" is also a parable for the civil rights movement. Outsiders trying to find their place in society and fighting for acceptance. Some believe Professor X is a Dr. Martin Luther King type of character, believing through peace mutant will find acceptance and Magneto a Malcolm X type of character who believes a more forceful, perhaps violent approach, is necessary.

That is a little heavy-handed to me. I don't see that in these movies but do accept the idea the movies do make the argument for living in a world were all class of people are accepted.

What bothers me though is why do we need superhero movies to make these statements? Why can't Hollywood make movies about humans that discuss these issues? And, do fanboys and teenagers that see these movie acknowledge some of the social themes brought up?

When I first saw "X-Men" I thought what a fascinating character Mystique is and it was a shame the movie did not provide us with her background story. It was one of the reasons I didn't like the first movie. There is still a lot about this character I would like to know but what is so wonderful about this movie is it allows this character to be an integral part of the story and allow some background. The character was first played by Rebecca Romijn in three X-Men movies and played by Lawrence in the previous "X-Men: First Class" (2011), which I have not seen.

The other interesting character in the X-Men series is Wolverine, who has been played by Jackman in all seven movies. Wolverine has a very interesting storyline that has not been clearly explained in any of the X-Men films I have seen. Wolverine though, from what we can tell, was experimented on by the military. He has seen much in his life and is a troubled soul. There are a lot of personal demons this character must overcome.

The performances however by all the actors are quite good. All the characters seem believable. The actors are able to flesh out these mutants and give them dimension. They are all presented as people first. People with background stories and clearly defined motivates.

This movie also marks the return of Bryan Singer as a director for the X-Men series. Singer directed the first two movies and is scheduled to direct the next movie in the series "X-Men: Apocalypse", which will be released next year.

At its worst "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a enjoyable Hollywood big-budget popcorn action/sci-fi movie. At its best it is one the highlights in the superhero genre.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Film Review: X-Men

"X-Men"  ** (out of ****)

I remember when this live action movie adaptation of the popular Marvel comic book series, directed by Bryan Singer, was released. I saw "X-Men" (2000) in a movie theatre.

At its time of release I didn't like "X-Men". I felt it was a complete waste of time. As a 17 year old teenager at the time, I didn't even want to see it. I was never a fan of comic books. My friends and I collected and traded Marvel comic cards but I never read one comic book growing up. Because of that I simply considered myself the wrong audience for these type of movies. I took no pleasure seeing these super-heroes come to life on the big screen.

I have said some truly awful things about comic book movies. Things like only the deaf and blind could enjoy them. You'd have to be brain dead to like these movies. But, I've tried to come around. I placed Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) on my top ten list at its time of release. Most recently I saw "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) and enjoyed it. It got me thinking, maybe I haven't been fair to the super-hero genre. So, I thought I'd go back in time and re-watch a lot of these movies I so quickly dismissed. I picked "X-Men" first.

For years I had it in my mind "Spider-Man" (2002) was the movie which kicked off the super-hero movie genre. I distinctly remember after that movie was released an avalanche of super-hero movies rapidly followed. There were two sequels to "Spider-Man", plus a reboot of the series, the "Fantastic Four" (2005), "Iron Man" (2008), Christopher Nolan's "Batman Trilogy", X-Men 2" (2003), "Hulk" (2003), "Daredevil" (2003), "The Punisher" (2004) and many, many others. But, I was wrong. The movie that started this whole trend was "X-Men".

What I found impressive about "Captain America; The Winter Soldier" was it was socially conscience. The movie mentioned issues which society is currently dealing with. That is what made me re-consider my stance against comic book movies.

As "X-Men" begins I started to feel perhaps this would be another movie which addresses timely social issues. There is a lot of political talk in "X-Men" of humans being afraid of mutants and a senator who wants to pass a law requiring all mutant to register themselves. This closely resembles the immigration debate in this country. A few years ago giving illegal immigrants driver licenses was a hot issue. Some worried by bringing these people out of the shadows the government would now target them. What do you think is the line of defense against the mutant bill presented in "X-Men"? By requiring mutants to come out of the shadows they are exposing themselves which would allow the government to target them. Hmmm. Is it a coincidence?

This was starting to make me like "X-Men". Using a super-hero movie to thinly disguise itself as a social commentary. Interesting. Maybe "X-Men" would be about something. But, its not. And once again I must face the conclusion I am the wrong audience for comic book movies.

Even on its own terms, as a strict comic book adaptation and not a social commentary, the movie fails. I find the same flaws now that I did 15 years ago. "X-Men" does a poor job establishing all of its characters for those not familiar with the "X-Men" comic books. It throws too many characters into the mix which the movie can not sufficiently provide enough screen time for. In the end we are left with more questions than answers. There is no exciting payoff to the movie. It feels like a set-up for another movie. Which is exactly what happened.

