The Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, & Lillian Gish

 

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A poster of the film

[1] Great art transcends time, but The Night of the Hunter has not lost an iota of relevance (or quality).

[2] Whoa. Lighting, framing, performances, all so unsettling…

[3] Robert Mitchum is fantastic, but Lilian Gish steals it for me.

#TCMParty (from recent live-tweeting session)

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Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum)

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them. -Rachel Cooper (in the prologue to the film)

I saw this VERY effective (and a BIT scary, even for adults) film for the first time recently on TCM. It was directed by actor Charles Laughton, who hit it out of the ballpark on his first (and only) try. It was a box office failure, perhaps b/c it seems way ahead of its time (as several critics/viewers have written). 

Spike Lee paid homage to this film, which is one of his faves, in Do The Right Thing; Radio Raheem wears love-hate on his knuckles. 

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Radio Raheem (Do The Right Thing)

[1] Mitchum is tremendous in the title role, his role is larger than life and was also slightly playing with fire in it’s portrayal as a reverend as corrupt or evil. Chapin is really wonderful as young John and has a much better character than some of the others in the cast. Winters is good in her performance.

Lillian Gish is another luminous presence in the film because she projects no-nonsense kindness and sweetness toward the children she takes into her home.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

Later on in life, Mitchum said that Laughton was his favorite director and this was his favorite role. Laughton originally offered the role of Harry Powell to Gary Cooper, who turned it down as being possibly detrimental to his career.

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Harry (Mitchum) talks with Willa (Shelley Winters)

In this parable of good and evil, Harry Powell is the ultimate boogeyman – a relentless, nightmarish force who preys on children and it is even suggested by John that he doesn’t even sleep. …he often casts imposing shadows and is sometimes seen as a lone figure in the fog, almost a mythical force of terror.

-Excerpt from blog post (Plain, Simple Tom Reviews) 

It’s the time of the Great Depression somewhere in the Midwestern U.S. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, Ben Harper (Peter Graves) kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his son, John, and very young daughter, Pearl, not to tell anyone, including their mother, Willa (Shelley Winters), where he hid the money (inside Pearl’s cloth doll). Ben is captured, tried and convicted. Before he is executed, Ben is put in the state penitentiary with a cellmate, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), who calls himself a preacher (and dresses as such). However, he is really a con man and murderer, swindling rich/lonely widows before killing them. Harry does whatever he can to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben, but is unsuccessful. After Ben’s execution, Harry decides that Willa will be his next mark, figuring that someone in the family knows where the money is hidden. Despite vowing not to remarry, Willa ends up being easy prey for Harry’s outward charms. Her gullible older friends/neighbors (The Spoons) help convince her that a husband is a MUST to help raise kids.

 

 

 

 

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Ali & Nino (2016)

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Ali (Adam Bakri) and Nino (Maria Valvarde) share a picnic on a hill.

[1] We get a rare glimpse into an era at the onset of the formation of the Soviet Union. Also, the interaction between two religions, Islam and Christianity, is carefully portrayed and interesting to observe for that time period and location.

[2] The culture of the East was well-depicted… revolution and fight for independence scenes, despite of low budget [$20 million], are well executed- impressive and tragic, as they should be. 

[3] My only concern is that movie is really short- only 1.5 hours. Way too little to show such a complicated time period of Azerbaijani history… You just cannot help but wish for story to slow down and take its time to show more details…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Bakri and Valvarde with director Asif Kapadia.

This little gem of a film is now streaming (Netflix). If you liked The Promise, or are interested in some of its themes, then you will enjoy this (smaller, yet well-done) love story. The director is British Asian (or South Asian, as we say in US) and a recent Oscar winner- Asif Kapadia. Amy premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015; it focuses on the troubled life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. The film was an international box office hit and is the highest grossing UK documentary of all time. 

There is only one word to describe the cinematography and music- AMAZING! The composer is Italian- Dario Marianelli; he worked on some very good films, including: V for Vendetta, Atonement, and Pride and Prejudice (2005 big screen version). The screenplay writer (Christopher Hampton) may also be familiar; he worked on Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Quiet American, Atonement, and A Dangerous Method. Hampton adapted Kurban Said’s book Ali and Nino, which I had come across MANY years ago, BUT haven’t read. (There is a VERY interesting story re: the author of the book, too, if you want to look that up.)

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Ali (Bakri) and Nino (Valvarde) dancing at a ball after a graduation.

