Friday, August 22, 2008

Orson Welles' "F For Fake" (1974)

F For Fake is an absolutely mesmerizing documentary about forgeries and fakes. No one has had this much fun playing with an audience as Orson Welles seems to do so here. His presence is overwhelming and commanding as he narrates this fascinating tale . He has tricks of his own up his sleeve to go along with the forgeries he discusses: Elmyr who forges paintings, and Clifford Irving who forged Howard Hughes' biography, and Oja Kodar, among other things. This is one of the most fascinating documentaries you will ever watch. The editing is sublime. It's a prime example of how we can be edited into believing whatever. F For Fake is loads of fun and can be argued as Orson Welles' greatest work of film. If you want to be dazzled, check this one out.


Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007)

Right from the start of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly you can just tell that it's going to be a special film. Diving Bell is the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of Elle, and his struggle to come back and communicate from a stroke that left all but he left eye paralyzed. This fascinating and heart warming story is wonderfully acted by Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, and the rest of the cast. I give a special nod to one of my favorite actors, Max von Sydow, who gives all out emotional performance as Jean-Do's father. Max proves he still has what he had during his Bergman days as he reprises all the emotion he always was able to portray.

That connects me beautifully to my next positive comment on this film. Julian Schnabel is a special director. If this film is any indication, he's going to be huge. I couldn't help but feel like I WAS watching one of the classic Ingmar Bergman films that are simply about people in strife and their relationships. Schnabel creatively shoots a lot of this film out of Jean-Do's left eye which gives it a signature touch. I felt Schnabel wonderfully handled how he delved into Jean-Do's past life giving us a little background about him, his current and former lovers, and his relationship with his father and his children. Everyone was as developed as they needed to be.

All in all, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of the best films of 2007 and shouldn't be missed by everyone. If you have a heart, you'll be moved by this film. It captivated me and it should do no less to you. A must see.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (1957)

Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest storytellers in the history of film. With The Seventh Seal, Bergman creates an allegory for death by putting Knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) head to head with Death in a game of chess. The symbolic nature of this game is relevant to the time period the film is set in. It's medieval Sweden, after a war, where the country is being ravaged by some sort of plague. In the opening scene we meet Block and Death for the first time. Death had chosen it to be the knight's time but Block doesn't show any sign of fearing such a thing. This, in a nutshell, is what this film is about. In the simplest point it, to me, is a film about the confrontation and the realization of death along with the acceptance, avoidance, fear and occurrence of death. The knight's journey from place to place portrays these types of things. For example, he encounters a woman who believes she has seen the devil and the men who think she is a witch. Panic and fear has spread across the land and everyone has their own way of dealing with it.

Part of this film's success is the realistic and convincing setting Ingmar Bergman creates. I actually felt like I was taking a journey along with Antonius Block and the others he encounter during the medieval time period. One of the most stunning scenes that I can attribute to this realistic feeling is the scene where the traveling players have their performance interrupted by a parade of religious leaders and people that seem to be dying of the spreading illness or are suspected of being "witches" or the like. The culmination of the sights and sounds of this scene left me with a downright chill. From this scene to the absolutely stunning and also chilling final shots, this film is jam packed of beautiful photography.

The strange thing about this film is that for a film so filled with the thought of death there is a fair amount of humor. This can be credited to the comic relief characters and plot situations such as the blacksmith's wife running off with one of the performers, only for them to meet up later on. Every actor and actress adds their own strengths to this film making for one of the most well acted films out there. I've always loved Max von Sydow's performance as the knight Antonius Block the most. He is, after all, the central focus.

In short, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal is a masterpiece of cinema. It is my favorite film of all time. It's mostly dark, moody, terrifying, extremely powerful, and full of meaning. It's the type of film you sit down to watch and are just left in awe of every time you see it. Everything, and I mean everything, is expertly done by Bergman. I always note how his films leave me as unsettled as any horror movie (or any film for that matter). His sense of direction was unrivaled. He's the greatest director of all time in my book.


Samuel Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" (1959)

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is a gritty anti-communist film noir starring Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy, a petty thief who is fresh out of jail. When Skip nabs something from the wrong purse, he gets himself into an ordeal he just wasn't looking for. McCoy soon becomes involved with a police investigation of an international problem concerning communist activity. Samuel Fuller makes a statement here. He places this low life thief, brilliant played by Richard Widmark, as someone who is better than our Russian foes. That's at least the feeling I got from time to time.

Widmark's performance is the highlight of this film in my opinion. He's always great in whatever he does and this role was absolutely no different. This one places into the evil, creepy category for him once again. His performances are things that can simply lift a poor or weak storied film and make it something different. Luckily, Fuller has a fine story to back Widmark up with. The film is rather short so pacing is quick and kept up. Decisions are made fast and often.

Overall, Pickup on South Street is worth seeing as a film noir and time piece. It's a good realization of the kind of scare our country had in earlier years. I personally really enjoy that aspect of film. It's what makes them so timeless so very often. This is just a darn good film.


Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets" (1950)

Panic in the Streets is an ambitious film noir from acclaimed director Elia Kazan. At heart, this film is more than noir. It touches upon the distinct genres of the classic paranoia, disaster, and epidemic films. When a man that is carrying a form of the plague is killed, health worker Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) have the dubious task of tracking down the man (or men) who killed him in 48 hours. Kazan captures this films tension almost perfectly. There's a sense of heated tension between the new partners Reed and Warren, for example. Thanks to Richard Widmark's great performance it comes off as convincing as can be. Tension is evident everywhere in the film. From Reed's own home to the low life thugs like Blackie (Jack Palance) who are dealing with their own problems thanks to the plague. This, in my opinion, helps the viewer become far more entangled in the sprawling story and process. There's a lot going on here making for a roller coaster detective thrill ride.

Panic in the Streets is a one of a kind film noir. Set in New Orleans and using a fair share of amateur actors that were New Orleans natives, Panic in the Streets has a sense of unrivaled realism. Kazan masterfully lays out the story in front of your eyes. This is the first Kazan film I have seen and even on the first viewing I can tell he knows exactly what he wanted and what he was doing. I've always loved film noir and have always loved films that deal with a group of people (or a city) dealing with some sort of threat of an epidemic or disaster. I always think that it's interesting to see how different people react and deal with a situation. This is greatly touched upon within the film. The mayor worries about his reputation the immediate population while Reed worries about the country, and on a larger scale, the world. The combination of these two genres with Richard Widmark leading the way on screen was essentially heaven to me. Whether Widmark is playing one of the most evil villains of all time (Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death) or a health worker trying to essentially save a city and the country, he always plays it with an edge, and it's no different this time. It's a must see for all fans of film alike.