Season 48 (2013-2014)

  • Cool Hand Luke (1967)
    September 8, 2013
    Cool Hand Luke  IMDB
    USA, 1967, 126 min, Color, Not Rated
    Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; Starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio

    Cool Hand Luke uses a seemingly simple and straightforward story to offer a lot of social commentary. In the post-World War II South, Luke Jackson, a decorated veteran, finds himself bored with life. After a minor act of defiance, he ends up on a chain gang for two years. He soon earns the name Cool Hand Luke for his stubbornness and audaciousness. The prison bosses begin a systematic campaign to break him. Viewed purely on a narrative level, it is nothing more than the story of one man's prison odyssey. Taken to a deeper level, it is a metaphor for the social climate in which it germinated. The bittersweet payoff is successfully orchestrated.

    Film Notes (Britt Crews): "What we've got here is… failure to communicate." ~The Captain
    When Cool Hand Luke opened on November 1, 1967, voices raised in protest in every corner of the globe had become commonplace. Whatever your color or age or background or political persuasion, the world seemed to be falling into disarray, discord, disaffection, disenchantment, discouragement, disenfranchisement, disobedience, and disconnection. In America, the year opened with the swearing-in of sworn segregationist Lester Maddox as governor of Georgia. Ten months later, Thurgood Marshall became the first person of color to sit on the Supreme Court. Four days after Maddox became governor, the Human Be-In gathered in Golden Gate Park where Timothy Leary exhorted the crowd to "turn on, tune in, drop out." The Six-Day War erupted in June in the Middle East while concurrently as many as 100,000 hippies and would-be hippies converged on Haight-Asbury creating the Summer of Love. To the consternation of their parents, countless others fashioned homegrown versions in their town or city.
    While for some it was the Summer of Love, for others it was The Long, Hot Summer. Race riots flared in numerous cities including Tampa, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Newark, Plainfield NJ, and Detroit. By year's end an estimated 159 riots had detonated across the country.
    America's involvement in what was still being identified on the nightly news as the Vietnam Conflict continued to escalate. In the fall Vietnam protesters marched in/on New York, San Francisco, Washington, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
    In an age wary of knights in shining armor, Cool Hand Luke delivered the ultimate antihero, Lucas Jackson. Luke is no do-gooder, activist, righter-of-wrongs, fighter for the greater good. His act of drunken defiance against society entailed the beheading of a series of parking meters. For this ultimately petty act he is sentenced to two years on a Southern chain gang. Played to perfection by Paul Newman, Luke remains an outsider, a loner, albeit an astonishingly appealing, even messianic figure. Director Stuart Rosenberg called Luke "the perfect existential hero." Newman saw him as "the ultimate nonconformist and rebel… a free agent."
    Paul Newman, in what many believe to be his signature role, imbues Luke with a stubborn, heart-breaking charm. "I had great fun with that part," he said. "I liked that man." Newman is ably supported by a splendid ensemble cast including an Oscar-winning performance by George Kennedy. The script by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson is superb, deftly balancing comedy, drama, pathos, even a bit of soapy, sexy, silly fun. Legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall experimented with the inclusion of imperfections such as lens flares, dirt or sand/smoke clouds to add a sense of heightened reality. Lalo Schrifin's score supports and gently rocks the story forward.
    "There's a good smell about this. We're gonna have a good picture," Paul Newman reputedly told a visitor to the film set. He was right.

  • House (Hausu) (1977)
    October 13, 2013
    House (Hausu)  IMDB
    Japan, 1977, 88 min, Color, Not Rated, Japanese w/subtitles
    Directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi; Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara

    Horror films seem to be in a constant state of evolution. There's always a new twist on an old plot. The bare bones of the plot of Housesound familiar: a group of teenage girls trapped in a creepy old mansion are being murdered one by one. However, in the hands of a first-time director with a background in art and advertising, it becomes a chaotic and experimental piece of work. Angel, a Japanese schoolgirl and only child, finds out that her widowed father wants to bring his glamorous new girlfriend on their summer vacation. Furious, she decides to take a few classmates to her aunt's mansion in the country. Will the survivors discover the terrifying secret behind the house before it's too late?