The desert doesn’t ask for anything, doesn’t give anything and doesn’t promise anything. -Ali explains why he loves the desert landscape 

The cast here is multi-national and multi-ethnic: Adam Bakri (who is a Palestinian Arab) plays Ali Khan (meaning: ruler) Shirvanshir, the handsome/cultured son of a Muslim nobleman. Maria Valverde (who hails from Spain) is Nino, the petite/wide-eyed princess from a Georgian Orthodox Christian family. Nino’s father is played by American film/stage actor Mandy Patinkin. Ali’s father is Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi; he can be seen in The Kite Runner and The Queen. These veterans lend gravitas to the film, along w/ strong supporting characters (several of whom hail from Turkey, as does the cinematographer).

Ali’s father laments that though his family has been here for hundreds of years and is well-respected, they have no political authority (Russia was in charge). Though Ali and Nino have different religions and backgrounds, they move in the same small circle of upper-class society in Baku, Azerbaijan (an area rich w/ oil). Nino’s family is originally from Tblisi, Georgia; her father is in Baku on business. 

 

La La Land (2016) starring Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

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Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) dance in Griffith Park.

[1] What has been thrown, hurled and heaved at this film is Oscar-seeking acting, Oscar-seeking direction and Oscar-seeking technical twiddling. And hey ho and guess what? It got Oscars.

[2] No legit Broadway-style singing technique. I cannot imagine what real Broadway singers and dancers must be thinking about this travesty.

[3] The big red flag with the story is that the music simply is not very good. There is not one memorable song or dance in the entire film! 

[4] The biggest fault with the movie is the complete lack of supporting actors to flesh out the story. The two main characters are just not strong enough to carry the movie for more than two hours without help. 

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

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Director Damien Chazelle (just 32 years old) and Gosling on the set of Sebastian’s apartment.

I find L.A. kind of romantic, actually. As a movie junkie, it’s a city that was built by the movies. There’s something really weird and surreal about it that I find energizing. -Damien Chazelle, director

Ugh, what to say re: this movie… My mom wanted to watch it (it’s on Fios On Demand) when we were hanging out at my parents’ house last SAT. We got through it… somehow. My dad and I saw it together (pausing here and there), then my mom saw it the next day; none of us liked it (as I’d guessed). “What kind of movie is this!?” Mom commented, confused and disappointed. She wanted to see what the fuss was about this Oscar-winning film, like many of you out there (who didn’t see it in theaters). A FEW of my friends saw it on the big screen; their opinions went from “I hated it” or “It wasn’t that great.” 

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Mia (Stone) talks with one of her roommates in her colorful bedroom.

People love what other people are passionate about. -Mia explains to Sebastian

Um, you CAN be passionate re: something, BUT that doesn’t mean other people will be invested in it- sorry, that’s reality! Speaking of passion, WHERE is the chemistry between Stone and Gosling? Also, where is the interesting dialogue (which is something that makes or breaks a movie for me)? The script could’ve been written by an idealistic, sensitive, above-average 16 y.o. kid! 

How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future. -Keith comments to Sebastian

If Sebastian is SO crazy re: jazz music, then WHY don’t we hear any of it (such as the greats mentioned or something new)? I mean, I’m crazy re: Shakespeare, and those who know me will definitely get an earful! LOL… I think John Legend (who also acts here) worked on ONLY one song. What a waste! 

 

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Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) walk over a bridge.

You could just write your own rules. You know, write something that’s as interesting as you are. -Sebastian says to Mia 

Mia is more interesting than Sebastian; she’s also more likable. She suffers through a variety of demoralizing auditions (like a LOT of aspiring actors), has a nice boyfriend (what was wrong w/ him, anyway?), and is on the verge of quitting L.A. I DO like the fact that she writes her OWN story (trying to be a BIT positive here). Why don’t we get to see some of her play? Well, if you have 2 hrs to waste, check it out for yourself. If you’re a fan of classic musicals, smart/snappy dialogue, and effective acting- don’t bother. 

The Promise (2017) starring Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, & Charlotte Le Bon

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

The brutal and harrowing atrocities depicted are diluted by the affairs of the heart leaving the film unbalanced as it strives to be both an epic war drama and a tragic love story.  

Terry George [the director] has aspirations of “Doctor Zhivago” but the end result is akin to an attempt at turning “Schindler’s List” into a romance film. 

-Joseph Friar (FLIX!)

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Mikael (Oscar Isaac) arrives in Constantinople, Turkey to begin his medical studies.

Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) is a small-town “apothecary” (like a modern-day pharmacist) w/ the dream of becoming a doctor. He becomes engaged to Maral (Angela Sarafyan)- a woman w/ wealth in his community. We see that he’s NOT in love with Maral, BUT he needs her dowry (400 gold coins) to finance med school. As their parents hope, maybe love will come later? 

