August: Osage County, a 21st C. Bernarda Alba

August: Osage County British poster

I recently wrote about Federico García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba (you can read about it here). But since I had not written about film, or Film Club since March, here is an update.

This month for Film Club, we chose to do a deep dive on Meryl Streep. This is the first time we try this format as we normally pick a theme or genre, but it worked out well, I think. We saw (in chronological order) Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Julie and Julia, and August: Osage County.

Warning, only minor spoilers. In August, Streep plays Violet, a recently widowed, pill popping matriarch and mother of three women (played by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis who all do phenomenal jobs!). When the family arrive for the father’s funeral the drama unfolds, just like it does in Bernarda Alba… the hidden truths come out, old stories float up to the surface, rivalries are woken, and so on.

Just like with Bernarda, the action takes place mostly in the house, and in Summer. Both these factors add to the tension in both works. August deals with a larger cast which does an amazing job, but the brunt of the work falls on Streep and Roberts; to see both these heavyweights in the same frame is powerful and dramatic.

Of course one has to keep in mind that these works are almost a century apart, but the human drama, emotions, and feelings are the same.

The film is Tracy Lett’s adaptation of her own play and is intense, well crafted, and poetic.

If you want to see outstanding performances, specially from Streep and Roberts, this film is highly, highly recommended.

With my niece pre-show

Happy birthday Film Club!

The (mostly) honorable members of Film Club

Time flies when you are having fun! Our first year of Film Club has indeed flown by.

I have mentioned Film Club before (here), and it obviously merits a birthday post.

The club was started by one of my old students who then recruited three other guys: a genius film savant in Australia, another old student and exquisitely insightful film critic, and myself. The main component I bring to the table is my old age, which brings a lot of these films to life for these guys. Keep in mind that this is a totally amateur club, so while the guys are brilliant, none of us has formal training other than maybe a college course in film. So our approach is fairly naïf, even when we might do some homework researching the films we have seen.

The mechanics of the Club are fairly straightforward: we decide on a theme or genre for the month, the films are uploaded to our Discord platform and then we have an Internet meeting and talk about the films.

We have watched a total of forty-eight films, some have blown my mind like The Proposition and La Grande Bellezza which both merited their own blog posts. Many I have already seen, but I do not mind re-visiting. Some have been hilarious like The Castle, and some I frankly did not care for like Mr. Nobody, or Upstream Color, and that is ok, there is something wrong if you like every film you watch.

Here is the list. What do you think of these films? What themes of genres do you recommend we watch? Let me know your thoughts below!

Non-Linear Narratives

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. Mr. Nobody (2009)
  4. Biutiful (2010)
  5. Enemy (2013)

Light & Color

  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  • Volver (2006)
  • Midsommar (2019)

Film Noir

  1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  2. Chinatown (1974)
  3. LA Confidential (1997)
  4. Nightcrawler (2014)

Western

  1. Fort Apache (1948)
  2. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  3. The Proposition (2005)
  4. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The city as protagonist

  1. Wings of Desire (1987)
  2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  3. City of God (2002)
  4. La Grande Bellezza (2013)

Scandinavian +

  • Tangerines (2013)
  • The Square (2017)
  • Another Round (2020)

Family

  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • Belle Époque (1992)
  • The Squid and the Whale (2005)
  • Farewell Amor (2020)

Horror

  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Under the Shadow (2016)
  • Get Out (2017)

Light-Hearted

  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
  • Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  • The Castle (1997)
  • The Dinner Game (1998)

Christmas Time

  • Day of the Beast (1995)
  • Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
  • In Bruges (2008)
  • Carol (2015)

Sound Design

  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Upstream Color (2013)
  • Sound of Metal (2021)

Is there a film canon?

  • Duck Soup (1933)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • 8 1/2 (1963)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)

À propos, next month we are going to explore war in film…

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) 2013

La Grande Belleza

Thanks to Film Club, I am seeing many more films now than I have in years . Having said that, I really do not want to make antonioyrocinante into a film blog, there are enough of those already.

But I just saw La Grande Bellezza, (yes it is a 2013 film, I am a bit slow) and I have to tell you about it – beware, there might be spoilers.

This is an exquisite film, as beautiful as Rome, the city where it is filmed: exuberant, colorful, rich, fun… but there is a gaping void in it, a melancholy, sad void represented by protagonist Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella.

You see, all the beauty in the world is sterile, meaningless without love, without a deep spiritual connection. Director Sorrentino is not subtle about this: The film opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night

Traveling is very useful: it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.

To drive home that point, the opening scene combines ethereal views of Rome combined with David Lang’s otherworldly song I lie. The fact that the song is in Yiddish should lead you to the great spiritual journeys of Israel, of Job. Life is nothing if not a spiritual journey to yourself, to the divine in you, to your Grande Belleza, Namaste.

