Monday, August 11, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (8/3/14 - 8/9/14)

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.) 

No comments: