The Leopard (Luchino Visconti) ***1/2 - I'm kind of disappointed I couldn't give this the full perfect score. I've loved the works of Luchino Visconti as well as the works of the three principal actors: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon. The film is exquisitely shot with beautifully and perfectly designed sets and costumes. This is another film that has my admiration rather than my unconditional love. It's about an Italian nobleman who arranges the marriage between his nephew and the daughter of a rich mayor during the time Italy is starting to change its governmental and societal structure. Despite my reservations, it's still quite a beautiful film which I may revisit someday.
Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian) ***1/2 - My personal favorite Greta Garbo movie is Ninotchka but after seeing this film, it may have some competition. It tells the true story of Queen Christina of Sweden who abdicated her throne. It may sound like a stuffy period piece but it is not. It surprisingly has a sense of humor and it manages to blend in well with the moments of political intrigue and drama. Being Pre-code (I think), it manages to sneak in some racy elements (implied female bisexuality is one of them!). Greta Garbo is really something else. How she manages to be a strong steely eyed monarch in one scene and woman giddy in love on another is remarkable.
Penguins of Madagascar (Simon J. Smith/Eric Darnell) **1/2 - Okay. I've never seen any of the Madagascar films but I thought the trailer to this one actually looked funny and Dreamworks seemed to learned its lesson on laying off the celebrity voice cast-driven, pop-culture/snark-laded animated movies. So I gave this one a try because the penguins do seem to be funny based on the bits I've seen. The film is stronger when it's a joke/gag-driven comedy. There are a few good laughs in it. John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch steal the show with their funny voice acting. Making Werner Herzog narrate the beginning of the movie was a nice touch (though I doubt anyone else in the theater knew who the voice was and why it's funny). However, this film also tries to incorporate an arc for the penguins in order to give this film some semblance of genuine heart and character development but unfortunately the two things don't mix well here. It is entertaining though.
Dogfight (Nancy Savoca) ***1/2 - I've heard about this film before but only vaguely. I'm glad I got to see it because it is a truly a wonderful little gem. After bringing a plain, shy young lady to a "dogfight" (a party where Marines bring the ugliest dates possible for prize money), an 18 year old Marine about to be shipped to Vietnam immediately regrets it and tries to make it up to her and it blossoms into a sweet, one-night romance. It kind of reminds me of a more dramatic, darker version of On the Town. The film could have descended into pure cliche melodrama but the screenplay is smart and honest and also benefits from wonderful performances from River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, playing the main couple. More people should see this movie.
Viva la muerte (Fernando Arrabal) *** - From its opening credits featuring a bizarre, graphically violent piece of art work set to music that sounds like a children's nursery rhyme song (I'm not so fluent in Spanish), you know you're in for something weird. It's not quite Alejandro Jodorowsky-weird but there are imagery here that's definitely not for the squeamish. It's about a young boy who discovers that his mother turned in his Communist father during the Spanish Civil War. The film hits you over the head with its anti-Fascist sentiments in such a manner that will definitely turn some people off. I find it all fascinating though I feel some of it is kind of repetitive and over-the-top.