The two main characters in "X-Men" are Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose real name is Logan and a young teenager Marie (Anna Paquin) whose nickname is Rogue. They are mutants. Neither understands why they are what they are. Rogue is not able to touch another person without nearly killing them. But, she doesn't understand why. Wolverine has blades which come out of his hands, near his knuckles, which appear when he is upset. He also has the ability to heal from wounds rapidly. The movie suggest Wolverine has a mysterious past, but, none of it is revealed. they had to leave some story for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) after all.

Wolverine and Rogue meet Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) a mutant himself, who has the power to control other's minds, has started an Academy for other mutants. Prof. Xavier is also the leader of "X-Men", a group of mutants that would like to find a way to co-exist with humans. The other members of X-Men include Cyclops (James Marsden), a mutant whose eyes shoot out laser beams, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who, like Prof. Xavier can also control minds and Storm (Halle Berry) who can control the weather. All interesting characters and not one minute of background story is devoted to them. How did Storm get her gifts? I'm sure it could make for an interesting story. But, never mind.

The X-Men are in conflict with another group of mutants known as The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, headed by Magneto (Ian McKellan), who unlike Prof. Xavier, believes humans are inferior creatures and should be wiped out. The Brotherhood also consist of Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), a mutant with the ability to shape shift into other people and Toad (Ray Park) who has the ability to walk on walls and has a long tongue (get your mind out of the gutter!) and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), a mutant with resembles a feline. All of these fascinating characters are also given zero screen time to explain their origins except Magneto, who we learn was in a concentration camp as a child. The cruelty he experienced during this time is perhaps what has lead to his hatred of humans.

Some may want to defend "X-Men" to me by saying, "Alex, the movie can't explain the origins of all these characters in one movie. There wouldn't be time for a plot." Exactly! "X-Men" would have been better with fewer characters. Imagine if the story just focused on Wolverine and Rogue, looking for answers concerning who they are and they meet Prof. Xavier and learn about his school and the work he is doing. And then towards the end of the movie we learn more about the group "X-Men" and have provided a good set-up for the sequel. We could even have the Magneto character in the movie to provide the counter argument against Prof. Xavier.

This way "X-Men" hits on some social themes, has action sequences with humans trying to capture mutants, builds on the suspense of who Wolverine is, perhaps this within itself could provide more social themes to be explored and we have better character build-up. The viewer would now be able to understand who we are watching on-screen and be given a chance to care about this world and its characters.

But again some may argue and say, "but that's not X-Men", first of all, why do you think I care? And secondly, it makes for a better cinematic story and accomplishes the same things this failed final version does and improves on others.

I believe what explains why I have preferred some of the Batman movies or even "Captain America" is it deals with one focal character which the story allows enough time to establish as a real character with a background story and motives and create a human interest story which an audience can respond to.  "X-Men" cannot give these characters their proper due. And that's too bad. Comic book fans should have been disappointed by that. They shouldn't have been so easy to please. The movie grossed more than $150 million in the U.S. alone and nearly $300 million world-wide. They should have demanded more and want these characters' stories properly told.

"X-Men" has the benefit of some good actors; Stewart and McKellan among them and a hint of a social commentary which will keep an audience watching. In the end though, this is a missed opportunity. A movie that tries to do too much and ultimately accomplishes very little.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Film Review: Sunshine

"Sunshine"  **** (out of ****)

The first time I saw Istvan Szabo's "Sunshine" (2000) I thought it was a masterpiece. The greatest film Istvan Szabo, the famed Hungarian filmmaker, ever made. In fact, I used to go as far as saying, only he could have directed this movie. It was the story his entire career was leading up to. For me, it was the story of Hungary on-screen.

But then one day, years later, I saw it again. My feelings changed. "Sunshine" wasn't the story of Hungary at all. It was the story of Jews living in Hungary and in particular a family called Sonnenschein and the persecution they face during the 20th century in Budapest. My memory played tricks on me. I didn't enjoy "Sunshine" as much anymore because it wasn't the movie I remembered it being.

So, I watched it a third time, in anticipation of this review. Going into the movie a third time I hoped I would be able to, possibly, accept the movie for what it is and not what I wanted it to be. But, yet again, I came away with a different impression. Yes, "Sunshine" goes through historical moments in Hungarian history. Yes, "Sunshine" deals with the trials and tribulations Jews faced in Hungary. But, now I see a movie that argues against assimilation. We are so often told assimilation is a good thing. It brings people together. It makes us one. Here is a movie though that shows people, it doesn't have to be Jews but rather any group that feels like an outsider, who try to fit into a world which won't accept them no matter how hard they try to be like everyone else. And that story I find touches my heart.