    Film Notes (Gerry Folden): The date: February 13, 1978. The place: Tokyo, Japan. The occasion: the nation's highest honors for films, the Blue Ribbon Awards… and winner of the year's best new director: Nobuhiko Obayashi. [The best foreign language award was a repeat of the American Oscar for best picture (wait for it): Rocky – victorious over All the President's Men, Bound for Glory, Network, and Taxi Driver.]
    Obayashi's inaugural effort House (Hausu in Japanese) was a highly original effort variously described by reviewers as "an incomparably bizarre and experimental horror-parody", "starts out extremely strange… it gradually gets weirder and weirder" and "bizarre fairy tale with a grotesque and ingenious, often macabre and always unique sense of humor."
    Twenty-one years earlier, the Japanese film industry had given us Godzilla, King of the Monsters! with Raymond (Perry Mason) Burr taking its cue from the success of the well-received US monster movie Them! (1954) two years prior.
    With its laughably obvious 'sandbox' cityscapes and man-in-a-rubber-suit monster, Godzilla was an example of the eclectic mimicry that typified Japanese moviemaking homage to post-war western films. But with House, Obayashi broke new ground. Although Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) both predate House, it was not until Scary Movie (1991) and Scream (1996) that US movies copied the idea of the serial demise of a cabin full of attractive teenage girls.
    The style of cinematography and art direction of House is taken directly from the immensely popular comic book industry in Japan then (and now a $6 billion enterprise worldwide). The direct result of post-war US GIs during to occupation, Japanese comic book art called 'manga' (can refer to both comics and animation or 'anime') developed a unique style beginning in the mid-sixties which unmistakable shows itself in House.
    The film makes use of an apparition from Japanese folklore called 'Yōkai', a supernatural monster which may appear as an attractive shapeshifter often possessing animal features. Also referenced in the film is the highly recognized likeness of the Noh theatre mask, called the Hannya, generally used to represent a jealous female demon or serpent.
    So please accept our offering of this quirky horror spoof as a Halloween trick-or-treat intended to tickle your fancy… an anthropological peek into a distinctly different art form for another time and a distant land.

  • Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) (2010)
    November 10, 2013
    Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)  IMDB
    France, 2010, 122 min, Color, PG-13, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Xavier Beauvois; Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach

    In 1966 Algeria, eight Trappist monks are taken hostage by terrorists. The Algerian government had urged the monks to leave. The monks could easily have avoided this fate, but instead chose to maintain their quiet routines: to pray and sing in a little chapel, tend crops, sell honey, treat the sick, and hold community meetings. They live peacefully in a Muslim community. There is deep serenity in their way of life. The film doesn't raise political questions. It focuses on the nobility of the monks in choosing to stay with their vocation and duty in the face of quite probably death. Did they make the right choice?

    Film Notes (Toni Meyer): Algeria in the 1990s foundered in a state of terror, with beheadings, throat-slashings and large-scale massacres an almost daily feature of life. These grim circumstances provide the setting for Of Gods and Men, a beautiful, somber, and rigorously intelligent film.
    Though it takes place in the recent past, Of Gods and Men has an unmistakably timely resonance, evoking as it does both the messy War on Terror and the rebellions currently convulsing North Africa and the Middle East. And yet while it takes pains to be historically authentic, the film is closely based on the true story of a group of French Cistercian Trappist monks caught up in the violence.
    The obliquely told horror story is of a low-level Islamist insurgency that became much more violent after the cancellation of national elections in 1992. The unspoken background struggle is over power, justice, and what it means to be a good Muslim. As in Iraq ten years later, the tide of sympathy for the insurgents turned away when the Islamist GIA (Group Islamique Armé) began butchering innocent civilians, in violation of Islamic principles of warfare.
    Particularly offensive to the general Algerian population was the killing of nuns and priests. Dozens of imams were also assassinated for denouncing the terrorists. The Algerian insurgency, led by veterans of the Afghan war against Russia, applied every tactic Americans confronted in Iraq, save suicide bombings.
    Viewers conditioned to believe that Muslims hate Christians will be surprised by the respect and love shown towards the monks by the local population, even by the terrorists. In one of the most dramatic scenes of the film, a local emir breaks into the monastery with a handful of men on Christmas Eve 1994. He demands money and medical help only to be confronted by a resolute Father Superior, Christian de Chergé, played by Lambert Wilson. Christian not only refuses his demands, but rebukes him for disturbing their celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The emir apologizes and offers a hand in friendship.
    The monks practice brotherly love within the monastery and without, soul doctors for all. The Trappist community had been a presence among Muslims in Algeria since 1938. Theirs was a respectful love that accepted that God speaks to people in different ways. They practiced their faith openly without ulterior motives, ringing their church bells seven times a day in a Muslim country where spreading the Good News is not permitted but living it is.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
    December 8, 2013
    Exit Through the Gift Shop  IMDB
    UK, 2010, 87 min, Color, R
    Directed by Banksy; Starring Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, Debora Guetta, Space Invader

