Babo 73 (1964) - Robert Downey Sr
Robert Downey Sr's debut feature Babo 73, is a wild, slapstick political satire chronicling the trials and tribulations of a newly elected president. Shot on an ultra-low budget 16mm, the film mercilessly takes on politics in very fun and inventive ways. It's clear that Downey's voice is particularly raw in this film, with so many ideas being thrown at the viewer at a mile a minute, yet his passion really shines through. The comedy is of the absurdest variety, full of randomness and inventive scenarios. As wild as this film is, I found it to be incredibly truthful and accurate in capturing all the diversity and dissension taking place in our country, particularly in political circles. The president is portrayed as a moron, though good-natured, with his "left" and "right" hand men bickering and fighting amongst themselves for the president's ear. Many of these characters are portrayed more like children, trying to get there way, and the United States is called the "United Status" in Downey's absurdest satire. Some will enjoy Babo 73 completely on a comical level, which the film completely delivers on, but it really has some pretty great absurdest surrealism going on, and at times makes some rather timely comments about the political landscape of our country.
Identical twins Oliver and Oswald Deuce both lose their wives in a car crash caused by a white swan. Alba, the driver of the car during the accident, escapes alive, but without one of her legs. The loss of their respective wives sends the brothers, who are zoologists, into a tailspin becoming increasingly obsessed with death and decay. Plot descriptions of this film are almost worthless as Peter Greenaway's A Zed and Two Noughts is a insanely gorgeous experimentation of ideas. Greenaway is not interested in realism, but rather much bigger over-arching themes which encapsulate life. The most noticeable thing about this film is its stunning photography. Greenaway's eye for compositions and meticulous tracking shots are in full display, often filling the frame both in depth and breadth. Complimenting this, is some poignant lighting decisions which elicit feelings and mood. The amount of symmetry in this film's photography is breathtaking, suggesting the systematic, calculative nature of life. From a visual standpoint alone, this film is unquestionably a masterpiece. Overflowing with symbolism, metaphors, and dense with ideas, this is the type of film that will require many re-watches to capture all the layers. Greenaway is clearly infatuated with the life cycle of our world, evolution and the decay of all things, while also delivering a fresh take on grief.
The story of the 'California Dolls' a women's tag team wrestling group and their manager, Harry, who spends countless hours trying to find them work. Barely scraping by, the three of them drive around the industrial cityscapes looking for their shot at respectability. Robert Aldrich's last feature once again shows his willingness to tackle any story and make it compelling. ..All the Marbles is essentially an underdog story which is really elevated by the always fantastic, Peter Falk. The banter which exists between Harry and his two wrestling companions alone is worth the price of admission, but what really elevates the whole thing is the relationship which exists between the three of them. Being near broke, their relationship is almost always tumultuous, yet Harry clearly cares deeply for the two woman. He's terrible at showing it, routinely getting into massive arguments with the girls, even striking them out of anger, yet it's clear he just doesn't know how to do things any other way. Falk's deserves a ton of credit for making this a character you root for even with all his flaws. Thematically, the film touches on the fact that women far too often are viewed almost entirely for their looks, often times being discredited for their abilities. The California Girls feel exploited for their looks, struggling to be viewed as serious wrestlers, not just pretty girls and Aldrich subtely suggests that this is a major problem in our male-driven society. While the film is brainier than some would lead you to beleive, this is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The film is quite funny and I was amazed by just how riveting the Championship match was. Incredibly overlooked, ".. All the Marbles" is another strong effort by Robert Aldrich, who once again proves that anything can make a good story if told right.
To this day, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) is haunted by the grizzly murders her mother committed nearly 20 years ago. With no explanation as to why her mother became brutally violent, Isabella travels to Italy in hopes of understanding the truth behind that night. The Devil Inside is the latest exorcism movie Hollywood has rolled off the assembly line, with the added bonus of being of the "found footage" variety. It's almost as if the producers designed this movie based solely off the great trailer, and forgot they had to create an actual story worth telling. For starters the script is rather mundane, attempting to add dimension to this overdone story by creating this silly mother-daughter redemption story, which never carries much emotional weight and takes way too much time. To be fair, this could have still have been fun, but NOPE, not at all. Unfortunately, the film is let down by some rather forgettable performances outside of Suzan Crowley, and an absolutely stupid, nonsensical ending. My guess would be that the filmmakers were trying to create an ambiguous ending, but they sure did miss the mark. A truly forgettable film that has very little scares.
A french priest, Donissan, is at odds with himself and his faith. Emotionally tortured, Donissan confides in his superiors, who encourage his faith, which does little to help Donissan's tortured soul. Maurice Pialat wastes no time in establishing this man's mental anguish with one of the first scenes showing Donissan flagellating himself with a chain in an attempt to rid himself of these unsavory thoughts/desires. Under the Sun of Satan is a challenging, complex piece of filmmaking that captures the struggle between Good and Evil through this priest's internal struggle. I don't think I have ever seen a film that better captures an internal struggle in a dynamic, emotionally affective way. I found myself completely glued to the screen watching Gerard Depardieu as Donissan. The main story-arch in the film revolves around Donissan's attempt to save the soul of Mouchette, a troubled 16-year old, who is the mistress of a married politician and pregnant with a nobleman's child. These two characters create a perfectly balanced dichotomy for the story- Mouchette coming to accept the fact that she is evil while Donissan struggles to ward off these evil forces fighting for his soul. A slow-paced meditative film that's haunting, subdued atmosphere aids in creating a truly poignant film the relationship of Good and Evil.