Assimilation only works if others start to see you as one of them the problem is they never will. You will always be different because of your religion, your skin color, your gender, your ethnic background. In the end, you must accept who they are. Don't try to please the masses because you will never be able to. Cherish your culture and your people. They are the ones that will accept you when no one else will. For example. our President of the United States is African-American but to many people, those with hate in their eyes, all they see is a black man. No matter what he has accomplished, he, and others like him, will always be different.

This is eventually what the Sonnenschein family learns. The movie follows three generations of male figures, all played by Ralph Fiennes, over the course of the 20th century ranging from both world wars to the 1956 uprising to the years after.

First we follow Ignatz (Fiennes) the oldest son of Emmanuel Sonnenschein (David de Keyser) and Rose Sonnenschein (Miriam Margolyes), who have made their fortune creating a liquor called "Taste of Sunshine". Ignatz has a younger brother, Gustave (James Frain) and a cousin his parents have adopted, Valerie (Jennifer Ehle). Ignatz is studying law and hopes to become a judge one day. He very much respects honor and disciple and doing the right thing. He believes in tradition. He greatly respects Emperor Franz Joseph which puts him at odds with his brother, who has communist sympathies.

Ignatz has also fallen in love with Valerie despite the protest of his mother and father.

Next there is Adam (also played by Fiennes) the youngest son of Ignatz. Adam becomes a famous Olympic gold medalist in fencing. And lastly there is Ivan, Adam's son, who also becomes involved with the communist after WW2, by capturing fascist. He rises quickly in the communist ranks and begins an affair with a married woman (Deborah Kara Unger).

Each man found himself on the path to greatness and only one stood in their way, they were Jewish. It wasn't directly said at first, only hinted at. But slowly society tried to chip away at each man's sense of belonging. At first it is suggested. change your name to something more Hungarian and leads itself to the family actually changing their religion.

At each corner the family, now called the Sors, tried to find a place in society and each time they were seen as nothing more than Jews. This causes each man to hate himself. Why, oh why, did he have to be born different. Why do Jews cause such problems in the world  they wonder? Each man has isolated himself to the point he looks down on his own and believes the anti-Semitic logic he hears around them.

Even today don't we hear this chant? Minorities should change, embrace American values once they come to this country. In Europe it has been an old story, Jews never fit in because they didn't assimilate. They lived near each other and created Jewish neighborhoods. They spoke Hebrew, never learning the language of the country they settled in. They only made friends and communicated with one another. This caused suspicion in the eyes of others. It was and remains the same story for another group of minorities in Europe which have been persecuted, gypsies. They too have been accused of not assimilating.

One of the best things about "Sunshine" is the performance given by Ralph Fiennes. Each character he plays has a distinct personality. He makes each character different. He takes up the majority of screen time but never becomes boring to watch. He consistently demands our attention.

I would have preferred Szabo tell this story in the Hungarian language but if he did so we would not have the brilliant performance given by Fiennes which  wrongly was ignored an Academy Award nomination. The movie as a whole was over-looked, which was one of the many reasons why I have such harsh feelings towards the Academy. Fiennes should have won the Academy Award for his performance in this movie and Szabo should have been nominated for best director and the movie up for best picture.

Also worth mentioning to American viewers that watch this movie, you will get to see the legendary Hungarian actress Mari Torocsik, considered one of the finest actresses in Hungary during her time. When she was at her peak in the 1950s she was a beauty with a natural screen presence. Here she plays the family's maid Kato. My guess is she does not know how to speak English or at least speak it well because she does not utter one line of dialogue, still, it is wonderful to see her on-screen. She has appeared in Hungarian movies since this film but in America we are denied the charms of Hungarian cinema. Not that anyone but myself cares.

At two hours and forty minutes "Sunshine" could have actually been a longer movie and we wouldn't mind watching it. The movie has that sprawling, epic feel to it, going through the generations of this doomed family. This could have been a mini-series. The movie breathes though. It has a natural flow. It doesn't feel rushed. Szabo tells this story with great confidence. He has faith in this story, which he co-wrote along with Israel Horovitz.

"Sunshine" is a powerful, emotional story. The majority should be able to relate to this movie.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Film Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"  *** (out of ****)

Walking into "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014), which I will refer to as simply "Captain America" from now on, my expectations were low. Not because I enjoyed the first movie, "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011) and felt, well, you know how it goes with sequels, they are rarely, if ever, as good or better than the original. No, my expectations were low because I am not a "fanboy". I am not a comic book enthusiast. I have been slow coming around to all of these Hollywood adaptations of comic books.

However, I must admit I was surprised. "Captain America" is actually watchable. What surprised me most about the movie was is it somewhat socially aware. It mentions issues which society is currently dealing with. I know many "fanboys" like to believe comic books are a window into the world, that the comics deal with issues, but I never bought into that. It makes comic books feel a little too important. I feel comic books and the movie adaptations of them are mainly "escapist entertainment".

