Monday, April 30, 2012
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE Recientemente las películas de suspenso parecen ser todas iguales. Sangre. Matanzas. Y momentos de esos que le hacen "Boo!" y asustan a la audiencia. Por eso es interesante ver un film como MMMM que logra el suspenso a base de la paranoia en la mente de su personaje, una joven que se escapa de un grupo estilo Charles Manson. Elisabeth Olsen, hermana de las famosas gemelas Olsen, hace un papel excelente como una joven confundida que logra escapar físicamente del culto, pero que mentalmente no puede hacerlo. John Hawkes es el líder del grupo, y logra crear un personaje parte Charles Manson, parte David Koresh. El film se mueve a un paso lento. Seguro que la generación ADD la encontrará aburrida. Pero para los que crecimos viendo el cine de los 1970, MMMM es un regreso al cine de suspenso que tanto nos gusta.
J.EDGAR Los críticos fueron fuertes con esta película. Y no entiendo la razón. Es una buena película que hace un gran trabajo de tratar de entender al controvertible jefe del FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Vemos su pasión por la justicia, su amor al poder, su obsesión por tener carpetas de cada persona y de untilizarlas para intimidar a cualquiera, incluso a presidentes. Vemos también su relación homosexual con su asistente. J.Edgar era también un oportunista, haciendo ver que estaba allí cuando los más famosos criminales eran capturados. Leonardo DiCaprio hace un excelente labor como Hoover y Arnie Hammer es excelente como su asistente.
WHO IS HARRY NILSSON AND WHY IS EVERYBODY TALKING ABOUT HIM? Excelente documental sobre uno de los músicos pop más talentosos de los 1970 y su camino hacia la total auto-destrucción. Amigo de Los Beatles, Randy Newman y otros, Nilsson tuvo una racha de hits y hasta ganó un Grammy. Pero su insistencia en no hacer lo esperado de un pop star y su adicción al alcohol y las drogas, lo llevaron al desastre. El documental no toca esta parte oscura hasta los últimos 30 minutos, lo que hace que no sea un "downer", sino más bien una celebación de una persona original, talentosa. Tienen que verlo.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
When MTV producer Benjamin Wagner met PBS icon Mr. Rogers, he had no idea his life was going to change forever. Because when Wagner told him he worked for MTV, Mr. Rogers warm answer was life altering, " I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex." One year and many "deep and simple" conversations later, Rogers whispered "Spread the message, Benjamin!".
And he did. Especially through "Mr. Rogers and Me", a wonderful, sweet, beautifully made documentary. In it we see various interviews with people who know Mr. Rogers. And we learn how this soft spoken man had the power to touch people's lives. His obvious love for people comes through in each story we hear. We also get to hear the man himself, talking about life, television and children.
This is such amazing documentary. One that makes one look at our own life and realize that maybe Mr. Rogers had the right way of looking at things and at the power of kindness and understanding. This is a work of art that makes one want to be a better person. And can you think of the last movie that made you feel that way?
Please catch this documentary on DVD, on PBS or on iTunes.
Monday, April 16, 2012
There are classic movies that for one reason or another I've avoided seeing. This is one of them. I guess I never felt ready to see a movie with a reputation for being a sort of downer. But last night I got around to watch this classic John Ford movie, based on John Steinbeck's Pulitzer winning novel.
I'm glad I did. This is an extremely powerful movie about a family who loses their home in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and, like thousands, decided to go to California in search of a better life. The whole cast in this movie is excellent. There are moments when we feel we are watching a documentary of that period. Everyone is so real. Henry Fonda has never been better. The photography by Gregg Toland is truly amazing. Every shot could have been an award winning photograph.
I loved this movie. Especially those moments in which people showed their best side in spite of the awful circumstances around them. Yes, life was miserable. But there were always people ready to lend a helping hand.
By the way, this movie would make an excellent double feature with Ford's 1942 masterpiece "How Green Was My Valley".
Catch this movie on DVD or on TCM.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Browsing through my cable tv schedule this past week, I ran across many Titanic documentaries. None of them caught my attention. But when I saw something called "Nazi Titanic", my WTF meter went crazy. Well, it turned out to be a pretty interesting documentary.