About Elly (2009) - Asghar Farhadi
A group of middle-class families travel from Tehran to the northern seaside in an attempt to relax and spend time together by the seashore. Sepideh invites, Elly, who is her daughter's teacher, to travel with the three families in order to introduce her to their recently divorced friend Ahmad. The weekend takes a tragic turn when Elly goes missing, setting off a chain events which ultimately changes everything. Asghar Farhadi's About Elly is an exceptional character piece that plays more like a mystery during the second half. Before the accident the three families are extremely happy, playful and at peace with one and other. This accident not only uncovers secrets about Elly, the woman almost no one knows anything about, but we experience the true relationships and casual deceits which exists between this group of friends. The way these characters true nature is revealed is a thing of beauty, as if Farhadi means to suggest that in order to know someone's true self, one must be placed in a desperate situation. I was particularly taken back by Golshifteh Farahani's performance as Sepideh. A character so destroyed by grief that she feels alone and isolated, even though her family and friends are right by her side. This film continues to show how remarkable Asghar Farhadi is in terms balancing characters and family dynamics. No character in this film is treated as a villain or hero but as a fully-dimensional human being.
A blend of documentary and scripted narrative, "On The Bowery' is an in-depth examination of New York City's skidrow during the 1950s. Men talking and arguing among themselves, drowning the little monetary gains they have on booze, sleeping on sidewalks- this is life on the Bowery. The narrative revolves around Ray, a young man who arrives in New York with some money in his pocket. On his first night he drinks himself into a stupor and is subsequently robbed by one of the men who befriended him earlier in the night. Through Ray's experiences the film paints a vivid, grim portrait of how living on the Bowery drains the life out of men. The contrast between Ray, a young good-looking man and the older men of the Bowery is particularly affecting. Lionel Rogosin takes full advantage of this with a series of close-ups of these men's old battered faces, there skin reminiscent of old worn leather, faces full of sorrow with little hope. Running a little over an hour long, 'On the Bowery' captures this lifestyle in a succinct, efficient way. The film provides a window into the monotonous grim world of lower class individuals, with an observational eye aiding the narrative structure. While not particularly "entertaining", this is definitely an important film, in that it captures a time and place genuinely and efficiently.
After a 10-year hiatus, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as Agents J and K in Men in Black III. In this carnation, Agent J is perplexed by his partner's demeanor and overall lack of happiness. When J discovers that his partner's life and the fake of the world are linked together, J travels back in time to set things straight, perhaps in the process discovering why K is such a wry, reticent man. Men in Black III is the type of sequel that completely walks that line of mediocrity-far greater than the possible train-wreck many were expecting, yet ultimately settling as a rather forgettable entry. While not as devoid of creativity as Men In Black 2, there is once again a noticeable lack of imagination this time around and the whole inventiveness and imagination which made the first film so refreshing is merely a shimmer of its former self. Everything and everyone just feels like it's going through the motions, and while it's entertaining enough, there really isn't much about it to praise. I will say that Josh Brolin's performance as a young Agent K is certainly the highlight of the film, and while MIB 3 is not incredibly memorable as a whole, it's definitely better then MIB 2 and is a fairly entertaining blockbuster.
Sasha Baron Cohen's latest comedy is the story of General Aladeen, the tyrannical dictator of a small North African country. After being invited to America by the United Nations, he is kidnapped and left stranded in New York City, unrecognizable as the rich, tyrannic Aladeen. Just because 'The Dictator' is Cohen's first foray into scripted comedy doesn't mean the film is any less crude, or offensive in its approach. The Dictator has lots of outlandish comedic moments and is honestly a lot more entertaining and funny than I was expecting. The narrative follows the rather standard storyline for this type of thing, including the typical love interest tropes and change of heart character journey. There is definitely a small social commentary running through the film but it's not incredibly deep or overbearing. In fact, I found the slight commentary on Hollywood to be far more interesting and hilarious than the political commentary. 'The Dictator' is essentially what you would expect from the latest Sacha Baron Cohen project, it's brash, having some great comedic moments, a few solid ones, and a few misses.
Typically known for his vivid color palette, Frank Tashlin compensates with some of the most intricate visual gags out there in telling the story of this insufferable Belgian detective. The film opens with Tony Randall, the actor playing this aforementioned detective, addressing the audience. Speaking directly into the camera, he introduces the film. In costume, Tony Randall is unrecognizable as the extremely goofy, yet brilliant detective. The story follows Hercule as he tries to solve a series of murders in which the victims appear to be killed in an alphabetical pattern, hence the name. Hercule is ridiculed by the local police, yet he's always a step ahead in actually solving the murders. As a character, some could find Hercule a bit annoying, but he's also quite lovable in a fantastic balancing act of a performance. The Alphabet Murders frequently shifts between comedic and dramatic tones, doing so in a masterful way where it feels balanced. I could see some people having issues with the tone, but I found it to be a welcoming blend, even elevating its entertainment value. The way in which Hercule sorta bumbles around-his goofy yet lovable ways are reminiscent to a character you may find in Tati's Playtime. Tashlin's camera work is really impressive in providing both intricate and motivated camera movements. He seems to revel in making this comedy caper and I think it stands up to some of the most acclaimed of the genre.
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