As "Captain America" began I started to think my original perception was correct. I had a difficult time understanding the movie. "Captain America" relies upon the viewer having a) seen the first movie, b) knowing in advance the Captain America origins, and/or c) a combination of both. Unfortunately I fall into the "d" category. I never saw the first movie and don't know the origins of the character. There is a brief moment however when we get to hear the story of Captain America AKA Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and understand he was a soldier in WW2 and was part of a government experiment which gave him superpowers after originally not being accepted into the military. He was then frozen and thawed out as it were in today's world.

The movie takes a good 30 minutes to get to its story. Before that time the viewer doesn't really understand the story, the motives of the characters or where the plot will ultimately lead. Generally that it too long to wait to establish your story. But "Captain America" is a very long movie, two hours and 16 minutes. It could have used a few more edits to make the story "tighter". Once it "settles" into its story though the movie begins to gain our interest. For me, my interest came from the social comments the movie makes and not so much the characters. What prevents "Captain America" from being an even better picture is it needed to offer more of a critique of the social issues; government surveillance and the politics of fear, which it addresses. But it doesn't really go anywhere with those ideas.

This may lead some to say, Alex, if the movie doesn't say anything about those themes, why are you recommending it? As far as I am concerned the bar is so low for comic book adaptations the movies simply have to make minor attempts to actually be about something and I'm impressed.

I am also very late in the game when it comes to comic book movies. I have seen Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992) as well as more modern movies like "Spider-Man" (2002), "Iron Man" (2008), "Hulk" (2003), "Daredevil" (2003), "X-Men" (2000) and "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012). None of them have impressed me with the exception of Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", which I even placed on my annual "top ten" list. So I haven't been keeping up with the Marvel Universe and decided I am the wrong audience for these movies.

Growing up I had no interest in comic books though I did collect trading cards when I was in elementary school. In my teens I started reading Russian Literature and "serious" novels, not comics. I was fascinated by Kafka and Camus not Superman and The Avengers.

But now my feelings are starting to change. I re-watched the Tim Burton "Batman" movies I discovered I liked them more now than when I was a child. I enjoyed "The Dark Knight Rises" and now I find I enjoyed "Captain America". Maybe I should give these kind of movies a second chance.

I admit I really don't understand everything in "Captain America" as far as background story goes. I'm not completely sure what "S.H.I.E.L.D." is or what it stands for. I am not sure who the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is. What are her super-powers? How did she get her super-powers? How does she relate to Captain America? What is she doing in this movie? In the past all of this would have bothered me. "Captain America" doesn't really explain any of this. But, that's okay. I just went along for the ride. I am aware there is something called the "Marvel Universe" which is attempting to connect all of these super-heroes in the same time frame and they may appear together in movies, like "The Avengers" (2012). Fanboys can better describe it to you than I can. So I know in previous movies all of these things were explained. I worry though if these movies are able to stand on their own. For the most part "Captain America" did.

The characters I enjoyed watching the most were Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of "S.H.I.E.L.D." and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who also works for "S.H.I.E.L.D.". They are presented as two men who hoped to change the world with their ideas and perhaps even revolution. These two characters are the most realistic and encompass the world in which we live in. They are confronted with the same so-called "moral" dilemma's our government and society contend with, namely how far should the government be allowed to go to ensure "freedom" and "protect" its citizens through surveillance and the threat of war.

Supposedly the filmmakers, Anthony and Joe Russo, who are set to direct the next Captain America movie and an up-coming third "Avengers" movie, wanted this film to be reminiscent of political thrillers which were common in the 1970s. "Captain America" isn't quite at the level, even with the appearance of Redford, who was in his own political thriller, "All the President's Men" (1976), one of the great masterpieces of the decade. Still it is that ambition of "Captain America" which elevates its story.

"Captain America" is a good movie with a decent plot. I may not like the movie for the same reasons fanboys and comic book readers like the movie but this installment in the Captain America series is worth watching. Maybe next time they can make a greater social commentary and then you would really have something special on your hands.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Film Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
**** (out of ****)

Fifteen years after Ang Lee's martial arts film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) was released it still manages to tell an amazing story and dazzle us with its choreography.

When I first saw "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in theaters I was seventeen years old. At the time I was very impressed with the movie. I remembered it being an epic love story. Yes, the fighting scenes were the best I had ever seen, at that point in my life, but, it was the human emotion which really struck me at the time.

I had not seen Ang Lee's film since that time. One day, after buying the movie on DVD, I decided to sit down and watch it again. Would the movie still be able to hold up after a second viewing? Was my memory playing tricks on me? Was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" worthy of all the critical and box-office attention it received upon initial release?

