The Cocoanuts (Robert Florey/Joseph Santley) *** - This is the Marx Brothers' first feature length film. Like with all Marx Brothers movies, the plot merely serves as a platform on which the Marx Brothers do their schtick. Only this time around (well, first time around), the plot got too much in the way and it's kind of lame. This movie is not as fantastic as their subsequent works where they perfected how they do their brand of comed on-screen but it still has some good laughs and quite a few good bits. It's far from their best but Marx Brothers completists and fans will find something more than worth their while.
Arsenal (Alexander Dovzhenko)
**** - Most film buffs know who Sergei Eisenstein is and how he's such
an important figure in the history of world cinema. Less of them know
who Alexander Dovzhenko is which is a pity because I think they deserve
to be mentioned in the same breath more often. I've seen Earth
but not for a long time. After seeing this today, I think it's due for a
revisit. The copy I viewed didn't have English inter-titles nor did it
have subtitles either but you almost don't need since you can basically
get the gist of it. This one is about an uprising of workers and the
Bolshevik army in one chapter of the Russian Civil War. The
cinematography and the editing of this film simply breathtaking. I also
have to say, Dovzhenko has more nuance than Eisenstein who, while
technically brilliant, is way RAH-RAH-RAH! with his war pictures.
Dovzhenko manages to allow a bit of humanity and grey areas seep in.
Man, those faces are haunting!
Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis)
**** - People sometimes ask me why I love films so much. I would list
this film as one of the reasons why I think film is such a fantastic art
form and an important medium. It's a documentary about the Vietnam War
released either shortly before or shortly after the Vietnam War was
officially over. It is probably one of the most definitive films on the
subject whether documentary or narrative feature. It is shocking,
heart-wrenching, devastating and thought-provoking. And also, sadly
still timely since the U.S. government apparently still hasn't learned
its lesson. We still have fear-peddling war-mongers and war profiteers
in places of power all over the world. The Vietnam War has been over for
40 years now (I've been there...beautiful country) yet its lessons
still ring true today as it were back then.
An Unmarried Woman (Paul
Mazursky) ***1/2 - Writer-director Paul Mazursky passed away about a
month ago so I thought why not see one of his major works. I have to
admit that I was a bit hesitant. Would I like a film about a white woman
from NYC going through a divorce made in the late 1970's after watching
so many films and TV shows on similar subject matter over the years?
The answer is yes! A good movie will always be a good movie. It helps
that Jill Clayburgh was absolutely outstanding in the title role of a
woman whose rug was pulled right from under her after her husband
confesses he's in love with another woman. I hope no one misunderstand
me for saying this but I'm kind of impressed that a man wrote a very
feminist, very female-POV script all by himself!
The Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau) **** - Un Chien Andalou
isn't the only weird, surreal, somewhat fucked up film of its era. It
was shortly followed by this strange masterpiece by Jean Cocteau.
Divided into 4 sections, the film has a somewhat clearer narrative than
the Bunuel/Dali piece but it is no less avant-garde with tons of
alternately beautiful, grotesque, occasionally shocking but almost
always strange imagery. Cocteau utilizes pretty much every visual effect
and cinematic trick available to him to produce something kind of
masterful. What exactly does it all mean? All sorts of things. Maybe
even nothing. But it's still a joy to watch and that's what counts.
Lucy (Luc Besson) *** - People
who are even a little science-literate would most likely know that this
film's entire entire conceit, that humans only use 10% of our brain, is a
myth. However, once you get over that, this is a pretty enjoyable film.
Preposterous and ridiculous, yes. Filled with plot-holes and
contrivances, yes. But still a hell of a lot of fun. Scarlett Johansson
actually gives a strong central performance as a woman who acquires
super mental powers after ingesting a large dosage of a new designer
drug that unlocks unlimited mental capacity. This is probably Luc
Besson's strongest film in a long time but that's not saying much since
he's largely on a downward spiral post The Professional. It's still slickly made fun.
Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont) *** -
This one was an enthusiastic recommendation made by a friend. A night
club owner replaces his main dancer/paramour with a Chinese girl and
starts a romance with her triggering a series of complications. The film
of course is kind of a melodrama, something we've seen a lot but the
performances make it work. Anna May Wong one of the few non-whites to be
have prominent work in this era is especially terrific. The film
handles the theme of interracial romance, certainly very controversial
in its time, quite surprisingly well considering (though I had some
problems with the ending). Overall, a very good film.
(NOTE: I've also seen a bunch of films during the Cinemalaya Filipino Independent Film Festival. I will review all of them in a separate blog post.)