14 September 2021
Film review: Horses of God (2012) by Nabil Ayouch, *****
22 August 2021
Film review: A Time to Kill (1996) by Joel Schumacher, ****
John Grisham's explosive novel is brought to the screen by Joel Schumacher. Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson) seeks violent revenge after his 10-year-old daughter is brutally assaulted. Lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) has to save him from Death Row, against mounting pressure from both the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement. Sandra Bullock stars as Brigance's student lawyer aide, while Kevin Spacey appears as the ruthless prosecutor, Rufus Buckley.
07 August 2021
Film review: Emperor (2012) by Peter Webber, *****
Brigadier-General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is sent to Japan as a part of the occupation force. He is tasked with arresting Japanese war criminals, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Before he departs, he privately orders his Japanese interpreter, Takahashi, to locate his Japanese girlfriend, Aya Shimada.
After arresting Tojo, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur asks Fellers, whom he recognizes as a Japan expert, for advice about whether Emperor Hirohito can't be tried as a war criminal. Doing so could lead to a revolt, but the American people want the Emperor to stand trial for Japan's actions. MacArthur gives Fellers ten days to investigate the Emperor. When Takahashi informs Fellers that Aya's Tokyo apartment was bombed, he orders him to investigate her hometown, Shizuoka.
|MacArthur and Hirohito|
A well constructed historical drama, very close to actual events, interwoven with a love story that probably is not so realistic but serves the purpose of this film. The film does not answer the million-dollar question, was the Emperor responsible for the war? But it does help to understand he deserves some credit for Japan's decision to surrender and therefore end the war.
31 July 2021
Film review: Hairspray (2007) by Alan Shankman, *****
Musical comedy starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is an overweight teenager with all the right moves who is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show.
Every day after school, she and her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) run home to watch the show and drool over the hot Link Larkin (Zac Efron), much to Tracy's mother Edna's (Travolta) dismay.
After one of the stars of the show leaves, Corny Collins holds auditions to see who will be the next person on the Corny Collins show. With the help of her friend Seaweed (Elijah Kelly), Tracy makes it on the show, angering the evil dance queen Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and her mother Velma (Pfeiffer). Tracy then decides that it's not fair that the black kids can only dance on the Corny Collins Show once a month, and with the help of Seaweed, Link, Penny, Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), her father (Christopher Walken) and Edna, she decides to take action.
A fun and instructive move about racism in America just as the Civil Rights movement was taking off and how it permeated daily life and culture, including music. In the end it is a feel-good movie about positive change. Funny to see John Travolta playing a woman!
28 July 2021
Film review: A Thousand Pieces of Gold, (1991) by Nancy kelly ****
Lalu (Rosalind Chao) is a young Chinese woman who is sold by her impoverished family and transported against her will to the American West in 1880. Upon her arrival in California, she meets Jim (Dennis Dun), a Chinese "wife trader" who sells her to Hong King (Michael Paul Chan), a successful Chinese merchant who lives in an Idaho mining town. The two set off on the long journey to Idaho and eventually strike up a friendship along the way.
When they finally arrive in the rough, isolated town, she is distraught to discover that she is not going to be Hong King's wife. Instead, she is to work in his saloon as his newest prostitute under a new name, "China Polly". She is further dismayed when Jim abruptly disappears, leaving her to fend for herself.
The following night, when Hong King tries to sell her virtue to the highest bidder, Lalu violently refuses to submit to her would-be suitors and successfully avoids becoming a prostitute, thanks in part to the intervention of a kind stranger, Charlie Bemis (Chris Cooper), who turns out to be Hong King's Caucasian partner. She placates a furious Hong King and convinces him to allow her to be his servant and saloon maid in order to repay the cost of her purchase. Hong King agrees to let her buy her freedom for the impossible sum of a thousand pieces of gold.
Polly, as Lalu comes to be known, endures great hardship. At one point, she is sexually assaulted by Hong King. However, she refuses to give up. She works hard and makes friends with the local townspeople. She also grows closer to Charlie, who begins to fall deeply in love with her. Meanwhile, Hong King is beset with financial problems and decides to sell Polly to the highest bidder. In a rare stroke of luck, Charlie wins her in a game of poker. She moves in with him but insists they remain platonic and keep separate quarters.
Jim comes back and wants her to be with him but he then leaves her again when he finds out that she is living with Charlie. The "white demons" begin to run out the Chinese people from their town so it will be a purely white town and the Chinese will stop getting all of the gold.
Polly works in many jobs and saves money to go back to China and her family, but ultimately ends up falling in love with Charlie. She marries him and lives the rest of her life with him in a different area so she will not be harassed by the white demons anymore. (Wikipedia)
A brilliant film set up as a love story but in fact a telling history of racism in America. Right after the end of the Civil War, when blacks became free, it was the Chinese who were discriminated against in California, where many had come in search of fortune.
