Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Insider (1999)

Academy Awards, USA 2000

Best Picture
Michael Mann
Pieter Jan Brugge
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Russell Crowe
Best Director
Michael Mann
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Eric Roth
Michael Mann
Best Cinematography
Dante Spinotti
Best Film Editing
William Goldenberg
Paul Rubell
David Rosenbloom
Best Sound
Andy Nelson
Doug Hemphill
Lee Orloff

Spyglass Entertainment
Directed by Michael Mann
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Touchstone)

Scientist Russell Crowe struggles to reconcile his conscious with his job for big tobacco. After being fired, he is approached by TV producer Al Pacino to expose the multi-billion industry as nothing more than drug dealers for nicotine. Crowe's family is threatened and his reputation smeared, while Pacino fights the corporation in control of his TV show to get the interview aired. What should have been an intriguing story is instead an overbaked drama, with shaky camerawork and intrusive soundtrack. Alan Pakula's All the President's Men in 1976 explored similar territory with much better results.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Secrets of the Heart (1997)


Academy Awards, USA 1998

Best Foreign Language Film

Alta Films (Spain)
Directed by Montxo Armendáriz
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(DVD, New Yorker)

Two young brothers living with an aunt visit their estranged mother in the city.  In a closed room they are forbidden to enter is a blood-stained chair where their father committed suicide. An "uncle" visits mom in the middle of the night. Their grandfather sits mostly silently but occasionally speaks up to make insightful comments. Mostly, though, the youngest boy is concerned with finding out what "humping" means, much to the delight of his older brother who torments him about it. There is a gratuitous dog sex scene. An episodic film obsessed with the more puerile aspects of childhood.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Harold and Maude (1971)

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Hal Ashby
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4

Bored with his privileged life and doted upon by his mother, teenager Bud Cort desperately seeks attention by faking suicides. The grisly displays fail to get her attention. He spends his spare time attending funerals of strangers, where he meets free-spirited Ruth Gordon. Despite their age differences, she is nearly 80, their friendship blossoms as she teaches him how to appreciate life in her inimitable way. Meanwhile, his mom tries to set him up with a series of girls, which he sabotages with more morbid acts. Unique and disarming black comedy set to the music of Cat Stevens, but ultimately conveys a life-affirming message.

Boardwalk (1979)

Atlantic Releasing Corporation
Directed by Stephen Verona
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, MVD Visual)

An elderly Jewish couple deals with the decline of their New Jersey neighborhood and a series of attacks perpetrated by a roving gang of teenagers. The family business is firebombed, their synagogue and house are ransacked and a neighbor's wife is attacked. When his wife becomes ill, he decides to take matters into his own hands when attacked while walking along the boardwalk. Dated by some bad 70s music and a plot that contains occasionally over-the-top audience manipulation, it nonetheless features good performances from Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon as the harassed couple who refuse to leave their lifetime home.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938)

Academy Awards, USA 1939

Best Art Direction
Lyle R. Wheeler

United Artists
Directed by Norman Taurog
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Echo Bridge)

Episodic story of young Sawyer in rural Missouri, who likes to skip school to go fishing with his friend Huck, or pursue pretty Becky Thatcher, the new girl in town. One dark night Tom and Huck witness a murder in a cemetery. When the wrong man is brought to trial, they risk everything to expose the real killer, leading to a showdown in a nearby cave. Slapstick comedy and non-stop action make this feel more like a serial, but it's perfect for a Saturday matinee, in brilliant Technicolor.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Metro Manila (2013)

Oscilloscope Pictures
Directed by Sean Ellis
My rating: 3 stars out of 4

A poor farming family moves to the big city of Manila in search of a better life. Instead, they are taken advantage of by everyone they meet. Eventually the husband gets a job as an armored car driver while his wife works in a demeaning girlie bar. He gets dragged into a plot to rob the company by his corrupt boss, leading to tragedy. An exceptional drama of a deeply conflicted man who struggles to reconcile a morality rooted in his religious beliefs with the need to take care of his family. There is an almost overwhelming sense of despair, but ultimately release in an ending that finds hope amidst the bleakness.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Academy Awards, USA 2006

Best Achievement in Directing
Ang Lee
Ang Lee became the first Asian to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Larry McMurtry
Diana Ossana
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Gustavo Santaolalla
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Diana Ossana
James Schamus
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Heath Ledger
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Jake Gyllenhaal
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Michelle Williams
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Rodrigo Prieto

Focus Features
Directed by Ang Lee
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Focus Features)

Two cowboys fall in love while tending sheep in the mountains one winter. They go on to have conventional marriages and families, but meet occasionally in the same mountain location to carry on their relationship. Unable to constrain themselves, their affair causes great pain to the other people in their life. A long, drawn-out melodrama with the novelty of a gay relationship at its core (for a mainstream movie), but melodrama nonetheless. Heath Ledger mumbles his way through the role as the masculine cowboy while Jake Gyllenhaal cries a lot as the sensitive cowboy.