    A Los Angeles-based Frenchman, Thierry Guetta, wants to film street artists in the process of creating their work. He tells them he is making a documentary, when in reality he has no intention of editing the footage into one cohesive movie. Unaware of this, many street artists from around the world agree to participate. One of the artists is the camera-shy Brit, Banksy, who refuses to be shown on screen unless he is blacked out. Banksy convinces Thierry to use the footage to make a movie, but then decides to make his own film about the project.

    Film Notes (Blue Greenberg): Exit Through the Gift Shop is about graffiti artists who generally work at night anonymously and how the genre, associated with punk rock and hip hop, became co-opted by the traditional art gallery scene. Graffiti art is as old as the ancient Greeks; its modern day iteration took it from vandalism to gallery art. Two famous graffiti artists who made it to the big-time art scene were Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Banksy, the director of Exit and one of its stars, is today's hottest graffiti artist. In fact, recently on Comedy Central Stephen Colbert invited Banksy to vandalize a wall of a building he owned because any image by Banksy is worth thousands of dollars. A novice to the street art scene will get a crash course in the medium as it lives today.
    The story features Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles who walks his streets with a camera documenting every waking moment. On a visit to France he finds his cousin is Invader, an internationally known street artist. Guetta follows his cousin and his friends around, documenting their every nocturnal move. When Invader comes to Los Angeles, he and Guetta cross the country documenting everything, although Guetta has no intention of making a film. On his travels he meets Banksy and they make a film which becomes an immediate sensation. Guetta sells everything to become a street artist named Mr. Brainwash. In another film as Mr. Brainwash, Guetta becomes an instant star selling over $1 million worth of art. The elusive Banksy (there are no pictures of him and no one knows what he looks like) declares the story is true while most experts in the field say the whole thing is a hoax. Hoax or not, the film has received critical raves.

  • Frozen River (2008)
    January 12, 2014
    Frozen River  IMDB
    USA, 2008, 97 min, Color, R
    Directed by Courtney Hunt; Starring Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O'Keefe

    The film takes place in the days before Christmas near a little-known border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York and Quebec. The lure of fast money from smuggling presents a daily challenge to single mothers who would otherwise be earning minimum wage. Two women – one white, one Mohawk, both faced with desperate circumstances – are drawn into the world of smuggling aliens across the frozen St. Lawrence River. This is the story of two lives in economic emergency, of two women who are brace and resourceful, and the awesome, terrifying beauty in their journeys across the ice.