The Nazis did create a movie about the Titanic. They started the movie at the start of the war and they saw it as a chance to create propaganda, to portray the ship's tragedy as a symbol of everything wrong with English society. To show how Great Britain's greed and belief in its leaders create a disaster.
Well, the movie took years to make. The director committed suicide or was killed by Nazis, after making disparaging comments about the regime. And the movie took so long to make that it was finished in 1945, when, ironically, the Titanic metaphor seemed more like one in which the ship was Germany and the foolish captain was Hitler driving everybody to disaster. After spending the equivalent of of today's $130 million, the movie was never shown in Germany.
The History Channel documentary is 2 hours long. And it could have been so much shorter. But that is usually the case with History Channel presentations. To stretch it, the filmmakers suddenly start presenting background material about WWII, in case one doesn't know who was fighting who. And it is pretty annoying that every time the program comes back from a commercial break, there is a 45 second recap of what has been shown before.
Still, it was worth it. I had no idea such a movie existed. And as a movie fan, it made for interesting viewing.
In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. Lucky for us, director Werner Herzog was given access to the caves. The result is a documentary full of awe inspiring moments.
Herzog's approach to documentaries is not the usual one, his narration contains eccentric comments. He is also prone to feature slightly off the wall people as spokespersons. And he does that here.
In the end we have a movie full of poetic moments, visually and in terms of narration. I especially loved the part in which a scientist emphasizes that "homo sapiens" is the wrong name for humans. He argues that we "became human", not when we were able to gain knowledge, but when we were able to create visual representations of things in our life.
The movie could have been shorter though. And the last five minutes with the alligator theory add a truly eccentric touch, so weird I wonder if it should have been edited out. But hell, this is a Herzog movie. And, in the end, one has to love those odd touches.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Hay películas que uno recuerda por extrañas razones. Yo recuerdo "The FBI Story" porque la ví cuando niño en el Cine Grand de la Calle Loíza. En aquel momento quedé fascinado con sus historia de los logros del FBI.
Más de 40 años más tarde la veo de otra manera. Como una pieza de propaganda, aprobada por J. Edgar Hoover para contar una historia llena de media verdades. Pero, aún así, la disfruté mucho. Como major en Historia es fascinante ver como en el 1959 podían vender una película como ésta como algo totalmente verídico. Y como amante del cine, la encuentro sumamente entretenida. Siempre me ha gustado James Stewart y aquí este gran actor se demuestra capaz de darle credibilidad a todo lo que sucede. El film también tiene detalles que la hacen nostálgica. Sobre todo en la escena en el aeropuerto donde nadie registra maletas y vemos aquellos famosos kioskos donde se vendían seguros de vida en caso de accidente aéreo (Me acuerdo muy bien que había uno en el aeropuerto de Isla Verde).
The FBI Story es propaganda. Pero es propaganda divertida, con interesantes momentos y buena música de Max Steiner.
Hace un año visité Budapest y mientras nos daban la excusrsión por esa bella ciudad, la guía no paraba de hablar mal de los rusos. En ningún momento dejó de enfatizar el desprecio total por esa nacionalidad. En aquel momento podía entender ese odio a un país que esclavizó a todo el pueblo de húngaro. Pero lo puedo entender aún mejor al terminar de leer "The Bridge at Andau" de James Michener, un relato real de la revolución húngara contra los rusos en 1956. Ahí vemos claramente la brutalidad, la falta de respeto por la vida humana y por la libertad que demostraba la Unión Soviética con sus países dentro de la Cortina de Hierro y, bueno, con su propia gente también. Este interesante libro no relata simplemente la violencia, sino también la clase de sociedad que fue creada por los comunistas. Una de sospecha continua, una en que la gente tenía que ocultar el odio hacia el sistema y seguir viviendo haciendo ver que todo estaba bien.
"The Bridge at Andua" es el libro que quisiera que leyeran los adolescentes que van por ahí con sus camisas del Ché Guevara, pensando que éste representaba la libertad y no lo que realmente representaba, un sistema brutal, inhumano, represivo y autoritario
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Dolores Hart was a starlet in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She appeared in movoes with Elvis and Montgomery Clift. She was beautiful, talented and seemed to have an interesting career ahead of her. Then suddenly she joined a convent, became a nun and disappeared from public life.
