Wednesday, August 6, 2008
A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957, bw) 5* (top rating) This is an overlooked masterpiece, simply jaw-dropping. It's about the misuse of television to influence the masses, to buy cheesy products, to vote for cheesy politicians, even to think the way of the charismatic "everyman" star, terrifically played by Andy Griffith in a rare dramatic performance. Patricia Neal turns in perhaps her best performance, and there's a young Walter Matthau (excellent), and a very young Lee Remick (eye-popping candy as a baton twirling teen). This film was way ahead of its time, and Kazan was unfairly shunned by Oscar and critics alike after the HUAC hearings. To Live (Zhang Yimou, China, 1994) 4.5* This is yet another undeniably classic Yimou epic, winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1995, and Best Actor for Ge You (he's awesome). This film spans about 40 years in the life of one family, from before the Maoist revolution up to the 80's. Gong Li is also superb as You's wife (her best performance to me), and all the supporting cast is perfect. This is filled with unforgettable scenes, some with thousands of extras. An American film this good would have won 6-8 Oscars. Goodnight Mister Tom (Jack Gold, Masterpiece Theater, 1999) 5* This television film is John Thaw's (Insp. Morse) finest achievement, a true work of art. One of the biggest hearted films I've seen, you'll shed tears of joy. A truly inspired work, it's a disarmingly simple story of an elderly village resident (a widower) being forced to take charge of a London child evacuee during WW2. One of the highest rated films at Netflix from viewers (4.2, anything above 4 is extremely rare). From the novel by Michelle Magorian, this is truly a film that everyone should see, a rare gift to mankind. Touching the Void (Kevin MacDonald, British, 2003) 3.5* Winner of a British academy award for Best British Film, a re-enacted pseudo-documentary of a mountaineering accident. Gripping and tense, hard to watch, and a nearly unbelievable story. The first half moves better than the last, my only criticism. Gorgeous Peruvian Andes scenery; not for the weak-hearted. Forbidden Games (Rene Clement, France, 1954, BW) 3.5* This anti-war film has an amazing performance by 5-8 yr old Brigitte Fossey (it began with a short film, was later expanded into full-length after Jacques Tati convinced Clement it was worthy). There are some disturbing images in the beginning, then the film settles into a pastoral story about childhood innocence in a rural setting. Not really the masterpiece some claim, but still worth watching. The excellent Criterion dvd includes alternate beginning/endings, as well as interviews with Clement, and two with Brigitte Fossey, one recent, one as a teenager, and she's beautiful at any age.