Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (9/7/14 - 9/13/14)

Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wadja) *** - The third film in director Andrzej Wadja's War trilogy, this one is about the tail end of World War II when communists and the non-communists are fighting for control of Poland after the German occupation. The film starts strongly and ends very strongly but kind of meanders a bit in the middle. It is beautifully shot with sprinklings of suspense and black comedy but overall, I think I strongly prefer Kanal. This is another one of those admire and like a lot but not love type of films.

The Big House (George W. Hill) ***1/2 - This is yet another film from 1930 that is rather obscure but was recommended to me. This is about a young man who was sent to prison for manslaughter and we're introduced into an over-populated prison and harsh prison life. The film takes twists and turns that you may not expect (for instance your sympathies change from act one to act two). The ending is also quite violent, more violent than Scarface. Great performances by all especially Wallace Beery who created a fully human character which could have easily have been a one-dimensional stereotypical villain.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern/Amanda Sundberg) ***1/2 - Joan Rivers sadly passed away this week. I thought this would be a perfect time to finally check out the acclaimed documentary chronicling her life and career. It is truly a wonderful documentary. It was a very eye-opening, fascinating look into the ups and downs of a very fascinating and determined woman committed to her craft. It is often funny, sad, sweet, moving and even inspiring. If you only know Joan Rivers from her abrasive persona on TV, this documentary will definitely make you see her in a different light, maybe even respect her more. Well, now, it's a film that's bittersweet knowing that she's now gone and is a reminder on what we have lost.

Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst) ***1/2 - Forgive me if I keep on comparing this film to All Quiet in the Western Front but one can't help it since they tackle the same exact subject: German soldiers during World War I and they were even released the same year. They even follow a similar structure: It doesn't follow a conventional narrative thru-line, just a series of scenes that happen chronologically featuring some of the same characters all through out. I must say this one did it better. Admittedly, it is a less emotional and sentimental film. It doesn't try and milk your tears. It's also a lot less preachy and more nuanced on tackling the subject of war. It also has a sense of humor and a more complex depiction of its female characters. Even though it's my least favorite G.W. Pabst film I've seen so far, it's still quite a solid piece of work.

Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy) **** - A brazen, arrogant, notorious gangster shoots his way to the top of the crime world. This is one of Edward G. Robinson's most famous iconic roles. Despite the fact that I already know the ending (I think most film buffs are already familiar with the line, "Is this the end of Rico?"), I found this to be a really gripping, intriguing film. Edward G. Robinson, despite not being the most handsome face and despite his character being largely unlikeable, really holds your attention and creates one of cinema's most fascinating anti-heroes. Say, I really wasn't seeing things when I think the title character is gay, right?

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (F.W. Murnau) ***1/2 - This is sadly F.W. Murnau's final film since he died from an automobile accident a week before it premiered. It's a somewhat of a silent film focusing on a love story between two south sea islanders. Unfortunately the girl is the "Chosen One" and must be required to be celibate and having desires on her is "tabu". What follows is a beautiful but rather sad love story. The film is beautifully filmed and Murnau (along with Robert Flaherty who helped him direct it) gets very naturalistic performances from the largely non-Western/non-professional actors. The score is fantastic as well. Despite being of a very different milieu, Murnau still managed to make it feel like his film.


Michael Peterson said...

Thanks for the recommendation for Big House, I will look for it as I love those hard-boiled 1930s movies. Wallace Beery was one of the great ensemble character actors of that period. His life was a bit of a train wreck, and he resembles Tom Sizemore in that respect, though Beery was able to keep his career going, unlike TS.
I also didn't know about Westfront, thanks.

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