    Film Notes (Katherine Reynolds): Melissa Leo received an Academy Award in 2008 for Best Actress in this independent film written and directed by first-timer Courtney Hunt. Leo portrays a woman beset on all sides by her circumstances who only wants to raise her children halfway decently. When her gambler husband absconds with hard-saved purchase money squirreled away for a "new" doublewide, she is forced to take risks to hold onto her small dreams.
    Hunt got the idea for the movie while visiting her husband's family in upstate New York where she heard stories about Mohawks in the nearby reservation smuggling cigarettes by driving across the frozen Saint Lawrence River. Because so few people knew about the situation, she found it hard to get money for the project and ended up making the movie for under a million dollars. Hunt raised the stakes on what was being smuggled to explore how a person decides where the boundaries are between good and evil.
    Part of the film's strength is its specificity. Leo is both an everywoman and a very particular character with her own values and ethics that she must decide whether to honor. This is a movie about mothers of varying competencies but all with fierce love for their children. What are they willing to sacrifice to save a child? What line will they not cross? The suspense is integral to the situation and will keep you riveted until the last frame.
    Derek Malcolm in the London Evening Standard says "Everything about the film looks and feels authentic, from the desolate landscape dotted with trailers and fast-food joints to the people who populate a borderland that offers none of them much hope." Roger Ebert gave Frozen River four stars (out of four) and called it "one of those rare independent films that knows precisely what it intends, and what the meaning of the story is." Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times that "Leo's magnificent portrayal of a woman of indomitable grit and not an iota of self-pity makes Frozen River a compelling study of individual courage."
    Frozen River won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Feature at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
    February 9, 2014
    Picnic at Hanging Rock  IMDB
    Australia, 1975, 115 min, Color, PG
    Directed by Peter Weir; Starring Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Helen Morse, Kirsty Child

    On a drowsy Valentine's Day in 1900, a party of girls from a strict boarding school in Australia go on a day's outing to Hanging Rock, a geological outcropping not far from their school. Three of the girls and one of their teachers disappear into thin air. One of them is found a week or so later, but can remember almost nothing. Where are the others and will they be found? A film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria, Picnic explores the chasm between settlers from Europe and the ancient mysteries of their new home.

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): "To Saint Valentine!" These words are uttered by an angelic blonde girl in Victorian garb, wielding a rather large knife that she plunges squarely into a Valentine's Day cake. An indelible image from Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, this month's featured film. This image is one of dozens that will remain with you after you experience this cryptic, mysterious film on your own terms.
    Picnic at Hanging Rock is a prime example of Australian New Wave cinema from the 1970s and happens to be one of the first films that I recall being critiqued (and given two thumbs up!) by Siskel and Ebert back when their show was still presented by PBS. Picnic at Hanging Rock presents a story about a group of schoolgirls who picnic on Valentine's Day at the base of Hanging Rock, a massive rock formation in the wilds of Australia. As the afternoon unwinds, a small group of girls leave the picnic grounds to climb the rock. Only one of them returns, and in the ensuing hysteria, one of the teachers also vanishes. The community is shocked and demands answers although no easy answers can be found. The community reels from the loss of these innocent lives, and when the film closes, we are no closer to a solution than we were when the film starts.
    The novel Picnic at Hanging Rock was somewhat the Blair Witch Project of its day, whereby a fictional work is presented as truth, and done in such a convincing manner that a large segment of the audience becomes convinced of its veracity. The movie screenplay is a close adaptation of the novel by Joan Lindsay. The ambiguous conclusion of the film is taken directly from the novel, and due to the enormous impact that the film had on the public imagination, a cottage industry sprang up to offer a neat, linear explanation for the story, as would-be detectives published pamphlets and paperbacks to "explain" what "really" happened. Eventually Ms. Lindsay herself released a subsequent book that attempted to tie up all the "clues" offered in Picnic at Hanging Rock. I located copies of both Picnic at Hanging Rock and this second book online, and had them shipped from Australia. After waiting two weeks for their arrival, I immediately regretted reading the "answer" and have steadfastly refused to relay the contents of the book. The plot in the second novel is on a par with Plan Nine from Outer Space for likelihood and literary merit. Its mere existence diminishes the magic and mystery of the original work.
    Peter Weir is perhaps the foremost light in the Australian New Wave of cinema. Weir came from a television background in Oz, and led the pack of homegrown directors that transformed the Australian film industry. Weir made a successful transition to Hollywood where he directed many popular and acclaimed films, several of which depict the plight of the outsider in a context of an alien society. This theme presents in Picnic at Hanging Rock where we see the utter incongruity of the British class structure being imposed upon a hostile and mythic landscape. This theme is echoed in diverse films such as The Last Wave, another Australian film from his early years. The outsider also figures in many of his later Hollywood films such as Witness, Mosquito Coast, and Green Card.
    As far as appreciating Picnic at Hanging Rock, don't come to this film expecting a 'whodunnit' scenario. That's not what this film is about. What you can expect is a cascade of period images that capture the ethereal nature of young womanhood, the imposition of British society and mores upon native cultures, and a scathing look at the class system in Victorian Australia. Come to this film to experience it – the beauty of the Emperor Concerto which dominates the soundtrack, the bright-eyed loveliness of the doomed schoolgirls, and the reaction of the community to unfathomable loss. The best way to appreciate this film is to let the images and sounds trickle over your psyche as you suspend your logical mind and surrender to the mystical. This is not a neat, buttoned-down, squarely finished film. This is a lovely, poetic, and mysterious film that leaves us wanting more. Instead, let the minutiae and details take on huge significance as your mind tries to balance belief with tangible facts. This inner struggle exemplifies what the characters on the screen are experiencing. Just relax and enjoy the incongruity.

  • Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) (2009)
    March 9, 2014
    Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)  IMDB
    Spain, 2009, 127 min, Color, R, Spanish w/subtitles
    Directed by Pedro Almodóvar; Starring Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez

    In this compulsive psychological thriller, Penelope Cruz plays a woman loved and obsessed over, feared, and abused. It is a movie crammed with passion, plot twists, and lies. Every other character clutches a painful past or shameful secret. At the start of the film, the protagonist introduces himself as two people: a sighted film director and a blind screenwriter. How the carefree film director morphed into the disabled screenwriter is the crux of the story that leaps between two time periods and multiple layers of deception.

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): Broken Embraces is a film about a love affair between a film director and his muse, a passionate affair that has dark import. This film is a veritable valentine to cinema offered by Pedro Almodóvar, a director who is clearly besotted by the movies.
    This film presents a tale that reads like the plot of a film noir thriller. Harry Caine, a film director who has lost his sight due to a mishap, has adopted an anonymous, colorless lifestyle. He merely exists this way until one day, the death of a rich and powerful man causes the past and present to collide and the director is forced to confront both his hidden past and his stifled creativity.
    Sounds like the plot of a film noir from the 1940s, doesn't it? Can't you picture how the director will use the standard noir techniques – shafts of shadow encroaching from every corner – to convey the sense of helplessness and moral ambiguity that Harry is feeling?
    Broken Embraces, however, is a Technicolor film noir – drenched in a riot of vibrant, saturated color. A dizzying kaleidoscope of color and at the center of it all is the vision of Penélope Cruz, remade in the image of screen icons of the stature of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Audrey Hepburn. She is the stuff that dreams are made of and she is highlighted as never before in this movie as the director's lover and muse and another man's mistress, a woman who inspires obsession, jealousy. and great art.
    The story is told through unforgettable imagery and intricate plotting that is exposed through a series of flashbacks. The style is quite unique for Almodóvar whose earlier films relied on frenetic action and a degree of shock value to relay his colorful yet dark tales. Clearly the work of a director who has attained a level of maturity in his film-making, Broken Embraces will make you fall in love with the movies all over again. It is a vivid, vibrant yet tragic story told by a master film-maker, Pedro Almodóvar.

  • I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) (2008)
    April 13, 2014
    I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)  IMDB
    France/Germany, 2008, 117 min, Color, PG-13, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Philippe Claudel; Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Grévill

    Thomas has specialized in playing women whose cool facade covers strong emotion. Here she's covering a volcano she can never completely hide. Initially Juliette is seen waiting to be picked up at the airport. We learn she has just been released after 15 years in prison. Her younger sister brings her home to stay with her family. Overall Juliette harbors the hopelessness of someone who knows she can never really be understood and fears she may never be part of the world again. She's in constant conflict. How she resolves the conflict is the essence of the film, along with the film's essential mystery: Why was Juliette imprisoned?

