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Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978)

I love the look of this film. Woody Allen's use of compositions, frames his subjects in a way that gives his film the look of a still photograph. In doing this he creates a tapestry of pathos from his characters as he explores their interiors. At other times he uses the spacial emptiness of the interiors that Eve has decorated to show the distances between the members of the family and the isolation they feel.


It's the negative feelings of the family members who Woody explores in a non-in-your-face way. Allen simply shows us their inner conflicts, mostly through well penned dialogue (written by Allen) and by controlled, effective acting by a talented cast. I watched just a small bit of the pre wedding scene without my speakers on and I swear this film could work as a silent movie based on the subtle precision acting of the cast. The film is so richly dense in it's exploration of the character's emotions that a second viewing could prove to be even more rewarding than the first watch. Good nom.



I forgot the opening line.


Herod's Law (La ley de Herodes) - 1999

Directed by Luis Estrada

Written by Luis Estrada, Jaime Sampietro, Fernando León & Vicente Leñero

Starring Damián Alcázar, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Delia Casanova, Juan Carlos Colombo
& Alex Cox

It's nice to watch a film as straightforward as Herod's Law, with it's basic premise being "this is how corruption works" - from innocence to unscrupulousness, step by step. It's a comedy, and it's one I keep on mistakenly thinking of as an analogy, despite the way it directly shows the corruption of a Mexican politician. It's kind of both - told in an analogous and direct manner. It's obviously very satirical, and approaches it's serious subject in a funny kind of way - otherwise it would be possible that the various murders, prostitution, violence and moral repugnance might make the film too dark and foreboding to really enjoy. Our protagonist, Juan Vargas (Damián Alcázar) seems strangely likeable, despite the fact he turns out to be a complete monster by the end of the story that's being told here. This is the kind of film that's telling us that any human being is inevitably turned into a completely corrupt tyrant in an authoritarian regime such as the one Mexico had for most of the 20th Century - the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).

Juan Vargas is the new mayor of San Pedro de los Saguaros, a small Mexican town whose previous mayor was chased down by angry townspeople and beheaded due to his sheer corruptness. Juan, and his wife Leticia Huijara (Leticia Huijara) have dreams of promotion, and clearly want to help the townspeople by governing well. Juan's first problem is the existence of a brothel, which is illegal and at which a dead body has shown up. When Juan tells the owner of the brothel, Doña Lupe (Isela Vega) that she's to shut it down, she counters with a series of attempted bribes, which get larger the more Juan insists on doing things by the book. That's not the only problem - the town itself is broke, and when Juan travels to see his bosses, López (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) and his assistant (played by Juan Carlos Colombo) they have no funds to give him, but do send him on his way with a pistol, and the Mexican Constitution. Lawbreakers will provide the town's funds, in fines. At this time Juan also meets Robert Smith, an American, and the two will try to cheat each other constantly. Once Juan starts fining townspeople, and taking bribes, he soon realises that there is a mountain of money to be made, and the road to corruption and murder begins...

An example of an analogy in this film is the one of people and nations - when Juan meets Robert Smith, the latter obviously represents the United States as a whole, and during their interactions, Juan represents Mexico. Smith wants to overcharge Juan for a simple repair on his car (so simple as to not really even be a "repair"), and in answer to being cheated, Juan politely agrees, but then continually stalls when it comes to actually paying him anything. The two continue on like this, and instead of a situation that could be mutually beneficial, the two get nowhere together. All we get is a continual polite negotiation where the two smile and act like friends, while continuing with their underhanded tactics of trying to gain advantage. While I watched the film I thought that this was a perfect example of international negotiations, and although I don't know a lot about how the United States and Mexico comport themselves when there's dialogue between them, it's safe to assume that polite agreements and constant maneuvering for unfair advantage take place.

One other interesting subject explored in the film is the inevitability of bribes working in illegal enterprises that make large sums of money in a poor country. When the people you're meant to be policing can pay you ten to a hundred times more than you earn doing your job, chances are you'll work for the criminals - especially if you're being driven into poverty by the powers that be. The same goes for preying on the defenseless through unfair legislation and taxation, which is what Juan eventually does in this film. He finds that the gun and the rule book are a combination that can make you rich beyond your wildest imaginings, and at a certain point riches turn an honest man into an insatiable monster. It's no surprise that power corrupts, and yet we keep expecting it not to. When we meet Juan Vargas he seems to be such a nice, simple-minded man that you'd never expect him to do the things he eventually does. It's a step by step process, the first of which is what it feels like to have real money in your hands, and what it feels like for Juan to have control over prostitutes who have to do his bidding. Power changes him completely, for his release from his previous chains is one of ecstacy.