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Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and Chris (Christian Bale)

Once Mikael begins school in the big city (Constantinople) in 1914, he makes friends w/ Emre (Marwan Kenzari)- a jovial, world-traveling “party boy” who’d rather flirt than study. Emre’s father is a big shot (pasha), who’s NOT amused by his son’s behavior, which includes hanging w/ foreigners. Emre is a Turkish Muslim male who has privilege in this society.

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Ana (Le Bon) and Mikael (Isaac) at Emre’s birthday party.

In his uncle’s house, Mikael meets Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a beautiful dancer-turned-teacher to his cute young nieces. Ana is living w/ Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a famous/hard-drinking American reporter for the AP.  She met him after the sudden death of her musician father in Paris. Ana has a French accent (b/c she grew up mainly in Paris), BUT also a an affinity for her people- the Armenians. While Chris is busy covering the growing tension between the Turks and Armenians, Ana and Mikael begin falling in love. After all, they’re of similar ages, personalities, and have a shared heritage. And also b/c Hollywood MUST put a love story in the middle of (almost) every movie!

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Chris (Bale) takes photos of a nationalistic parade.

Isaac is one of my fave actors; NOT only does he have GREAT hair (hey, it’s true), he has the range to pull-off MANY different types of characters. With Mikael, he creates a wide-eyed, goodhearted, yet (quietly) passionate young man who yearns to know more and contribute to his corner of the world. Bale does a good job- he’s the privileged American (outsider) who is a witness to history. He sends the story out to the wider world. It was a nice surprise to see some strong (veteran) actors in the cast: Shohreh Agdashloo, James Cromwell, and Jean Reno. 

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Ana (Le Bon) and Chris (Bale) share a quiet moment.

The Promise looks and feels like a big budget film; there is some gorgeous cinematography.  There are moments of intense sadness and acts of bravery (incl. by characters who DO NOT use guns), which take the film to the epic scale. I recommend the film, BUT it wasn’t as GREAT as I’d expected. Yes, it was emotional, BUT I wanted more backstory (history/politics) and characterization.

 

Into the Badlands (AMC): Season 2, Episodes 5 & 6

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS. A new episode will be airing Sunday, April 30th (10PM EST) on AMC.

Episode 5: Monkey Leaps Through Mist

Jade (teary-eyed, yet determined) becomes Baron in a ceremony which shows us more of the world of the show. Later, Lydia arrives to see the body of her dead son; she wants to get revenge for his death (just as Jade does). 

***

Quinn is being haunted by the ghost of Ryder; this reminded me of the Macbeth and Banquo dinner party scene in Macbeth. Veil is interrogated by a Clipper for killing the guy that was guarding her and Henry.  Her words are NOT convincing though. Later, Quinn threatens the life of her baby (holding small dagger to his throat), so Veil takes extreme measures. She tells him that they can be a family (which is what Quinn wants in his crazed brain) and kisses him!  Luckily, she escapes the underground training camp (West Avalon) in the confusion after the explosion at the end of the ep.

***

Sunny and Bajie are staying at this camp, after impressing its leader, Nos (Marc Rissmann), by showing him the famous sword of Nathaniel Moon. Sunny and Bajie get to eat, wash up, and rest for a while. Nos is NOT a very nice guy, esp. when it comes to his Dolls. Sunny is surprised to see a girl living there w/ her mother- one of the Dolls. (This girl looks like maybe what Veil could’ve looked like when she was younger- tan skin, black curly hair, watchful eyes). 

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Sunny (Daniel Wu) ready to fight some of the thugs in Nos’ camp.

After seeing Sunny fight, a Doll, Portia (Farzana Dua Elahe- co-starrted in A Hundred Foot Journey), asks Sunny for help. Her young daughter (Emilia) will soon be put to the same type of work, unless she gets her out. She begs Sunny to Kill Nos- she will pay. Sunny refuses, saying that he doesn’t kill for money anymore. 

Episode 6: Leopard Stalks in Snow

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Sunny (Daniel Wu) and M.K. (Aramis Knight) are reunited in Season 2, Episode 6.

I think the MOST crucial moments of this ep are:

  • The (VERY weird) kiss/reunion of Quinn and Lydia- she didn’t stay angry for long!
  • The kiss between Tilda and Odessa (the former Doll rescued by The Widow); NOT sure if Odessa is 100% loyal to this cause (from what she says). 
  • M.K. NOT having his dark powers anymore (or are they under HIS control now)? Later, M.K. and Sunny are reunited in the Christmas-themed park.
  • The Widow turning against Veil- she’s now allied w/ Quinn (against the counsel of Waldo, who was Quinn’s Regent for MANY years).
  • Sunny being knocked out at the end of the ep by one of the Abbotts- the cliffhanger!