This short documentary provides a glimpse of what became of her. We see her as head of the convent going through her daily routines. She talks about her previous life, about her decision to become a nun shortly before getting married. She says that what attracted her to the convent was the life of peace there.
We also meet other nuns and they too talk about wanting to get away from it all and become "a bride of Christ." But the emphasis is on Dolores Hart.
This is a moving short documentary. One is torn between thinking that these women are to be respected for their decision. But one is also thinking whether taking such a drastic decision is simply a sign of some mental illness that drives people to this cloistered life.
I loved the last 10 minutes of this short film. Because it shows in a very low key way that no matter how sure we are of our decisions, there is always something within us that wonders what would have happened if we have chosen another way. That door we never opened or that we closed is always there in our mind, making us wonder "what if?".
This documentary is playing on HBO.
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
After writing yesterday's post on religious movies I decided to share my thoughts about other religious movies I saw as a child.
1.THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Cecil B. DeMille's movie is a hugely entertaining slice of Old Hollywood. Charlton Heston is great as Moses and the film features the famous parting of the Red Sea sequence. As with Ben Hur, this is more about storytelling than faith. This movie used to play every year in San Juan theaters. I remember seeing it at the Regency and at the Radio City.
The first Cinemascope movie is rather corny and is probably the most dated of all religious movies. It drags in places and Richard Burton is on obvious auto-pilot. Still, it is an interesting throwback to a time when Hollywood thought it could lure people into theaters by simply providing stunning visuals. Come think of it, they are still doing that.
3.JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Not a Holy Week regular, but it used to pop up now and then. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway play is pretty entertaining. It is also a product of its era, a time when Jesus was part of the hippie counterculture and had not being co-opted by conservative religious and political conservatives.
This movie used to appear every year around Holy Week, usually at second run theater. Anthony Quinn plays the title role and the movie is basically o.k., nothing more.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
When I was a child, local movie theaters used to show religious movies. And I used to go see them with my mother and grandmother. So in the spirit of the week, here are my favorite religious movies.
1. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW
Director Pasolini was a Marxist and an atheist. So he made this amazing movie that breaks all the rules of religious movies. Shot in a quasi-documentary style with amateur actors, this movie feels as if a camera crew is following Jesus through his preaching years. The movie emphasizes the idea of Jesus as a revolutionary and it works beautifully. The movie score with jazz music in place of bombastic musical themes also make it really interesting.
2.KING OF KINGS
Called "I was a Teenage Jesus" for its casting of Jeffrey Hunter as Christ, this movie by director Nicholas Ray is actually really good. I especially like how it portrays the Sermon of the Mount. And Hunter is good in a really difficult role. Old fashioned, but well worth seeing.
3. BEN HUR
Not really a religious movie, it is more of an action movie set in the times of Jesus. Charlton Heston is excellent as Ben-Hur and the chariot race is still an awesome sight. It puts all CGI sequences to shame.
4.GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD
A guilty pleasure. George Stevens' overblown and overlong story of Jesus is so full of cameos by famous actors that it becomes a "spot the star first" kind of movie. Isn't that the guy from "Man from Uncle"? What is Sidney Poitier doing there? With classic John Wayne cameo as a roman warrior "Truly this man is the son of Gawd!"
Everyone knows F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu. It is one of those iconic silent films even non-movie fans have seen. But he also made some other classic silents. And "Sunrise" is considered my many to be his best movie. A movie about love and redemption, this movie has visuals that are still amazing to see today. His use of super imposed images to make a point is truly brilliant. And the story is very involving. One really roots for everything to work out in the end. A wonderful movie.
SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY
A man and a woman are having an relationship with the same man. None of them is really satisfied with the arrangement, but they go on. This movies asks the question, "Is it better to have a flawed relationship or no relationship?" Is "something" better than nothing? This is the kind of movie that seems better a couple of days afterward than when one is watching it. It has great performances by Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson. But these are characters so flawed, so full of pain, it is sometimes difficult to watch them go through their problems. Still, a classic movie from the early 1970's.