Writer and director Luis Estrada was nominated for and won various awards for Herod's Law, which was an incredibly brave undertaking. Nobody had challenged or criticized the PRI since it's conception in Mexico 70 years previously, and to do so risked a punishment that could only be guessed at. Assassination? Jail? In a corrupt nation, anything is possible. Once they knew what they had on their hands, the Mexican Film Institute, run by the government, tried to hold back it's release and limit the number of theaters it was shown in, but this had the unintended effect of making Mexicans even more curious about it, so in the end the film was left alone and was a success. People in Mexico are well used to living with corruption, but it was refreshing for the truth to be openly acknowledged in film. Damián Alcázar is really energetic in the lead role, and his comedic timing is spot on. Santiago Ojeda's score is light and easy in a 'comedic' style, keeping the tone from becoming too dark. The film as a whole has a dirty and dusty look to it - everything is worn out, filth-encrusted and most of all, poor.

As for the rest, we also have a priest (played by Guillermo Gil) which, in this parable, represents the fondness the church has for extorting as much money as it can from it's parishioners and the government. There are also good men in this town. The doctor/coroner Morales (Eduardo López Rojas) who complains once too often about the corruption endemic to the area, and is sent packing. Then there is Carlos Pek (Salvador Sánchez) who is secretary to Juan Vargas - he speaks the language of the Indian natives, and is therefore their impotent mouthpiece. The native dwellers have been left to their alcoholic escape from their desperate and threadbare existence, dressed in rags and with little to eat. They sleep in the street, and are found either dead or comatose with a bottle when passed by. Pek, the secretary, stands as a confounded, powerless spectator to the drama which plays out. He can do nothing as Juan transforms from hopeful idealist to savage opportunist, and as Juan has the gun and all the power, nobody else can do much about it either.

I enjoyed this little fable which illustrates a kind of natural progression from good to bad under a system that relies on the gun and lawbook to disenfranchise the masses and deliver power and riches to those fortunate enough to hold onto both. Of course, you must remember that many of the mayors San Pedro de los Saguaros has had ended up killed by an angry mob, but you also have to remember that Juan Vargas ends up not with a noose around his neck, but in high office. The last time we see him, he's giving a disingenuous speech in the Mexican Senate, all about the people, with little recognition of how corrupt and poverty-stricken the nation is, and with little regard to his murderous and corrupt reign in the little town he robbed. It's not that Mexico needs better leaders, it's the system itself that is broken, and will always deliver unto itself crooks and thieves because it can only work through theft, greed and armed power. Honest politicians can't work the system, so they can either give up their political career or join the ranks of bribe-takers and criminals. People shouldn't be focused on a change of leaders as much as they should focus on a change of systems - that rings true for many, if not most, nations, and perhaps the best way to do that is little by little, for large scale revolutions often only deliver chaos which can be exploited by sharp-minded crooks and deceivers.

__________________
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Latest Review : Le Circle Rouge (1970)




The Verdict



First saw this about 4 years ago and was a little underwhelmed. I enjoyed it much more this time but still question how good it really is.

I like courtroom dramas and redemption stories, and with this film we get both. I'm just not sure it's that effective as either. Frank does the right thing in trying the case but I do not see him changing as a person. I see him as a lonely alcoholic at the start and at the finish. Actually, a good call to have him keep drinking for the sake of realism. So he does the right thing, but does he really? He turns down a sure settlement that would have changed the lives of his clients, only to win a case that he should not have won, while making a boatload of money for himself in the process. If he doesn't change as a person, what exactly does he get redemption for?

I see nothing special about the courtroom aspect. There were no clever surprises or twists. We get the stereotypical surprise witness, and that's just to testify about a discrepancy that was already mentioned earlier in the film. What we do get is a jury who ignores the law in order to do what is morally right. With that being the case, I would think that the most interesting possible content would come from the jury room. To me it's the story of the film and the case but it's completely glossed over. The love interest's sole purpose in the film is to provide a surprise, typical David Mamet.

Despite my issues, I enjoyed the film from start to finish. Lumet is a master and he got the right cast, dialogue, and look. Always appreciate Boston films although we don't see much here. It is average material that is strongly elevated by the participating parties.

+



I do agree with you that the courtroom scenes aren’t very dynamic, Cricket. I think that’s what keeps the movie from top tier Lumet for me.