As I watched the movie again I enjoyed it but for some reason I was no longer impressed by the choreography. The sword fights, which had garnered so much praise back in 2000, did little for me. It now seemed clumsily put together. I wasn't as involved in the drama of the story. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" no longer seemed to be a great movie. Maybe because I was young and was not familiar with martial art movies it struck me. Could be. For whatever reason though, I wasn't content to leave it at that. How could I have loved this movie so much when I first saw it and now, granted, fifteen years later, feel so ho-hum about it? So, I watched it a third time and a fourth time.

I'm glad I did. I'm glad I was willing to give this film a fighting chance.

What had prevented me from enjoying the movie as I once did as a teenager, I believe, was I was expecting one type of movie and was disappointed it wasn't what I remembered. I wasn't responding to the movie as I thought I should. I wasn't, in a way, capable of reliving my youth. In short, I wasn't willing to accept the movie for what it is not what I wanted it to be.

Most people who watch this movie describe it as a love story, as I also did. Having seen it again I don't think of it that way. Two very specific things caught my attention a fourth time around. One - we are dealing with a story of tradition vs a new world. Some of the characters in the movie are bound by tradition and honor. They understand their place in the world and what is expected of them. Tradition my prevent them from living the life they want but you must respect tradition. These characters represent the older generation. They are contrasted by the younger generation. They represent a "new world". They do not want to be chained down by tradition. They want to live their lives as they see fit. They will love who they want to love. Marry whom they want not who their family has chosen for them. Each side has its virtues. Each side its faults.

The second element of the story which caught my attention - the role of women. Female characters dominate this story. The female characters are the aggressors. The best choreographed sword fights in the movie involve the women. The women are driven by lust, love, tradition and revenge. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is their story. The female characters live in a world where they are not seen as equals to men. They are forbidden to learn the martial arts. They are forbidden to love whomever they want. Society has certain expectations for and of women. These characters struggle with the idea of accepting their place in the world and living by the standards society expects of them.

The main character in the movie is Master Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow). He is an old warrior, who now in the September of his years, has gained a conscience. The memory of all the people he has killed by the blade of his sword distresses him. It is no different than the gunfighter in a western facing death regretting all the lives he as taken. Think of Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven" (1992). Master Bai wants to give up his sword. Besides all the lives he has taken he also regrets he has never told the woman he loves, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), how he feels about her. He was a blood brother to the man Lien planned on marrying. He died and Bai and Lien would forever have to remain in a state of mourning and honor the memory of the man. Despite the fact Lien also loves Bai.

Secretly they each know how the other feels. But, until the words are spoken, no action can be taken.One of them must end the unspoken code between them and break the past. Break away from tradition.

These characters are contrasted by Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang), the daughter of a Govenor, and a bandit known as Dark Cloud (Chen Chang). Jen is soon to be married to a man she does not love. It is an arranged marriage. Jen wants to "live". She wants to be her own person. He wants to learn the martial arts and possibly marry the bandit Dark Cloud, which would cause disgrace to her family.

In order to add an element of excitement to the story there is some non-sense involving Bai's sword, Green Destiny, which has gone missing, after Bai gave it to an old friend. Could the Jade Fox, a mysterious criminal, have stolen it? Jade Fox is the one who killed Bai's master and Bai has sworn revenge ever since.

I call it "nonsense" because it is the largely the social themes which now make the story interesting to me. The plot serves the function of presenting a story for those not interesting in "message" movies and provided a way for the studio to market the movie for release. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" could and was promoted as a "martial arts" movie which would give it the potential to reach a wider audience instead of being seen as a foreign film about emotions.

The choreography in the movie was expertly done by Yuen Woo-ping, who also worked with Jackie Chan and on American movies such as "The Matrix" (1999) and "Kill Bill" (2003) and is a director in his own right, having directed the wonderful "Iron Monkey" (1993, though released in the U.S. in 2001). The choreography is very fast moving and intense. The cinematography by Peter Pau equally adds to the effect along with the rapid edits which make the characters appear to be fighting at lightening speed, which create a level of suspense. Each move serves a purpose and is not unlike a dance. Everything is done for a reason.

The two best fight scenes are between Jen and Lien, as they fly on roof tops and climb up walls and counter each thrust of the sword. The only poorly done fight scene is between Bai and Jen as they fight on top of bamboo trees. The setting is awkward at best and the sequence is more about facial expressions than swordplay. It lacks the excitement and intensity of every other fight sequence in the movie.