The film in itself is not the best structured one you will ever see, but it is a most interesting historical novel about a part of American history many forgot.
01 July 2021
Film review: The Butler (2013) by Lee Daniels, *****
Historical drama directed by Lee Daniels and starring Forest Whitaker. The film tells the story of Cecil Gaines (his real name was Eugene Allen)'s 34-year career working as head butler at the White House.
Beginning his tenure under President Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Cecil would see another seven presidents come and go throughout his career and was present at the highest level of the state during some of the most tumultuous periods in the 20th century including the American Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. The ensemble cast includes John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman and Oprah Winfrey.
An incredible story, though not completely a real one, about racism in America during the XX century. One African American boy, born a near slave in Virginia, rises to win the respect of successive presidents. He even lives long enough to see a black person become president for the first time. Much progress has been made, but it is not yet enough.
18 May 2021
Film review: Wadjda (2012) by Reem Abdullah, *****
25 November 2020
Film review: Disrupting Wine (2020) by Johan Rimestad, ***
23 November 2020
Film review: A Year in Burgundy (2013), by David Kennard, ***
The film follows Martine Saunier seven wine-making families in the Burgundy region of France through the course of a full year, and delves into the cultural and creative process of making wine, as well as its deep ties to the land. What lies within the rhythm of a year, from vines to grapes to wine?
19 November 2020
Film Review: A seat at the table (2019) by David Nash and Simon Mark-Brown , **
A New Zealand winemaking team enters the period known as Vintage when wine is made 24/7 for months on end. Sleepless nights, endless labor, time away from home means they must ensure nature, science and magic come together to overcome each challenge Vintage presents. (from imdb)
A missed opportunity. The makers of this documentary had access to the whole process of harvesting at a large New Zealand vineyard but we learn very little in over one hour of watching this repetitive production. We hear a hundred times how hard the work is during harvest, and how awesome everyone in the multinational team of pickers is, but little else.
Some information that one learns in this film: foreigners now own one third of NZ wine production, the French were the first to invest, in the 1980s.
Biodynamics taking off.
Not so many rules like in Europe about controlled origins, allowed varieties, irrigation, chaptalization, so NZ can experiment more.
One curiosity: lots of pigs apparently threaten the harvest at night, and even deer. As for birds, they try and do their share of eating but mostly cause botrytis, which is some parts of the world is welcome as it allows to make sweet wines, but not here.
Read my reviews of films about wine here.
09 November 2020
Film review: Somm, into the Bottle (2015), by Jason Wise, ****
01 November 2020
Film review: The Barolo Boys (2014) by Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia, ****
18 October 2020
Film review: Somm (2012) by Jason Wise, ****
19 August 2020
FIlm review: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) by Jan Kounen, ****
27 July 2020
Film review: Queen of the Desert (2015) by Werner Herzog, *****
Gertrude Bell, a daughter of wealthy British parents, has no interest in the social life of the London elite. Balls, receptions and the British aristocracy bring her only boredom. She wants to study, learn and above all see the world.
Aspiring to have at least some kind of activity in her life, Gertrude decides to find freedom and move to be with her uncle, who occupies a high diplomatic position in Tehran. From Iran she moves on to Amman and Damascus, some of the main political centers in the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer, Henry Cadogan, and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence.
With an all-star cast, including Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Damien Lewis and James Franco, Queen of the Desert is the uplifting, inspiring and extraordinary true story of one woman who, against all odds, changed the course of history.
A gripping historical film on the life of an extraordinary woman who carved the life she wanted out of a hard world made for men.
We learn a lot about life in the latter part of the Turkish occupation of what is now Jordan and Iraq, areas where nomads roamed free without borders and ancient religions perpetuated irreconcilable conflicts.
Never seeking power she ended up making political decisions that are still relevant in the Middle East a century later. It would have been interesting if the movie had shown why she helped certain tribes rise to power through British help and not others. In the end, a successful but unhappy woman who spent most of her life alone.
21 May 2020
Film review: Naked Island (1960), by Kaneto Shindo, ****
Filmed on the virtually deserted Setonaikai archipelago in south-east Japan, Naked Island was made in the words of its director "as a 'cinematic poem' to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature". Kaneto Shindo, director of Onibaba (MoC #13) and Kuroneko (MoC #14), made the film with his own production company, Kindaï Eiga Kyokai, who were facing financial ruin at the time. Using one-tenth of the average budget, Shindo took one last impassioned risk to make this film. With his small crew, they relocated to an inn on the island of Mihari where, for two months in early 1964, they would make what they considered to be their last film.