Let’s stop there. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or go see the film and then let me know.

The Proposition

I’ve been in Film Club for a few months and I love it! I have re-visited some oldies, seen some interesting new (for me) films, and a couple of films I did not particularly care for. But last month I saw a film I must write about.

The theme for June was Westerns: Fort Apache (1948), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Proposition (2005), and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Ignorant of me, I did not know there was such a genre as Australian Westerns like The Proposition. As the opening credits ran and I saw it was written by Nick Cave, I mentioned it to my dear friend Theo who knows Cave and his work well. His comment: “It’s a grim tale.”

Grim indeed, but at the same time deeply mesmerizing. The photography is married to the soundtrack in a way I have not noticed in most films. Another of the Film Club member’s opinion was “hypnotic”. Yes, there was one scene I could not bare watch, but the overall work is masterful, intelligent, and beautiful despite the violence.

Without spoilers, the plot weaves family, colonization and the Aborigines, morality (the key element I found in the films I saw) and the concept of justice.

The brilliant cast includes Guy Pierce, John Hurt with a stellar performance (and the only hilarious stingers of the film) and a spiritual death, and a perfectly cast Emily Watson who knocks it out of the park as an English rose.

So, if you have not seen this jewel and do not mind some (ok, a lot of) violence, make this movie the next one you see. You are welcome.

Arthur Burns: Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

Film news (revisiting Iñárritu and Tarantino, and discovering Penn)

PC: The Top 100 Project

PC: The Top 100 Project

After many years of not watching any films, I am slowly catching up on my film viewing. This Christmas break was particularly fruitful in that respect.

When I thought of writing about my recent film experiences, I realized I have actually used this blog for a total of seven posts about the seventh art (my readers love my humor). Antonioyrocinante started in 2011 but my first film post is not until 2015 (which proves my film viewing drought). If you are so inclined, you are welcome to look up my posts on:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by brilliant ex-Monty Python Terry Gilliam

Almodovar

Wes Anderson’s Castello Cavalcanti (technically an ad for Prada)

Jojo Rabbit, a satire on Nazis

Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley

Casablanca

Wes (Anderson) and Woody (Allen)

My recent “discoveries” have been from some of my favorite auteurs and a new one!

I have been a fan of Alejandro Iñárritu since his 2000 Amores Perros and have not missed any of his films: 21 Grams, Babel, Rudo y Cursi, Biutiful, Birdman and The Revenant.

On the Tarantino front I am lagging a bit, not having seen his last two works The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). I did, however, recently view Inglourious Basterds and loved it! What I enjoy about Tarantino is the almost comic book graphic aspect. While Almodovar plays with color to imbue his films with texture and depth, Tarantino uses them to contrast the scene, which tend to be very dramatically framed – like they would be in a comic book. Other films like The 300, Sin City or some of the super hero genre use this comic book approach, but in these cases it is very much a literal use of comic book visuals.

From a narrative perspective Iñárritu tends to use overlapping and intersecting stories, whereas Tarantino bets for a more twisty turny story. Either way, the viewer is in for a roller coaster ride!

One key element all of these directors share – and I did mention it before on my Woody Allen post- is their abilities to squeeze the maximum out of their actors. For example: Tarantino with DiCaprio or Brad Pitt in Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, and Iñárritu with Michael Keaton or Javier Bardem in Birdman and Biutiful.

My recent discovery (although the movie dates back to 2007, sorry) has been Sean Penn as a director. It is not unusual for intelligent, restless actors to get behind the camera, and Penn is no exception. Into the Wild is a straightforward enough story with a proper beginning, middle and ending, but Penn does a great job of telling that story, creating suspense and emotion. Although I have not read Jon Krakauer’s book, Penn does a fine job of telling this story.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

The_Man_Who_Killed_Don_Quixote_poster

One good thing about the Covid-19 lock down is being able to catch up on things you were meaning to do. I will not come up with Differential Calculus like Newton did during the Black Death plague of 1665, but not because I am horrible at math, but because Newton already invented Differential Calculus!

At any rate, I had been wanting to write about a film I saw last year at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the artsy film theater in Madrid, and I finally found the ticket stub to remind me. If you consider that the film took 29 years to make, a year to write about it is not so bad!

The film is The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Terry Gilliam. If the name sounds familiar it is because he used to be in Monty Python, remember them? At any rate, the film started filming in 1999, but the lead had a herniated disk on his first day of filming, then the set flooded… So, Gilliam had to duke it out with the insurance, then try to find new financing, then casting, etc. It finally premiered in 2018.

The film is not an adaptation of Don Quixote, it takes the characters and the story and riffs on them to create a brilliant Byzantine, Postmodern, surreal, Baroque work, drenched in Chiaroscuro.