Going back to the gender of the characters it is very interesting the leading male character is the most passive. He doesn't want to fight. He wants to be a mentor. He does not want more blood on his hands while every female character is fuel by anger, make nearly all of their decisions based on emotion and are driven by revenge. Two of the female characters openly resent the male dominated world they live in and feel because they were born women are not able to live up to their full potential. Society cannot and will not accept them in the roles they most want to achieve.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was a box-office success, grossing more than $100 million in the United States alone and more than $200 million world-wide, making it, at the time of release, the highest grossing foreign language movie at the U.S. box-office. The movie went on to earn 10 Academy Award nominations including best picture, best director, best foreign language film (which it won, representing Twain) and best cinematography, which it also won and film critics, like Roger Ebert, placed it on their annual top ten list.

The movie helped the actors gain international fame. Michelle Yeoh would go on to star in "The Lady" (2011), lend her voice to "Kung Fu Panda 2" (2011) and "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), as would Ziyi Zhang, who would also star in "Rush Hour 2" (2001).

The movie also helped pave the way for the films of Zhang Yimou to be released such as "Hero" (2004), "House of Flying Daggers" (2004) and "The Curse of the Golden Flower" (2006) as well as John Woo's "Red Cliff" (2009).

Ang Lee would also see a boost in his career due to this movie. Prior to its release, Lee had directed American films such as "The Ice Storm" (1997) and "Sense & Sensibility" (1995). After this movie he would direct diverse movies such as "Hulk" (2003), "Brokeback Mountain" (2005) and "Life of Pi" (2012), for which he would win an Academy Award for his directing.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a smart movie. It is about more than its fight scenes. There is a social commentary being made here, but, don't let that scare you away.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Film Review: The Errand Boy

"The Errand Boy"  *** (out of ****)

It has been staring me in the face all this time. Why has it taken me so long to notice it? It has been right there in front of me. I have finally figured out what the films of Jerry Lewis are about or at least I have come to my own interpretation and feel I have a better understanding of Mr. Lewis' work as a filmmaker. And it is because of "The Errand Boy" (1961) I have come to my conclusions.

In "The Errand Boy", Lewis' third film as director, he plays Morty Tashman, a paperhanger who works at Paramutual Pictures, clearly a reference to Paramount Studios, where Mr. Lewis made the majority of his films, who is hired by one of the studio executives, T.P. Paramutual (Brian Donlevy) to act as a spy in order to discover where the studio's money is going. To avoid suspicion Morty is hired to work in the mail department as an errand boy.

At first "The Errand Boy" establishes itself as a satire on the movie industry, showing us how movies are really made and what goes on behind the scenes on the studio lot.

These moments are the most enjoyable in the movie. Mr. Lewis makes sharp observations and creates several humorous set pieces. When "The Errand Boy" is dishing the dirt on Hollywood the audience feels they are in good hands. You suspect Mr. Lewis and "The Errand Boy" know what they are talking about.

But "The Errand Boy" doesn't really follow through on its premise. While Morty is hired as a spy, we never see him report to anyone. The viewer never sees him investigate. The idea of discovering where the lost money is going is abandon. What "The Errand Boy" eventually becomes is two things. One, it is a movie not unlike Lewis' "The Bellboy" (1960), an episodic comedy built around comedic situations the Lewis character finds himself in. There is no story arc or character development to speak of.

The second thing the movie becomes is a movie about learning to become comfortable with who you are. And that is what I discovered is the major theme throughout the work of Jerry Lewis. Lewis consistently makes movies which tell us accept who you are. Don't try to become someone different. The other characters in the movie learn they must accept the Lewis character as he is because he is genuine. And that makes him not only a rare person but a rare talent. The Hollywood system should not change him but learn to embrace him.

When we look at the movie in this light, the viewer begins to feel "The Errand Boy" and Lewis' other movies serve as a defense of the Lewis persona. During the time of release of Mr. Lewis' movies, the sheep (movie critics) often sharply attacked his movies. Many find his man-child character annoying. His pratfall humor childish. It is as if Mr. Lewis is rebutting all his critics by saying, "I'm real"! "I'm a genuine person"! "You don't want to change me. Appreciate my talent. I'm funny. Can't you see that"?

The larger question however becomes, what does any of this have to do with the story initially presented in "The Errand Boy"? The answer is nothing. "The Errand Boy" just simply becomes this movie by the end of the picture. It feels terribly out of place. Mr. Lewis would go back to a very similar concept for the movie "The Patsy" (1964), which was about trying to make a star. That movie also told us, talent cannot be created. It is ingrained in the individual. Talent is natural. Not everyone has it. That is the same message "The Errand Boy" leaves us with. But, it is not the movie "The Errand Boy" started off as. That bothers me. The theme is better suited for "The Patsy" because that is what the movie was about from the beginning.

