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Gangster Story (1959)
Not even a B movie
I recently saw this on TCM. I tuned in after it started so I had no idea what it was. I thought it was one of those corny educational films they used to show in classrooms in the 1950's that occasionally show up in TCM for the laugh value. That is, until I heard what sounded like Walter Matthau's voice and sure enough it was him so it must actually be a theatrical release. Matthau plays Jack Martin a hood rising up on to the FBI's most wanted list. Despite all the references to the FBI in this so-called film you only see the Anaheim police as the only guys doing any crime fighting here. Martin is hiding out in rural southern California and goes to work for local mob boss Earl Dawson (Bruce McFarlane) and his number two henchman Adolph (Garry Walberg) and somehow convince pretty bi-speckled librarian Carol Logan (Matthau's real-life wife Carol Grace) to become his girlfriend. This movie is so bad it doesn't even deserve to a B movie or even a C movie. This is like a high school class film project. It's Matthau's only turn as a director and as such he no idea what he's doing. I don't know how this project was ever green-lighted. After appearing as a guest star in 20 different TV series and nine films up until this time, including a couple of well known movies, I have no idea why he would diminish his talents and rising reputation as an actor to be in this 1959 flop.This is like watching a car wreck. I would give this 2.5 out of 10. That's generous just out of curiosity sake.
Simon och ekarna (2011)
Like An Oak, The Film Is Strong
I saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where the film's director Lisa Ohlin was on hand at my screening for an audience Q&A following the film. Adapted for the screen by Marnie Blok from the popular novel by Marianne Fredriksson, it is the story of Simon Larsson,(played as a boy by Jonatan S. Wächter and as a young man by Bill Skarsgård) who is being raised by an aunt and uncle (Helen Sjöholm as Karin Larsson and Stefan Gödicke as Erik Larsson) who he thinks are his real parents. It takes place in Sweden and begins in 1939 at the outbreak of WWII in Europe. Young Simon goes off to a prestigious school where he befriends Isak Lentov (played as a boy by Karl Martin Eriksson and as a young man by Karl Linnertorp). Isak is Jewish and antisemitism has spilled over into Sweden so he is somewhat of an outcast at school except for his new friend Simon. Simon is from a rural working class background and Isak is the city bred son of a wealthy bookseller and their lives are woven together through WWII and beyond in this tender drama as Simon confronts family and society in a search for who he is. An excellent performance as the loving mother by the popular Swedish singer Sjöholm who is making her first screen role since 2004's "As It Is In Heaven" in which she gave another great performance in a supporting role. I don't know what took her so long to return to the screen but she should have been making more movies. Gödicke is very good too as the tough love father. Excellent production and art design by Anders Engelbrecht and Lena Selander. The film is also looks good thanks to cinematographer Dan Lausten and costumer Katja Watkins. Annette Focks scores some beautiful music and Jason Luke give the film great sound. A great supporting cast with many interesting characters. I would give this an 9.0 out of 10 and recommend it.
The Wrecking Crew! (2008)
You'll Have A Good Time
I saw this at a special screening last year in Palm Springs. Director Denny Tedesco was on hand for an audience Q&A following the film with Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. Also on hand at the screening were Wrecking Crew guitarist Bill Pitman and movie mogul Jerry Weintraub. This film was conceived by director Tedesco as a 30 minute documentary featuring four of the members of LA's legendary studio musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew." Dozens of key musicians made up the crew during the decade of the 1960's as they provided the music for almost all the legendary recordings coming out of the Los Angeles recording studios during that wonderful era of music history. Tedesco arranged a round table discussion of their remembrances of that time with his father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and fellow recording sidemen and women Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson and Hal Blaine. One thing leads to another and Tedesco found so much material was being covered that he needed to expand further and include more interviews with other musicians. This led to more archival interviews to supplement that, more music to add to the soundtrack and archival footage on film and from stills. This turned into a delightfully entertaining and thoroughly informative documentary that is a must see for anyone weather they lived in that decade or not because the songs live on are the part of the soundtrack of America itself. Look for interviews by Herb Alpert, Dick Clark, Cher, Glen Campbell, Frank Zappa, Nancy Sinatra, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Jimmy Webb, Bones Howe, Snuff Garett, Larry Knechtel, Lew McCreary, Larry Levine, Don Randi, Bill Pitman, Joe Osborne, Julius Wechter, H.B. Barnum, Lou Adler, Al Casey, Brian Wilson, Earl Palmer and many more. A monumental soundtrack featuring over 100 1960's classics. Micki Stern had the difficult but enjoyable task of Music Supervisor for the film and Bob Branow was the sound re-recording mixer. Denny Tedesco directs with cinematography by Trish Govoni, Rodney Taylor and Vincent E. Toto. Claire Scanlon does a masterful job of editing all this material. Just a wonderful film and a must see. As a documentary I would give this a 10 out of 10 and highly recommend it. You'll have a good time.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
