Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Promises to Keep (1988)


Academy Awards, USA 1989

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Ginny Durrin

Durrin Productions
Directed by Ginny Durrin
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Activists break into a Federal building in DC and use it as a shelter for the homeless. Hundreds show up nightly, but the government tries to shut it down. Mitch Snyder, the leader of the activist group, and others begin a months-long fast to demand action from President Reagan. On the eve of the election, Reagan agrees to make renovations to the building, ending the fast. Months and then years pass with no renovations, prompting more protests. Snyder is a huge personality, single-handedly keeping the cause alive against all odds. His eventual victory is a little anticlimactic, with a Hollywood movie crew starring Martin Sheen (who also narrates this film) showing up at the shelter to make the TV movie, Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Killing Ground (1979)


Academy Awards, USA 1980

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Steve Singer
Tom Priestley

ABC News Closeup
Directed by Steve Singer and Tom Priestley
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Investigative news-style program produced by ABC and written by Brit Hume, exposing illegal chemical dumping in New Jersey, Louisiana and most famously, the Love Canal in Niagara, New York. Unfortunately, it resorts to confrontational interviews with representatives of the companies involved, or innocent government workers. It also incorporates subliminal editing techniques. The stories speak for themselves, so none of that was really necessary.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Isaac in America: A Journey with Isaac Bashevis Singer (1986)


Academy Awards, USA 1987

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Kirk Simon
Amram Nowak

Direct Cinema Limited
Directed by Amram Nowak
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A glimpse at the life of Yiddish writer Singer, still alive and kicking at 80 years old in New York City. He visits the same cafeteria which appeared in many of his stories. Later, he visits the neighborhood in Coney Island where he spent his first few years in America as a Polish immigrant. We also see him receiving the Nobel Prize in literature in Stockholm. Singer emerges as intelligent, friendly and with a great sense of humor. Brief, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Card (1952)


Academy Awards, USA 1953

Nominated
Oscar
Best Sound, Recording

General Film Distributors (UK)
Directed by Ronald Neame
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Alec Guinness plays an enterprising young man from a poor background in a fictional British city. He cheats to get into college, blackmails his way into a job as an assistant to a solicitor and eventually finds wealth as a loan shark to poor people who can't pay their rent on time. Naturally, he turns to politics to complete his ascension to power. He manages to find a wife in pretty Petula Clark, after ditching Glynis Johns who only wants his money. Guinness' friendly persona masks a ruthless character who seizes any opportunity to make a profit. This somewhat blunts the social criticism, not to mention leaving a bad taste in one's mouth.

The Long Way Home (1997)


Academy Awards, USA 1998

Won
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Marvin Hier
Richard Trank

Seventh Art Releasing
Directed by Mark Jonathan Harris
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Starting at the end of WWII and the Holocaust, the plight of those survivors in the first few years after the war is chronicled. It turns out the defeat of Hitler was not the end of the misery, as the released prisoners had no home, no families to return to, but instead became refugees shuffled from one country to another. Many, ironically, headed toward Germany and the relative safety of the American Zone, but  their ultimate destination was British controlled Palestine. However, the British wanted nothing to do with them and put up obstacles at every opportunity. The refugees tried to enter the country as illegal immigrants, by the thousands on ships at night. Eventually the problem became so desperate that the British pulled out and left it to the United Nations to untangle. This led to the controversial formation of the state of Israel, with President Harry S. Truman playing a pivotal role. Essential viewing to understand the historical background of Israel, with more than a few parallels to contemporary immigration issues.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Seeing Red (1983)


Academy Awards, USA 1984

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Jim Klein
Julia Reichert

Heartland Productions
Directed by James Klein and Julia Reichert
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Filmmaker Julia Reichert interviews surviving members of the American Communist Party when it was a viable third party in the 1930s and 1940s. Most are still proud of their accomplishments and dedication, with some great stories to go along with those memories. Pete Seeger gives his perspective and sings some songs. A very revealing look at what was then, and still is, an American taboo, laying the groundwork for today's leftist movement, and never more relevant than in the age of Trump.

Operation Thunderbolt (1977)


Academy Awards, USA 1978

Nominated
Oscar
Best Foreign Language Film
Israel

Warner Bros.
Directed by Menahem Golan
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Dramatic reenactment of the hijacking of an Israeli airliner by German and Palestinian terrorists, who force it to land in Uganda where they get help from Idi Amin and his army. Jewish passengers are separated from the others and threatened to be killed unless there demands are met. The Israeli government approves a rescue mission by an elite squad, leading to a final shootout at the airport in Uganda. Klaus Kinski is appropriately over-the-top as the main hijacker, while the actor playing Idi Amin is hilarious.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

To Forget Venice (1979)


Academy Awards, USA 1980

Nominated
Oscar
Best Foreign Language Film
Italy

Cineriz (Italy)
Directed by Franco Brusati
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

An older man and his young male lover travel to the country house of his sister. They mingle with the sister's care taker and farm hand, lesbian lovers, and have a memorable meal at an outdoor restaurant with a wedding party. They plan a day trip to Venice one day, but the sister is struck with a sudden illness and sent to her death bed. These present day events are intermingled with dreamlike remembrances of the past. It lingers a little too much on the naked bodies and sexuality of the various characters, but that is more than made up for by wonderful cinematography and music.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bizalom (1980)


Academy Awards, USA 1981

Nominated
Oscar
Best Foreign Language Film
Hungary

New Yorker Films
Directed by István Szabó
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A woman is given a new identity and sent into hiding as a member of the Nazi resistance in WWII Hungary. Separated from her husband and young daughter, she struggles to adapt to her new living situation posing as the wife of another member of the resistance also in hiding. However, as time passes, and the war creeps into their daily life, they begin a sexual relationship. Neither are particularly guilt ridden, even when she unexpectedly meets her husband for one night, but as the end of the war comes within view must face the reality of their return to their other lives. Well-acted, if talky and a bit claustrophobic, story gives a new slant to "wartime romance".

Khovanschina (1959)


Academy Awards, USA 1962

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
Dmitri Shostakovich

Artkino Pictures
Directed by Vera Stroyeva
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

More or less faithful adaptation of the Mussorgsky opera concerning a revolt against the ruling Tzars in the 17th century. It will take some preparatory study to fully understand the political and historical context, but basically a Russian prince and his Orthodox religious allies rebel against the modern reformations of the rulers of the day. Add some melodramatic and supernatural elements, and have it all end in a fiery mass suicide, and well, you've got a filmed opera, just not exactly riveting cinematic material.