Mary sits in the clerk's office, awaiting the verdict of her murder trail. Through a sequence of flashbacks, Mary looks back at her life and we see her struggles to overcome poverty early in her life, which in the end leads to her involvement with a group of gangsters. Wellman's Midnight Mary is a rather detailed examination of how one woman's early environment leads her down a path of a questionable lifestyle which ultimately could doom her. That being said, this is not a weak character, but rather a tough woman whose been shaped by her environment to do whatever is neccessary, whether through manipulation or good old fashioned hardwork, to survive in the society she inhabits. I have got to acknowledge the fact that Loretta Young was so damn pretty in her early years-such beautiful big eyes she had. Anyway, this is just a great story, that is actually in-the-end rather uplifting, particularly for a Wellman film.
William A Wellman's 'Frisco Jenny' is an epic film-spanning 30 years, about the life of Jenny, a young woman who through a series of tragic circumstances is separated from her son, only to reconnect many years down the road, with tragic consequences. With this film Wellman proves you can tell an epic story about the moral ambiguities and repercussions that make up our lives and do so in only 70 minutes long. Jenny is such a strong-minded female character, who no matter what is thrown at her from life, seems to persevere. It's kinda said that a film that dates nearly 80 years old, has a stronger female character of empowerment than pretty much anything I can think of which came out in the last year. Anyway, Jenny is played perfectly by Ruth Chatterton, who really captures this perseverance, balancing both the tough, yet fragile sides of this character. Wellman's ability to capture key emotional sequences through his craft is on display, using moving camera, tracking shots, and blurred images to help illicit the raw emotion which Jenny so often experiences. This is just another fantastic film by Wellman that is beautifully tragic yet incredibly affective in it's ability to push the viewer to think about Morals as more than simply "right and wrong" and the grayness which so often exists in life in general.
Colombiana is a rather forgettable revenge flick about a female assassin (Zoe Saldana) who is out for revenge against the man responsible for the murder of both of her parents. Aesthetically the film is like a poor man's Tony Scott, using a lot of quick cuts, various camera angles, etc to create this kinetic feel, which works at parts but is rather uninspired in general. The main problem with the film is that I really didn't find the story very interesting in the first place. For an action film, it severely lacks action, and when the action sequences do come they are pretty bad. One fight scene towards the end of the film between Zoe and one of the main villains, Marco, is poorly choreographed, shot, and edited entirely, making for a rather lame finale. Besides the obvious sentiment one feels for a girl who loses both her parents, the film doesn't try to establish much else just relying solely on this fact to breed emotional resonance, which really doesn't work. Not intelligent enough to be interesting, not action packed or exploited enough to be pure fun, and not dramatic enough to have any real type of emotion.. so yea, bland and utterly forgettable.
This is they type of film that I have been waiting to see from Pedro Almodovar. I guess Almodovar is just very hit-and-miss for me, but 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown' is a delightfully fun farce that is full of humor, some sentiment, and is just a helluva lot of fun. The film chronicles the life of Pepa, an actress who is in utter despair after being dumped by her ex-lover. What begins as a rather simple story about one woman's despair turns into a hectic comedy as more and more coincidences and circumstances erupt into the storyline. It's definitely Almodovar's funniest film, with some great dialogue and conversations, a few favorites of mine being Pepe's laundry commercial and the conversation which Pepa has with her friend during the motorcycle chase. Even being incredibly funny, the film is searingly humane portrait of the mindset one has after going through a break-up. One sequence perfectly illustrating this is when Pepa argues with an answering machine message from her ex, shouting at it, as if she is trying to rationalize things to him in any way, even if it's just his voice on the other side of the conversation. Definitely, without question, one of Almodovar's best.
Three cowboys who have just completed a grueling cattle drive are mistaken as members of a gang of thieves by a posse who is hot on their trail. While not nearly as tense or atmospheric as Hellman's 'The Shooting', Ride in the Whirlwind is just as interesting, focusing on the monotony of the frontier life in all its dry, dirty glory. As these men try to escape their pursuers, the film is meticulous in the details of the hardships they experience. At one point Monte Hellman opts to show a family sharing/preparing a dinner, as a sort of precursor to what will unfold when our main protagonists arrive seeking shelter. During this scene we see the hardship the family experiences just in putting food on the table, the blandness of the meal, etc. hardship canl be seen in the faces of the family. In fact there are quite a few scenes of foreshadowing, for example, when the three cowboys come across a lynching-showing the life and death stakes which exist on the frontier. The film has a lot of ideals and weight too it, and every death that does occur is felt and experienced. As a viewer, we really come to appreciate these men and their plight, making for a strong finale of sacrifice and triumph, sortra-hopefully. This is definitely another great perceptive revisionist western that has a lot of great ideals.