I’m not sure I see this as a redemption story though. There’s definitely an aspect of that, I mean at least he gets his practice back on track. I don’t know that we are supposed to see his personal life as being redeemed though. I think that’s why the ending is ambiguous, which I love. Where does he go from here is very much still in question, in my opinion.
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Letterboxd



Maybe Frank did conquer his demons and overcome his alcoholism? I think it's meaningful that during the ending, he doesn't answer Laura's phone call, which is something his old self would have done, and the drink he reaches for is not booze, but coffee.

I agree that what happens in the courtroom is pretty standard stuff, but it's how the movie makes it a function of Frank's road to recovery and to a second chance in life is what makes it great.



The Verdict

I like courtroom dramas and redemption stories, and with this film we get both. I'm just not sure it's that effective as either. Frank does the right thing in trying the case but I do not see him changing as a person. I see him as a lonely alcoholic at the start and at the finish. Actually, a good call to have him keep drinking for the sake of realism. So he does the right thing, but does he really? He turns down a sure settlement that would have changed the lives of his clients, only to win a case that he should not have won, while making a boatload of money for himself in the process. If he doesn't change as a person, what exactly does he get redemption for?

I see nothing special about the courtroom aspect. There were no clever surprises or twists. We get the stereotypical surprise witness, and that's just to testify about a discrepancy that was already mentioned earlier in the film. What we do get is a jury who ignores the law in order to do what is morally right. With that being the case, I would think that the most interesting possible content would come from the jury room. To me it's the story of the film and the case but it's completely glossed over. The love interest's sole purpose in the film is to provide a surprise, typical David Mamet.

Despite my issues, I enjoyed the film from start to finish. Lumet is a master and he got the right cast, dialogue, and look. Always appreciate Boston films although we don't see much here. It is average material that is strongly elevated by the participating parties.

+
I liked the film but I can agree with a lot of what you said.

I think it was a mistake to make Newman's character an innocent man falsely accused of jury tampering. I'd rather the movie said he did tamper with the jury and that's why he's a sleaze ball lawyer chasing ambulances.
As it was the film is like Karate Kid with a reluctant hero going up against the bad guys who did him wrong. Now Karate Kid is a great movie because it knows just what it is and does it perfectly.

I wish at the end of the movie Newman's character had lost the trail because he never had learned his lesson that it's important to do the right thing (take the settlement, helping the plaintiffs.) Because in taking the case to court he was only looking to stroke his ego and once again screwed up and messed everything up.



I liked the film but I can agree with a lot of what you said.

I think it was a mistake to make Newman's character an innocent man falsely accused of jury tampering. I'd rather the movie said he did tamper with the jury and that's why he's a sleaze ball lawyer chasing ambulances.
As it was the film is like Karate Kid with a reluctant hero going up against the bad guys who did him wrong. Now Karate Kid is a great movie because it knows just what it is and does it perfectly.

I wish at the end of the movie Newman's character had lost the trail because he never had learned his lesson that it's important to do the right thing (take the settlement, helping the plaintiffs.) Because in taking the case to court he was only looking to stroke his ego and once again screwed up and messed everything up.
I didn't see any tampering from Frank, but now that you mention it, there was certainly tampering on the other side, which changes my opinion on his decision to try the case. He did get lucky, but he wouldn't have needed to get lucky had his star witness not been bought off, which he couldn't have predicted when he rejected the settlement.



I didn't see any tampering from Frank, but now that you mention it, there was certainly tampering on the other side, which changes my opinion on his decision to try the case. He did get lucky, but he wouldn't have needed to get lucky had his star witness not been bought off, which he couldn't have predicted when he rejected the settlement.
I meant that in the past Frank had done jail time for jury tampering, which later we found out he was innocent of.



I rewatched The Verdict today. I had seen it once several years back and for whatever reason, it didn't make much of an impact at that time. I initially was underwhlemed by the film and thought it was just okay. I'm glad that it was nominated because I appreciated the film much more this time. Paul Newman is great here, in a performance that has substance and believablity. He is convincing without being over the top. The film has a strong cast of talented actors and all are in fine form. The screenplay is well written with some very good speeches and effective moments. Sidney Lumet, who has directed a few of my favourite films, handles the material quite well. I would rank this as Lumet's 4th best film. There were a couple times in the middle when the film lulled a bit and it did feel a touch too long, but that is a relatively minor quibble. Glad I rewatched this.



Days of Heaven



I saw this once about 8-9 years ago and thought well of it, and my opinion has gone up with this viewing. Everyone agrees that it looks great, but many criticize the narrative. I believe I was one of those people. I enjoyed the narrative quite a bit this time around. There's nothing unique or spectacular about it, so I think it's the tone that really draws me in. I was also annoyed by Linda Manz the first time, but I have since become a fan of hers since seeing Out of the Blue. It's too bad she disappeared from acting until the late 90's with a couple of small roles. The last 15 or so minutes were a slight let down. I think I would've preferred a little more subtlety and ambiguity, which I think would have gone better with everything that came previous. A terrific film that I had wanted to see again.