Would Make A Good Pilot For A TV Series
I saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. An LA journalist and his girlfriend Peter (Christopher Denham) as Peter and Nicole Vicius as Lorna go underground to investigate a cult led by a woman who claims she's from the future. Brit Marling stars as Maggie, the mysterious cult leader with Richard Wharton as Klaus, her dedicated right hand man who brings the members and potential members of the the small group of followers to Maggie's home where she conducts meetings in her basement. Zal Batmanglij directs and co-wrote the script with Marling. Nice music from Rostam Batmanglij with a good-looking production value thanks to cinematographer Rachel Morrison and production designer Scott Enge. This was originally conceived as a 10 part webisode which is why the annoying and unexplainable numbers from one to ten keep popping up every few minutes. Fox Searchlight bought this and turned it into a theatrical release where it debuted as a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival last year. This comes across as more like a TV pilot for some Sci-Fi channel series than a movie. Even if a sequel to it were made as a film, it would spend the entire film just trying to explain and fill in the many unanswered story line subplots and backgrounds. Just too many loose ends here to a semi-interesting story that takes you nowhere. Would probably make a good TV series but this as a film fall flat. I would give this a 6.0 out of 10.
Få meg på, for faen (2011)
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This is a low budget, quirky, coming-of-age Norwegian comedy from a writer/director (Jannicke Systad Jabobsen), known for making shorts and documentaries, who is making her feature film debut using mostly untrained actors and the results are hilarious and charming. Alma (Helen Bergsholm) is a 15 year old living in a small rural Norwegian town called "Skaddeheimen" who has discovered self-gratification and phone sex. She, like her friends, long to leave the town they live in and go to a big city like Oslo as one of her friends older sister Maria (Julia Bach-Wiig) has. Alma has a crush on Artur (Matais Myren) but when he makes an offensive move toward her outdoors at a community dance, she flees inside to describe it to her best friends Saralou (Malin Bjørhoude) and Ingrid (Beate Støfring). They don't believe her story, and Artur of course denies it, so she becomes ostracized by the whole school and loses all her friends. Her mother (Henriette Steenstrup) is beside herself with Alma's fascination with sex but devises ways to put up with it. Director Jacobsen co-wrote the very funny script along with Olaug Nilssen adapted from Nilssen's novel. Excellent soundtrack music from Ginge Anvk, nicely edited by Zaklina Stojcevska with beautiful cinematography from Marianne Bakke this film comes together and delivers a smart and witty comedy. The casting is perfect and Bergsholm, who was 17 when this was filmed, playing the 15 year old lead is outstanding in her debut acting performance. She is both poised and comedic and pulls off her role with genuine charm and skill. I'll look for a future for her and for director Jacobsen. I would highly recommend this film and give it my highest rating of 10 out of 10.
Un amour de jeunesse (2011)
Never Ending Love
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. The story begins in 1999 as 15 year old Camille (Lola Créton) begins a sexual relationship with her first love Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) who is a couple of years older than her. Sebastian has made plans to visit South America for a 10 week adventure with friends. Camille waits for his return and hopelessly misses him and tracks his moves on a map with pins from every letter she receives. The weeks turn into months and the letters dry up and as it seems evident that Sebastian has moves on, Camille's infatuation/love has morphed into manic depression over her inability to hold onto the fairytale bliss of first love. Five years go by and she is an architectural student and has begun the first relationship since Sebastian and this time it is with her professor, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke) a much older man who is from Denmark. After more time has passed, Camille is now living with Lorenz in Paris and runs into Sebastian who is visiting the city from Marseille where he has been living all these years since returning from South America. The sight of Sebastian fuels old feelings that never went away and Camille realizes she is still in love with him. this is the third feature film from actress turned writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve. The film looks good thanks to cinematographer Stéphane Fontain and production designer Mathieu Menut and comes with a wonderful soundtrack put together by music supervisor Pascal Mayer but this film never hits it's mark. The pace is slow, there are no dimensional performances, the acting is stiff, the script is weak and the story is kind of implausible. It almost sets itself up for a sequel but it's better to leave this, and unlike, Camille move on.