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has been released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for killing her six-year-old son. Despite the notoriety of her crime, she is welcomed into the home of her younger sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who has only a peripheral understanding of what happened and no idea of why it happened. Yet she shelters her older and shattered sister in the home she shares with her husband, a man who questions this decision to house Juliette in this household that includes two young children.
    The family approaches the past by doing what most families would do – avoid addressing it directly. Juliette is a worn-out spirit, in a perilous situation as she learns to re-enter society and rebuild her life. Her only true connection is her parole officer (Frederic Pierrot) who understands the ordeal that Juliette has endured while being imprisoned for 15 years. Here she can let down her mask and allow herself to express what can only be hinted at with her family.
    Juliette is a woman whose delicate exterior masks the tumult within, a woman whose silence belies the fact that she is haunted by her past. Slowly, slowly, as she learns to trust her sister and her family, she begins to divulge to them (and to the audience) who she is and what drove her to such a desperate act.
    Kristin Scott Thomas fully embodies the haunted Juliette and plays the role with unbelievable subtlety and unwavering focus. This is a hopeless character, one that demands nothing from life and expects even less. In the end, her seemingly indefensible act is viewed in a completely different light as the "why" of her act is divulged. As you watch this film, remember that there is no word in any language to describe the status of a parent who has lost a child, and that this nameless grief will be life-altering and endless. This brave performance demands patience as we watch her defenses slowly, slowly fall, allowing us to begin to understand the suffering that Juliette has chosen to stoically endure.
    In case you're wondering, the title of this film comes from the lyrics of a French folk song, "A la Claire Fontaine", which Juliette and Lea sing together during the course of the film.

  • El Amor Brujo (1986)
    May 11, 2014
    El Amor Brujo  IMDB
    Spain, 1986, 100 min, Color, PG, Spanish w/subtitles
    Directed by Carlos Saura; Starring Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Laura del Sol, Juan Antonio Jiménez

    Like the dance and emotions that inspired it, El Amor Brujo is unrepentantly and passionately theatrical. Skies are not just blue, but purple; sunsets glow vivid pink; bonfires rage blood red. Created by one of the leading visual stylists of dance on film, Carlos Saura, the film explores the gypsy origin of flamenco. Set in a dusty Andalusian village, it is a tale of a woman possessed by the ghost of her unfaithful husband and the man who loves her.

    Film Notes (Toni Meyer): El Amor Brujo is a flamenco tour de force of music, passion, love, and betrayal. Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Laura del Sol, and Juan Antonio Jiménez dance the principal roles and Manuel de Falla's ballet and music provides the springboard that fleshes out the story of a ghostly love.
    The plot involves two gypsies, who are united in an arranged marriage. Each loves another, a circumstance that results in a fatal duel. The climax of the ballet involves the girl's torn loyalties between the ghost of her dead husband and her living lover.
    This Spanish film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
    This is the third film of Carlos Saura's splendid flamenco trilogy (following Blood Wedding and Carmen) and they are well worth viewing.

  • Brick (2005)
    June 8, 2014
    Brick  IMDB
    USA, 2005, 110 min, Color, R
    Directed by Rian Johnson; Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss

    High school student Brendan finds the dead body of his one-time girlfriend Emily in a drainage ditch. From the mouth of the tunnel comes the sound of her murderer escaping. The victim called him earlier for help. Brendan turns into a classic 1930s gumshoe, tracing her movements back to a high school principal who tries to pull him off the case. True to the genre, the movie has tough and dippy dames, an eccentric crime kingpin, some would-be toughs, and an enigmatic know-it-all. It's a classic Hollywood film noir!