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A Hero



I admittedly find myself a little puzzled why I don't enjoy this as much as the other 4 Farghadi films that I have watched. Like a lot of his films it's dialogue heavy and it could be that I don't find the dialogue as interesting in this as in his other films. It still looks great and the story overall is still really well told. Farghadi films have great screenplays and this isn't an exception to that rule. It's just for some reason there seems to be small pieces missing for me that make it go to that next level for me.




The Duellists -


A bitter rivalry borne from a petty reason that toxifies everything it touches and that serves as a metaphor for a much larger conflict? Is this the Banshees of Inisherin of its day? I'm not sure, but these two movies would still make for a great double feature. Whether it's the presence and strong performances of Keitel and Carradine, the realistic duel scenes, the weight of this story's long and eventful timeline or simply all of the above, the movie succeeds at making you feel the tension of d'Hubert and Feraud's relationship as soon as it starts. Even while they're not together, the specter of their conflict looms over every scene. During the sweet moments between d'Hubert and Adèle, for example, I couldn't help but think, "Feraud is going to ruin this too, isn't he?" Also, even while the movie is winding down, the mere sight of Harvey Keitl gave me a shot of adrenalin. While bathing in this tension, I was also reveling in the painterly beauty found in every frame. I read that Ridley Scott wanted this movie to capture the look and feel of Barry Lyndon and I think it does. All this beauty is not always to the movie's benefit, though, because as it is with pretty much all of Scott's movies, the scenery often chews the actors. In the final shot, for instance, I found myself admiring the landscape first and how well the shot represents Feraud's exile second. Despite this issue, it deserves to be considered a great movie and is on my short list of the most impressive debut features. Oh, and that it has so many that guys like Alun Armstrong, Tom Conti, Pete Postlethwaite and William Morgan Sheppard is icing on the cake.



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Gone Baby Gone



I go back and forth on which Lehane novel was adapted better to the screen. For this to be Ben Afflecks directorial debut, it is quite an achievement. Technically the movie is ultra sound. The movie flows very swiftly and every scene feels to be an important aspect to the overall story. It's super strong cast, led by the stellar performance of Casey Affleck reinsures the films brilliance for me. Lots of great support work too, from Amy Ryan to Morgan Freeman to Ed Harris and Michelle Monaghan. The beginning scene is beautiful too as an overview to the Boston neighborhood. Underrated is the score in the film too. I love ve how we are left thinking about whether the right thing was done in this situation. It's a question that lingers long after the end credits roll, and to me that is what can make a film so powerful. One of my favorites of all time.

+




Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick 1978)

Heaven help me cause you guys won't like this review My second watch and I'm not impressed...Except of course by the cinematography, obviously that's beautiful and handled well.

When we see the serenely peaceful settings of golden wheat in vast open spaces of Texas, it all seems so idealistic that we believe the movie has the same ethereal qualities of the images...But if you take away that cinematography and the score, what do you have left?...I can like a movie light on narrative and I thought The Thin Red Line was all kinds of great. But Days of Heaven really feels like a movie without direction or spirit...other than the aforementioned cinematography.

I do think casting Richard Gere was a mistake and he probably was hired for his star status and ability to sell tickets. He's not much of an actor and what we get is his best attempt to look like a movie star with his blow dried feathered hair and his closeup glamour shots. At least Brooke Adams looked the part from her sweaty hair to her dirty face. I believed she was working all day out in the field. This film would've been improved with Richard Gere and Sam Shepard switching roles. Shepard had the intensity and look to be a streetwise scammer and is a much better actor than Gere to boot. Richard Gere would've been better suited to play the rich dying owner of the farm who's lonely and clueless. I mean who looks more clueless Gere or Shepard?

The film would've been further improved by removing the narration, it didn't add to the film and in fact distracted from the imagery. It's like Mallick didn't trust his vision of a pure pictorial film with it's focus on imagery so he hedged his bets by adding narration by Linda Manz. Now I loved the narration by the girl in Beast of the Southern Wild, that gave much insight into the mind of a little girl raised in a poor section of the bayou and made that film special. But in Days of Heaven Linda Manz's Bronx accent overpowered the scenery and the things she said didn't seem to hold any consistences with the film. And wasn't she from Chicago? So why the Bronx accent that sounded fake to me.

But I'm glad I watched this as I wanted to see it again.