It doesn't mean "The Errand Boy" isn't funny. It is. One good comedy sequence involves Morty working behind a cash register when three children show up asking for jelly beans. A jar of jelly beans is on the very top shelf of the store, where Morty has to climb a ladder to get to them. Another good sequence has Morty walking into an elevator. As soon as he does a mob of passengers get in. Now Morty is stuck facing a man with a toothpick in his mouth, which he keeps aiming at Morty. When Morty turns to his other side there is a man smoking a cigar.

Although the most famous moment in the movie may be a pantomime routine Mr. Lewis does as he sits at the head of a board room while the Count Basie orchestra plays "Blues in Hoss Flat" and Mr. Lewis mimes a meeting, speaking to the other executives. If you pay close enough attention you'll notice Lewis is slightly off in his timing.

Regardless, this speaks to another element of Mr. Lewis' comedy. It is musical. Remember the sequence in "The Ladies Man" (1961) when we see the boarding house for women? There is music playing in the background as the camera dollies pass each woman's room. Their movement matches the music. Remember Mr. Lewis' typewriter routine? He mimes typing a letter to a piece of music. And let us not forget Mr. Lewis actually fashioned himself a singer and released an album.

There is a sequence that does confuse me. Morty is to take a convertible for a car wash. Unfortunately it forgets to put the hood up. Mel Brooks, who did briefly write for Jerry Lewis, says he wrote that gag. Mr. Brooks though is not given any writing credit. The only person to share writing credit with Mr. Lewis is Bill Richmond, who made cameos in several of Mr. Lewis' comedies, including this one, as a man who gets gum popped in his face. This makes me wonder however if Jerry Lewis, like Bob Hope, had a gang of comedy writers working for him but never received writing credit for the movies.

"The Errand Boy" really has me conflicted. Should I give it two-and-a-half stars or three? Two-and-a-half because of the story structure. It doesn't stay true to its original premise. Or three because I laughed and realized something about Mr. Lewis' movies and the prevalent themes in his work. It is a toss up. But I will decide on the three stars. Among the other movies Mr. Lewis has directed "The Errand Boy" should be considered one of his best even with its faults.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ChicagoTalks - EU Film Festival

Here is a link to an article I wrote for ChicagoTalks on Eastern European Films playing at the 18th annual European Union Film Festival.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Film Review: The Cotton Club

"The Cotton Club"  ** (out of ****)

The joint is jumpin' in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" (1984).

On paper, someone who knows me, would think to themself, gosh, "The Cotton Club" sure seems like the kind of movie Alex Udvary would enjoy watching. I originally thought the same thing myself. I have now seen "The Cotton Club" twice and unfortunately the movie never works for me.

"The Cotton Club" was the name of a famed nightclub in Harlem in the 1920s and 30s where all the major African American jazz musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, would perform for wealthy white audiences. As a jazz lover myself, especially jazz from the 1920s - 40s, which I grew up listening to, I was well aware of the Cotton Club and the fine musicians associated with it.

In Francis Ford Coppola's movie the nightclub serves as a reoccurring meeting spot for several of the characters. For other characters, mostly the African American characters, the Cotton Club served as their opportunity to reach fame and a better life, a chance to get out of the slums, even though African Americans were not allowed as guest in the club.

Coppola and his co-screenwriter, William Kennedy, have some fun with the mythology of the club and having characters play fictional versions of real performers, just as Coppola did in "The Godfather" (1972) and its sequels, where characters are suppose to be based on Frank Sinatra, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lanksy though never referred to by name. In "The Cotton Club", I have a hunch Coppola and Kennedy created characters meant to be Lena Horne (who did perform at the Cotton Club) and the Nicholas Brothers (who also performed at the club). And there is a character called Dutch Schultz, who was a real gangster in the 1920s and 30s. Many of the aspects surrounding this character are based on fact, including pressure from prosecutor Thomas Dewey for tax evasion and threats from "Lucky" Luciano.

This may all add a level of "fun" for some viewers, this balancing act between fact and fiction, the ultimate question I found myself asking is, what is Francis Ford Coppola up to? What is this story ultimately suppose to be about? I never could think of an answer for that question.

There is a lot going on, story wise, in "The Cotton Club", which is the movie's main failure. There is not a single focal point narrative. That approach could work if the movie had intersecting characters whose actions influence other characters. But, I never came away with that feeling.

Coppola seems most interested in a story about racial dividing lines with in the Cotton Club. Two black performers, a tap dancer (Gregory Hines) and a singer (Lonette McKee), a light skinned black woman who can pass for white, and a white couple, a jazz musician (Richard Gere) and an ambitious flirt (Diane Lane) who becomes Schultz's girlfriend.

But, for me, that wasn't the most interesting aspect of the material Coppola was working with. Why not just make a story about two tap dancing brothers (Hines and Maurice Hines) called the Williams Brothers, who want to make it at the Cotton Club. When they do get their chance, "Sandman" Williams falls in love with a light skinned black singer, Lila (McKee) and endure hardship with in their relationship with her finding it easily to mingle among whites and find jobs.