    Film Notes (Katherine Reynolds): Imagine you're a private eye – unlicensed, of course. Your two-timing dame has just been murdered. Everyone's a suspect.
    Now imagine it in high school.
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt finds himself in just this film noir scenario in Brick, with all the requisite elements – thugs, seductive women, fast cars, drugs, a snitch,and a kingpin. Made by Rian Johnson for under a half million dollars, Brick works because it takes itself as seriously as the situation demands.
    Roger Ebert says, "Brick is a movie reportedly made with great determination and not much money by Rian Johnson, who did the editing on his Macintosh… What is impressive is his absolute commitment to his idea of the movie's style. He relates to the classic crime novels and movies, he notes the way their mannered dialogue and behavior elevates the characters into archetypes, and he uses the strategy to make his teenagers into hard-boiled guys and dolls. The actors enter into the spirit; we never catch them winking."
    David Denby in the New Yorker says, "Brick is often quick, funny, but not in a campy or condescending way – Johnson never makes the distance from the original models seem laughable. The movie develops its own kind of goofy tensions: Johnson renders the sunlit expanses of a school yard as menacing as the darkened rooms of a Warner Brothers thriller."
    One of Gordon-Levitt's first big-screen ventures as an adult (after years as a child star on television's Third Rock from the Sun), the movie serves as an indication of where much of his career was headed – intense and/or quirky independent films such as Manic, The Lookout, (500) Days of Summer, 50/50, and Hesher. In 2012, he worked again with Rian Johnson in the sci-fi Looper. He never plays the same character twice and always brings a depth of restrained emotion to his roles.
    Brick received the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

  • The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006)
    July 13, 2014
    The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)  IMDB
    Germany, 2006, 137 min, Color, R, German w/subtitles
    Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; Starring Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur

    In 1984 East Berlin, an agent of the secret police, conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed in their lives. He sits in an attic day after day, night after night, spying on the people in the flat below. That angle in itself is unusual: a thriller that follows the villain. This film shows both the right ways and wrong ways to live. Most compelling, it puts a man who has lived his life in a desperately wrong way, as a tormenter of innocents and a government thug, listening to the conversations of a thoroughly decent man.

    Film Notes (Gerry Folden): On August 13th a powerful new eye-in-the-sky will make obsolete all the technology that has until now so impressed you with satellite images of your backyard from space. An order of magnitude greater than all that has gone before, the launch from Vandenberg AFB, California, will put into orbit WorldView-3 which will completely map the planet ninety times a day. As Al Jolson might have said, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"
    Borrowing from Lord Acton, who said "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", this film promoted its overall message with "Where power is absolute, nothing is private." The parents of writer/director von Donnersmarck continued to live in occupied East Berlin after World War II, during which time his visits were infused with the tension and hesitancy to freely act or express oneself on all matters, such as art and politics to name but a few. As you become immersed in this film's story, you too will become painfully aware of the perils to your liberties concomitant with life in a totalitarian state.
    So impactful is this story of two artists struggling for freedom of thought and expression while knowingly under the scrutiny of an East German Stasi officer extraordinaire that the audiences and critics rewarded it with countless honors.
    Most noteworthy would be:
      * 79th Academy Awards — Best Foreign Language Film
      * 61st British Academy Film Awards — Best Foreign Language Film
      * European Film Awards — Best Film; Best Actor, Ulrich Mühe; and BestScreenwriter, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
      * German Film Awards — Best Film; Best Actor; BestSupporting Actor; Best Director; Best Cinematography; BestProduction Design; and Best Screenplay
    and it made the top half of thirteen "10 Best of 2007" lists by our most noted film critics.
    This film is astonishing in its ability to draw you into the lives of a couple deeply in love, striving to maintain the artistic integrity essential to their being, while an equally committed career officer of the Ministry of Culture sacrifices his personal life to destroy them. If the title of the aforementioned state entity brings to mind thoughts of George Orwell, it is not at all surprising (and the story begins in 1984).
    I assure you that the last thirty minutes of this film will linger long and large in your memory.
    Seeing this testament to freedom and liberty is all too fitting a way to commemorate the holiday which we celebrate the first week of July.
    PS: Within this film is an East German joke. To lighten the mood here are two more:
    What would happen if the desert became a socialist country? Nothing for a while, and then there would be a sand shortage.
    A customer orders a Trabant car. The salesman tells him to pick it up in nine years. The customer asks "Shall I come back in the morning or in the evening? I need to know whether the plumber should come at 3pm or not."