But the plot is not the only asset of the film, the shifting narratives and narrators are accompanied at all times by a great cast led by Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, and a numerous international cast and crew. The set and locations are straight out of the novel, there is no denying you are in La Mancha, and you can feel it, and smell it, and taste it.

I do recommend the film, with the caveat that it is not for everyone. If you are looking for a logical, linear story, this is not for you, otherwise: enjoy!

Castello Cavalcanti

 

Surfing the Interweb as one does during these times of Covid, I found this 7 minute jewel from Wes Anderson. As some of my followers know, I am a big fan of Anderson. His films have a great story, which is beautifully told. In this case the premise of the story is simple enough to be told in 7 minutes, so the key is the how it is told, and Anderson is a master in this technique… (click here to see my other Wes Anderson review)

Ah, but the film is a 2013 advert for Italian fashion house Prada, I can hear the purists mumble. Ok, sure, but that does not detract an ounce from the quality of the film. In fact you have to pay attention to even notice the ad part of the film.

Jason Schwartzman is the leading (only) actor, but the setting, the references, the music, the secondary actors, etc. are rich, very rich, so if you are a film buff, pay attention.

So there you have it, a 7 minute bagatelle from one of our best living auteurs. You are welcome.

I could strangle that little twerp by the way. My mechanic, he’s actually my brother in law Gus. Screwed the steering wheel in backwards! Where am I?

Jojo Rabbit

As I write this the planet is in lockdown due to the Coronavirus – Covid 19 pandemic. So, since I am stuck at home, how about some blogging?

One good thing about being back in a big city like Madrid is the ease of going to the cinema. One can walk or easily take public transport to the many movie theaters. Recently (pre-pandemic obvs) I went to see JoJo Rabbit.

Spain has an outstanding film dubbing industry. All movies are very well dubbed. Fortunately, there is always the option of seeing non-Spanish language films in the original language with subtitles, these are called Versión Original. Whenever possible I go to the cinemas that only show VO films.

Without any spoilers, JoJo Rabbit is a film about Third Reich Germany as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who happens to have a very special secret friend: Adolf Hitler. This film does not fit into any category, it feels like an indie, it is a comedy, a drama, a coming of age, a war movie, etc. Labels do not do this film justice. To give you an idea of the eccentricity of the film, it ends with Bowie’s “Heroes” juxtaposed with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (The Book of Hours (I, 59):

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

I’m sure that some might read “Third Reich”, “Adolf Hitler”, “comedy” and automatically call the PC Patrol, just like they did with Borat. But you might miss the point that humor is an excellent tool to open eyes and hearts.

A couple of technical bits about the film: the only “star” is JoJo’s mom, Rosie, Scarlett Johansson. The film is directed by Kiwi Taika Waititi, who was inspired by Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies which his mom recommended. By the way, Waititi does the role of Hitler -as seen through a ten-year-old boy, and it is hilarious!

As my followers know, I am a big fan of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, and this film has a bit of both, it is colorful, insightful, and funny.

I could go on and on, but here is the trailer and now go out and see the film. You can thank me in the comments section!!

‘Love is the strongest thing in the world.’ – Rosie

Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley

Years ago, while getting my PhD, I promised I would upload my writings for my courses. Well, I did not fully keep my promise… But I am going to fix it, little by little.

You see, I recently came across an unpublished article I wrote about one of my favorite films: Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley. It is a disgusting film and I love it.

Torrente poster

As my habitual readers will know, my writings were not peer-reviewed, so they are fairly raw and rough. But do let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

So there you have it, I hope you enjoy the article!

Click here: Torrente a XX Century Quixote

Oh, and here is the trailer (for the full 5 film package – although the article is only about the first film)

 

 

 

 

“Here’s looking at you, kid” Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Casablanca

 

My first film review was in high school in London in the early 80s for Casablanca. It is my favorite movie because it has all the ingredients I love in the perfect quantities: simple but effective plot, suspense, love, even humor, great cast – Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre… great music, great script, it is full of memorable quotes and one liners. It is all around awesome.

As some of you know I do not own a TV, but I do like my movies, so I have a big screen and projector set up with surround sound. You see, I am an old fashioned old man and I still watch DVDs.  I love watching movies, although I don’t get to see as many as I would like.

It took me over a year of watching Craig’s List like a hawk until I found a decent digital projector that fit my meager teacher salary. In fact it was my last long excursion on Rocinante before the accident. I rode to Venice (Florida) to pick it up. It so happened that my acquisition of a projector coincided with the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, so I celebrated it by watching it a couple of times!

In case you have not seen it yet, go see it.

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”

“…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”

“...I was misinformed.”