Naked Island tells the story of a small family unit and their subsistence as the only inhabitants of an arid, sun-baked island. Daily chores, captured as a series of cyclical events, result in a hypnotizing, moving, and beautiful film harkening back to the silent era. With hardly any dialogue, Shindo combines the stark 'Scope cinematography of Kiyoshi Kuroda with the memorable score of his constant collaborator Hikaru Hayashi, to make a unique cinematic document.
Shindo, who had worked with both Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa, shot to international fame with the astounding Children of Hiroshima (1952). Eight years later, the BAFTA-nominated Naked Island won the Grand Prix at Moscow International Film Festival (where Luchino Visconti was a jury member). It is now considered to be one of Shindo's major works, and its success saved his film company from bankruptcy. The experience of making Naked Island led Shindo to appreciate 'collective film production', and has been his preferred method of making films ever since. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to release Naked Island for the first time on home video in the UK.
A strange film in many ways: itis not a silent movie but all you hear is background noises and the desperate cry of a woman when she loses her son. Few other words are uttered in the film. The story of a couple and their two sons on an island off the coast of Japan in the immediate post-war years. They have to row their way to the mainland several times a day to fetch fresh water, take the kids to school, buy necessities.
It is a very repetitive film, with scenes of rowing and carrying buckets of water displayed over and over again, but in a way I think it has to be to depict such a lifestyle. Imagine how repetitive it must have been for real people who had to suffer through this. Having said that, it is perhaps a bit too repetitive!
Beautiful photography in black and white.
13 May 2020
Film review: A Separation (2011) by Asghar Farhadi *****
The stand out film of the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and winner of the Golden Bear, A Separation is a suspenseful and intelligent drama detailing the fractures and tensions at the heart of Iranian society.
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the film boasts a range of superb performances from the ensemble cast who collectively received the Silver Bears for both Best Actor and Best Actress at the Berlinale.
The compelling narrative is driven by a taut and finely written script rooted in the particular of Iranian society but which transcends its setting to create a stunning morality play with universal resonance.
When his wife (Leila Hatami) leaves him, Nader (Peyman Moadi) hires a young woman (Sareh Bayat) to take care of his suffering father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). But he doesn't know his new maid is not only pregnant but also working without her unstable husband's (Shahab Hosseini) permission. Soon, Nader finds himself entangled in a web of lies manipulation and public confrontations. A Separation is the first-ever Iranian film to be awarded the Golden Bear.
A universal story of family power struggle and love, all made more stressful by the strictures of Iranian society and Islamic rules. Never predictable, the plot keeps the viewer glued to the screen. Also an interesting peek into middle-class Iran, a category of professionals and white-collar workers that does not share much with poorer, more traditional and religious strata of society. In the end, one gets to reflect on the vault of truth: is it always a sin to lie?
10 April 2020
Film review: Résistence naturelle (2014), By Jonathan Nossiter, **
Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.
First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.
Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.
Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.
Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from IBMD.com)
A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.
The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.
The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.
Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.
The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.
The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.
They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.
I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.
In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.
You can buy the DVD here
19 March 2020
Film review: Children of Heaven (1997) by Majid Majidi, ****
The accidental loss of a pair of shoes causes problems for a young Iranian boy in this award-winning family drama from director Majid Majidi. After Ali (Mir Farrokh Hashemian) fetches his little sister Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi)'s pink shoes from the cobblers, they are accidentally picked up by a garbageman.
With his family in financial troubles, Ali decides not to tell his parents about the loss. Instead, he agrees to share his shoes with Zahra.
The plan is that she will wear them to school in the morning and return them to Ali at midday, so he can attend afternoon classes. However, the arrangement soon brings further hardships and it's not long before Ali is forced to consider an alternative solution.
In 1998, it was the first Iranian film to be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film by the Academy.
A lot of suspense in this movie with two children as protagonists of a story that takes us into the life of poor Iranians scraping a living at the margins of society. I see it as a celebration of family love as much as a not-so-indirect denunciation of social inequality in Iran. The two young actors are really talented! Very illuminating to look at the world, or at least at Iran, with the eyes of children who can find happy moments in adversity and overcome the odds.
05 March 2020
Film review: The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) by L. Falorni and B. Davaa, ***
Documentary intercut with tender narrative drama set in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. When a camel gives birth to a rare white camel colt, the difficult and protracted delivery leads to problems: the mother rejects her baby and refuses him her milk or bodily warmth. This turn of events spells disaster for the nomadic family to whom the camels belong, and they send their two sons off to the nearest town (some 30 miles away, on camels across the desert) to find a musician who can perform the ancient 'Hoos' ceremony that will reconcile the mother with her son. The film won the 2003 European Film Award for Best Documentary.
It is a documentary but narrated like a historical novel. The movie takes the viewer into the secret lives of Mongolian camel herders, where camels assume individual personalities and are almost part of the family. It is plain narration, not emotionally charged, but a good illustration of the life of this nation about which we do not know much.