Monday, February 18, 2013
The Thin Blue Line – This Errol Morris doc had been on my want-to-watch list for a long time. It explores the case of Randall Dale Adams, who spent over 10 years in prison for the murder of a police officer in 1976. The film explores the crime, and the subsequent investigation, and also spends a lot of time with David Harris, who was a friend of Adams, and should have been the logical prime suspect. TBL exposes the injustice that led to Adams’ being convicted, and the real killer actually helping the authorities put him away. Incredibly, Harris basically confesses to the crime in the movie, and this was instrumental in getting Adams released. Recommended, despite a couple of quibbles, like how the film doesn’t really explore what Adams role really WAS in the murder, because he was certainly in the car when it occurred.
The Prisoner of Shark Island – The story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who mended the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, and went to jail as a conspirator. This John Ford treatment from 1936 was unknown to me, and it was a nice surprise. Warner Baxter stars as Mudd, and is presented as an innocent Good Samaritan (Which may or may not have been the case) brutalized by a sadistic prison guard played by the great John Carradine. The turning point comes when the prison is struck by an outbreak of Yellow Fever, and the convict doctor gets pressed into duty to save lives. This part of the film, which I assumed was simply Hollywood embellishment, is actually true. Beautifully shot by Bert Glennon, who worked as cinematographer on several of Ford's films, including Stagecoach and Rio Grande.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
A Serious Man – This is why I love the Coen brothers. This 2009 follow-up to No Country For Old Men is not commercial. In fact it is soooo dark and difficult, that it was an absolute lock to make no money in theatres, and you gotta love someone who does that. This film follows a soft-spoken Jewish Physics professor whom God has decided to drop the hammer on, presumably due to an ancient curse that the film references in a prologue. Everything is falling apart here – His wife is leaving him, he is getting blackmailed by a student, and his neighbor is trying to steal part of his lawn. Hell, He’s even getting harrased by the Columbia House record club! Despite its darkness, I admired the way the Coens let the story play out. I kept waiting for the hero to break out, like Michael Douglas did in Falling Down, but no, the film doesn’t give the viewer that release. If anything, it saves its real bile for the end. Bleak and depressing, but recommended.
Cleo from 5 to 7 – Agnes Varda film from 1962 started out disappointing me, but eventually won me over. It follows a singer (Corrine Marchand) in real time as she awaits the results of a test for cancer. I wasn’t engaged by the story until a scene where she rehearses a bleak song, and breaks down over the lyrics. This is a quiet, observant movie, and one has to meet it halfway in its portrayal of this young woman who believes she is doomed. The turning point comes when she meets a young soldier in a park , and an obvious spark occurs. Now, instead of despair, there is the thought that she believes she has been saved. The films conclusion doesn’t take either of the easy ways out. Instead, it at the same time sad and hopeful. An added note: The photography of the streets of Paris is first-rate. Recommended.