The Cotton Club would still be that place where dreams can come true and represent a better life for African Americans and also represent all the hardships black performers must endure of not being treated equally. Only being able to perform for white audiences and blacks not being allowed into the Cotton Club as guest.

The viewer would also still get that mythology of the Cotton Club and the rich jazz history associated with it and we would get to hear some great music in the back round of the movie.

But Coppola complicates his story and throws in other sub-plots. Characters are created which don't seem fully developed and are unnecessary to the overall story of the movie.

One such story involves the younger brother of Dixie Dwyer (Gere), Vincent (Nicolas Cage). Outside of being Francis Ford Coppola's nephew there is no reason for Nicolas Cage to appear in this movie. It is nice that Coppola wanted to be a good uncle and put his nephew to work, but, it is a shame Coppola allows family ties to interfere with his movies.

Vincent ends up getting a job in Schultz's mob but soon feels he has outgrown his position working for Schultz and wants to become his own boss.

Once again, this type of story line could have served as its own narrative. The story of two brothers in Harlem. One wants to become a famous jazz musician and the other gets mixed up with the mob. The connection? It is the story of two men seeking a better life. And once again, the Cotton Club could serve as a place where dreams come true. Dixie could dream of one day being able to play along side the talent black musicians in the Cotton Club. In those days white musicians and perform with black musicians.

Coppola even throws in a love triangle story, because it is the only thing missing in the movie, besides more of Coppola's relatives. The triangle involves Dixie falling in love with a young whore, Vera (Lane) who finds Dixie attractive however Schultz makes Vera his girl and promises her one day she will have her own nightclub. While Vera may have feelings for Dixie, what difference does it make. Dixie is poor and can't offer Vera financial security the way Schultz is able to. But Dixie doesn't want to lose the woman he loves.

And finally we meet Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), who is the owner of The Cotton Club and his right hand man "Frenchy" Demange (Fred Gwynne). These two character provide an unnecessary element of comic relief and almost seem to have a homosexual relationship, which is never directly implied but subtly suggested as the two men argue like lovers.

Some have suggested comparing "The Cotton Club" to "The Godfather". "The Godfather" had ambition, clearly defined characters, a consistent narrative, "The Cotton Club" on the other hand lacks all those things.

"The Cotton Club" was made at a difficult time in the life of director Coppola. He lost a fortune after he released "One From the Heart" (1981). After "Apocalypse Now" (1979) it became "fashionable" to criticize his work and declare he had lost his touch. Nearly everything he made in the 1980s was a box-office flop. "The Cotton Club" was not a success either and was plagued with problens during production and pre-production.

None of that matter now of course. Enough time has passed where audiences today will not be concerned with these stories. Now the movie can be judged purely on its own merits and not compete with its own headlines and controversies.

On a technical level "The Cotton Club" has a lot going for it. I enjoy the cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt, I especially like the music, consisting of songs such as Duke Ellington's "The Mooche", "Crazy Rhythm", "Minnie the Moocher", "Ill Wind" and "Mood Indigo". The costume and production design nicely capture the time period as well. These are the great assets of the movie. But Coppola couldn't properly create an appropriate screenplay to fit the music and costumes.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Memory: Manoel de Oliveira

On April 2nd in Oporto, Portugal, the legendary filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira passed away at the age of 106. He was considered by many to be the oldest living filmmaker.

Sadly news of Mr. de Oliveira'a death has not traveled fast in the film world. The big name movie critics were/ are silent. Too bad. Oh sure the New York Times published an obituary but where was film critic A.O. Scott's column on the director's work? Where was Manohla Dargis? What happened to Michael Wilmington's column on moviecitynews?

Of course these critics or their defenders would say, Alex, no one cares if Manoel de Oliveira died. Why would these critics waste their time writing about him? My reply is, they should "waste their time" writing about him because he made movies. He was an important filmmaker with a vast body of work which sadly has not been properly distributed in America. And as for people not caring, that is probably true. But, why doesn't the public care? Because movie critics don't spend time talking or writing about him. Maybe the critics aren't familiar with his work either, who knows. The media creates the interest and diverts the attention of the public to the issue they want to. Whether or not if the issue is important.

Oliveira was born in Oporto, Portugal in 1908 and even in his old age the master found the time to make one movie a year.

He started his career making documentaries. His first was in 1931, "Working on the Douro River". Eventually this lead to a career in feature length films. "Aniki-Bobo" (1942) was his debut.

On this blog I have reviewed a few of his movies. Here are the links.

Belle Toujours
The Convent
I'm Going Home
The Strange Case of Angelica