Nuit #1 (2011)
I'm Screwed Up, You're Worse
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film festival where writer/director Anne Émond was on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. Clara (Catherine de Léan) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) go to Nikolai's apartment after meeting at a rave club for a one-nighter. Strangers to each other but each, no stranger to late night sexual romps with people they have just met. This film plays out like a three act stage play with the passionate sex as act one, his story as act two and her story as act three. They open up to each other in frank tell-all discussions about themselves and their thoughts and views on life and love. Mathieu Laverdière skillfully works the camera shots as cinematographer capturing the angst and disregard of the actors in tight and shots and confined spaces. Mathieu Bochard edits. The role of Clara as an elementary school teacher by day and cruising the city bars by night for multiple sex partners in one night stands is reminiscent of the 70's film Looking For Mr. Goodbar, although Émond has never seen that film. Clara ultimately gets audience sympathy as a lost girl trying to get back on the right path bu Nikolai has little hope in his future. Some great acting by these two veteran Canadian television actors with lots of dialog. I would give this film an 8.5 and recommend it. There is no violence but there is a lot of sex and sexual language that may offend some. An excellent debut feature film from a short film director.
Kai apkabinsiu tave (2010)
East meets West
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where it's writer/director Kristijonas Vilziunas and lead actress Elzbieta Latenaite were on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. Latenaite plays Ruta, a Lithuanian-born young woman living in the United States who has traveled to Germany with her friend Aukse (Jurga Jutaite) to meet her father Vladas (Andrius Bialobzeskis) who has moved from Soviet Lithuania to East Berlin. The story is set in 1961 just prior to the Berlin Wall going up and Vladas is under the supervision of KGB agents who want Ruta to come to the east part of the city for her reunion with her father so they can force her to stay in the east and use her as a propaganda tool. These are dangerous times in this Cold War story of families separated by post WWII politics of Europe. Good story and direction from Vilziunas in his third feature film with lot's of use of archival footage of the era. Nice cinematography from Vladas Nudzius who is principally known as a documentary cinematographer. Costumer Agne Rimkute has come up with some great designs faithful to the era and production designer Galius Klicus skillfully recreates 1961 Berlin for the film that was shot on location in Lithuania. Saulius Urbanavicius gives the film excellent sound and composer Antoni Lazarkiewicz provides an excellent score. good acting from the cast but the film moves along a little too slowly and subplots aren't explored enough. This co-production of Lithuania, Germany and Poland was Lithuania's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards. I would give this a 7.0 out of 10.
Through The Past Darkly
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Noted actress Pernilla August makes her feature film directorial debut and for her first time out gets Sweden's official entry to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film consideration. Leena (Noomi Pace) is the daughter of Finnish immigrants to Sweden whose abusive and alcoholic father is long dead and her mother with whom she has an estranged relationship is in the hospital and dying. A series of flashbacks tell the story. Ville Virtanen is Leena's hard drinking, hard living father Kimmo. Outi Mäenpää is Leena's long suffering mother Aili who, despite all she put up with in her marriage, carries a life long love and sympathy for her husband. With Tehilla Blad is Leena as a child and Pace's real life husband Ola Rapace as Lenna's husband Johan. Based on the Susanna Alakoski novel with screenplay by August with Lolita Ray. Cinematography by Erik Molberg Hansen. This is a great cast and features great directing, cinematography, a good script and story and sound. It's a dark subject with spousal and alcohol abuse but not presented too darkly but very believably. I would give this an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it.
Sønner av Norge (2011)
Something's Rotten in Norway
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where director Jens Lien was on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. The film is set in 1978 where Magnus (Sven Nordin) and Lone (Sonja Richter) are a new age couple raising two boys. Magnus is an architect by trade and is in a transition stage between being a hippy and a new age trend setter. His loving wife Lone puts up with his eccentricities and is the glue that keeps the family stable. A family tragedy propels the oldest son Nikolaij (Åsmund Høeg) into being a follower of the punk rock scene where he joins a band and rebels on the establishment of his hometown. Magnus goes through the family crisis on a different course following a nervous breakdown. This is a smart and funny comedy with a heavy sprinkling of drama to keep it on track. Norway has become known in recent years for the quirky comedy/drama films coming from there and this is a good example. Great directing by Lien from an excellent story by Nikolaij Frobenius. Fine acting performances from a great cast and nicely photographed by cinematographer Morte Søberg. Masterfully edited by Vidar Flatauken with a great score and sound this is a worthwhile coming of age film. Look for former Sex Pistols front man John Lydon as his alter ego Johnny Rotten in a cameo and a soundtrack featuring six original Sex Pistol classics. I would recommend this imaginative film and give it a 9.0 out of 10.