Newlyweds Antonio and Ise arrive at an old castle owned by the bride's cousins. On their arrival they learn of the death of their cousins, but decide to stay at the castle for the time being. Weird things start to happen as it is slowly revealed that Vampires are admist with the desire to turn them into vampires/seduce them much like what happened to the aforementioned cousins. Typical of a Rollin film, the plot or story doesn't really matter all that much, opting to create a dreamlike nightmarish atmosphere with the viewer having very little idea what could happen next. The film uses colored lighting much more than his other films I have seen-lavish red's and greens light up sets creating beautiful visuals which complement the Gothic atmosphere quite well. Rollin is very interested in the eroticism and seduction elements of Vampirism, and it's explored in great detail in this particular film as the wife of the young couple is slowly engulfed by this seduction. Per usual, it's an interesting piece from Rollin with lot's of great compositions and trippy sequences. The only reason it's rated lower is its lack of bite when it comes to the ending.
Shohei Imamura's Pigs and Battleships is a scathing commentary on Japanese society post World War II. The film chronicles the life of Kinta, a poor man who opts to join the yakuza gang as a way of making ends meat, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Haruko. Through these characters trials and tribulations Imamura shows the corruption which exists, characterized through the clash between the US occupation forces and the people of Japan. We are shown how the poor Japanese people feed off the Americans, conforming to their ways just to get by. The problem which Imamura presents is the American's have no real interest in the needs of these people, essentially just using them for their gain, while not contributing to society. A scene towards the end of the film where a group of pigs are released from their cages, consuming the streets perfectly serves as an allegory for the Japanese people of the time's need to rise up. The film has some great style with some nice camera movements and tracking shots with the scene where Horuko gives into prostitution as a means of getting by, being a beautifully executed scene-the use of the spinning frame. It's a film that busting with energy, showcasing the rampant crime that exists, while using the doomed romance narrative of Kinta and Haruko to make it's final point.
Oliver Stone's studio debut, 'The Hand' is a fun, campy horror flick that probably doesn't get the credit it deserves. The film stars Michael Caine as Ian Lansdale, a comic book writer, who unfortunately loses his dominant hand in a car accident. Struggling to deal with the loss, Ian begins to realize that his severed hand may have taken on a life of it's own. The film does a good job at playing with perception as I found myself routinely unsure of whether this hand was indeed killing people or rather it was just a manifestation of Ian's mind. The film suggests the idea that the subconscious can do evil things and while it's interested, I think more time needed to be spent on Caine's failed marriage and angst towards his wife. Although a very early work of Stone, his penchant for changing up imagery is in tact-routinely switching from color to black&white as a way of illustrating these potential subconscious black-outs. The film doesn't get nearly enough credit for it's brooding imagery and atmosphere, particularly towards the end of the film where there are some great compositions. Michael Caine gives a strong performance and it's pretty damn fun to watch, particularly towards the end of the film. Definitely not perfect, but it's underrated campy fun.
Some seem to write-off Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 as just another sleazy revenge flick about a woman (Thana), who is raped and turned into a woman on a mission for revenge, but it's really so much more. Thana is a mute, whose incredible introverted-having barely any interaction with men, at least on an intimate level. It's Thana's timid nature that makes Abel Ferrara's deconstruction of the cruel mental anguish which sexual violence can cause on the individual so effective. Ferrara uses frantic editing, some sort of high-pitched jazzy type synth score and varied camera movements and compositions to create a rather searing portrait of a woman whose essentially been pushed over the edge, losing her sanity completely. This isn't a film where the protagonist seeks revenge on the men who wronged her, rather, she begins to take revenge on the entire gender, viewing all of them as animals with only carnal desires. Zoe Tamerlis performance must be mentioned when talking about this film, as she is particularly fantastic at capturing the nuances and shift in perceptive the character experiences. A scene towards the end of the film which really captures the essence of the experience involves Thana, dressed as a nun for a costume party, kissing each of the bullets, before loading them in the chamber. Thana clearly believes she is in the right, almost viewing herself as some type of Angel of Death. The film is really a tragedy and it's great stuff that I would argue deserves to be in the same discussion as Scorsese's Taxi Driver.
Three middle-aged friends are vacationing in a quiet resort town one summer, where they spend most of there time at the lake. One day a magician, Ernie the Conjurer, shows up with his beautiful assistant and invites them all to his performance in the town. What ensues is a carnal comedy where one by one, each of the three men become infatuated with the young woman, with comedic results. It's a film that's very dialogue heavy as has some rather entertaining dialogue between the philosophizing men that particularly becomes more fun after the arrival of the beautiful young woman. I'm not sure if the film has a deeper meaning than the obvious one, but it essentially shows how the carnal desires of men cause them to essentially lose control of themselves. Before the woman arrives, the men are shown in quite a sophisticated light, as they spend most of there time swimming and philosophizing. Yet, after her arrival, they are incredibly eccentric and bicker-one by one suffering mental and physical pain at the hands of the young woman. It's a pretty fun little film but it's more amusing than funny.
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