  • Saboteur (1942)
    August 10, 2014
    Saboteur  IMDB
    USA, 1942, 109 min, B&W, PG
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Starring Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter

    After a fire at a Los Angeles aircraft factory, Barry Kane is the number one suspect. Forced to go on the run to clear his name and find the man who is the real saboteur, he travels across the country to New York. Barry finds himself in the company of model Pat Martin who initially wants to turn him in, but slowly believes he is innocent, especially when they discover a fascist group is behind the factory fire and plans additional sabotage. The couple become entangled in a series of difficult situations, including catching a ride with quirky group of circus performers.

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): When I grow up,I want to get the job of writing movie blurbs for Time Warner. Somehow, those people manage to encapsulate the plot of a suspenseful and interesting two-hour espionage thriller in a sensationally minimalist fashion. Just think what they could do with Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur: "Wrong Man chases firebug to New York." That pretty much sums up the action line of the story, although it doesn't nearly capture the style of this still very vital film.
    Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur is an espionage film that can indeed be counted among the director's "Wrong Man" films. Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is wrongly accused of setting fire to a munitions plant, an act of industrial sabotage that kills his best friend. Barry had encountered the saboteur, Fry (Norman Lloyd), before the act by handing the nervous Fry an envelope that he had dropped. Barry somehow notices both the addressee's name and the return address on the envelope (MacGuffin Alert!). Later, Fry hands Barry a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline which causes a huge explosion, incriminating Barry instead of Fry, who flees the scene.
    Afterward, Barry identifies the saboteur to the police. However, when they can't find anyone by that name on the payroll, the police wrongly name the innocent Barry as the prime suspect. In order to clear his name, Barry follows Fry in a mad dash across the country, enlisting the help of Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane), a beautiful Hitchcock Blonde to whom he briefly finds himself handcuffed (Thirty-Nine Steps, anyone?) and with the police doggedly in pursuit. Will Barry catch the saboteur before he can strike again, and can he clear his name at the same time? Eventually, the saboteur and the accused come face to face – atop the Statue of Liberty in a sequence featuring camera work that was completely revolutionary at the time.
    This film was a product of its times. Production on the film started only a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor at a moment in history when both patriotism and paranoia were at an all-time high, much as they were after 9/11. The script was created only a few months before the commencement of the Japanese internment camps and reminds us of why Japanese American citizens were so disgracefully interned on their own soil – because of the all-pervasive fear of the "Fifth Column", a group of people who would act traitorously and subversively out of secret sympathy with the Axis powers, sabotage munitions plants and perform acts of treachery from the inside.
    Resonating with today's fear of sleeper cells and foreign terrorism, perhaps we can see how this underlying fear of the "Fifth Column" would have been understood and shared by the audiences attending screenings of Saboteur. Los Angeles and its war industries would be crippled if the aqueduct system that supplies the water were sabotaged. The war effort would be set back indefinitely if the production of the munitions plants were disturbed. Loose Lips Sink Ships. These messages were repeated in newspapers, on the radio, in propaganda films and books of the time, and are featured prominently in the story-line of Saboteur.
    The most sinister aspect of Saboteur is the fact that the "Fifth Column" as Barry encounters them is peopled with charming, suave, sophisticated and wealthy elites living on both coasts. They hide behind their reputations and their money. They seem to be invincible. The only defense that Barry (and by extension, the rest of us) has against these villains is the good will, common sense, and good-heartedness of the everyday Americans he meets along the way. Saboteur thus celebrates the nobility of the common man, much as a Frank Capra film would, and uses it to build suspense.
    Two interesting items worth noting:
    Dorothy Parker contributed to the script and was said to have written the patriotic speechifying done by Robert Cummings at key points in the drama. Realizing that Dorothy Parker herself was a celebrity and that she might be recognized by members of the audience, Hitchcock considered using her in his cameo but unfortunately gave up on this idea. Wouldn't we have loved that?!? However, he appears unaccompanied approximately one hour into the action. So keep your eyes peeled.
    Secondly, Saboteur marks Norman Lloyd's first work with Alfred Hitchcock, and it spawned a lifelong association. Hitchcock later resuscitated Lloyd's career by featuring him in Spellbound (1945) at a time when Lloyd's reputation was diminished due to the onset of the Hollywood blacklist. Lloyd later produced and directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.