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Elevator to the Gallows-Movie Review *** 11/18/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, French language film, Highly recommended, Louis Malle, Miles Davis, Movies, Prix Louis Delluc, Suspense, Thriller.
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Elevator to the Gallows (French) 1957
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

From the Criterion Collection

WINNER, Prix Louis Delluc (Louis Malle), France

Directed by Louis Malle
Starring Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin, and Georges Poujouly
Score by Miles Davis

The musical score lends a special air of suspense to this thriller about Julien (Ronet) and Florence (Moreau), a couple planning to murder Florence’s husband, and Veronique (Bertin) and Louis (Poujouly), a young couple who don’t seem capable of planning anything, but leave a trail of crimes behind them. Hauntingly filmed in black and white, the style is reminiscent of Hitchcock, with a decidedly French sensibility.

Amazingly, this is the debut feature film by the late legendary French director Louis Malle (Murmurs of the Heart), filmed when he was only twenty-four years old. He had previously spent several years creating underwater films for Jacques Cousteau. Malle’s collaboration with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for the film’s musical score has also become legendary. (Watch the Special Features for an inside look at Davis’s improvisation process.) Jeanne Moreau’s movie career went on to great success after her performance in this film.

Highly recommended.

92 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


A Prophet-Movie Review 10/23/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Arabic language film, Cannes Film Festival, Dark Drama, David di Donatello Awards, French language film, Golden Globes, London Film Festival, Thriller.

A Prophet (French) 2009
Un prophète

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Film, British Independent Film Awards
WINNER, Grand Prize of the Jury; NOMINATED, Palme d’Or, (both for Jacques Audiard), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER and NOMINATED, Numerous Awards, including Best Actor (Rahim); Best Director (Audiard); Best Cinematography, César Awards, France
NOMINATED, Best European Film, David di Donatello Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Film, London Film Festival

Directed by Jacques Audiard
Starring Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, and Adel Bencherif

Growing up in France with no family, Malik (Rahim) spent his early years in reform schools. At nineteen, he is put into prison for six years for assaulting a police officer. Malik is of Arab descent and speaks both French and Arabic. To survive in prison, he becomes errand boy to mob boss César (Arestrup) and is eventually forced to commit horrendous acts of violence both inside and outside the prison. Although he has to undergo humiliation and isolation with this arrangement, Malik learns how the mob world works.

Malik experiences prophetic visions and “visits” from one of his murder victims. He eventually takes advantage of his prison time to educate himself to read and write. When the tides of power change and César loses most of his henchman, Malik is near the end of his term. Despite all the odds against him, he survived.

This is a long film and not for the faint of heart. The violence is ongoing and explicit; the conditions of the prison are horrifying. Tahir Rahim, a newcomer, manages to maintain Malik’s inner dignity. Rahim received many accolades (see above) as did director Jacques Audiard.

149 min. Rated R. Violence, sexual content, nudity, language, and drug content.


The Night of the Hunter-Movie Review*** 01/05/2011

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on a novel, Black & white, Classic film, Thriller.

The Night of the Hunter (American) 1955

Adapted from Davis Grubb’s novel, based on the true story of Harry Powers
Directed by Charles Laughton (the only film he directed)
Starring Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters, Billy Chapin, and Sally Jane Bruce

A classic film in black and white with a deliciously terrifying story, renowned for its use of stark symbolism to signify the battle of good versus evil. Reverend Powell (Mitchum) is a fake preacher who travels across the countryside looking for widows to charm, marry, and kill for their money. His next victim is Willa Harper (Winters) and he dispatches her easily enough. Now, as for her children – John (Chapin) and Pearl (Bruce) – those two he has to keep around until he gets them to reveal where their hanged thief of a father hid that $10,000 he stole. The children escape and become the hunted.

Robert Mitchum plays one of the most frightening psychopath villains I’ve seen (for me, a modern counterpoint is Javier Bardem’s Cigurh in No Country for Old Men). I also found the singing of the little girl Pearl scary because it seemed too adult for her age. Later I found out that it was dubbed.

The film, which has been selected for the National Film Registry, is often discussed as influenced by German Expressionism, with its use of symbolism and atmosphere to show the dark side of human nature. The photography and the lighting definitely played integral roles in creating the suspense in this story.

My quote from the movie is from a hymn the “preacher” is fond of singing: “Leaning . . . leaning . . . leaning on the everlasting arms.” <Shiver.>

93 min. Not rated. Definitely too scary for little ones!

Check out these links about the novel and the film
For more info about the film


The State I Am In-Movie Review*** 01/02/2011

Posted by Films to consider in German language film, Movies, Suspense, Thriller.
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The State I Am In (German) 2000
Die Innere Sicherheit

Directed by Christian Petzold
Starring Barbara Auer, Richy Müller, Bilge Bingul, and Julia Hummer

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Outstanding Feature Film, German Film Awards
Winner, Grand Prize (Petzold), Valenciennes International Festival of Action and Adventure Films
Winner, Best Feature Film, Hessian Film Awards
Nominated, Outstanding Individual Achievement-Actress (Hummer); Outstanding Individual Achievement-Supporting Actress (Auer), German Film Awards

A family of three – parents Clara (Auer) and Hans (Müller) and teenage daughter Jeanne (Hummer) – live their lives on the run, the result of Clara and Hans having been involved in terrorist actions for some unnamed group. Jeanne, now fifteen, has known no other way of living.

As her parents plot and react to constantly changing and threatening surroundings, Jeanne is struggling with the same issues other girls her age struggle with. When she meets Heinrich (Bingul), a surfer boy living in one of the towns she and her parents stayed in for a short time, Jeanne wants to be with him and starts to make some decisions on her own. But when her parents come up with another one of their schemes, things go horribly wrong.

I especially liked the performance by Julia Hummer as Jeanne. Although her typical teenage angst (e.g., “I don’t want to wear this stupid sweatshirt”) was taking place in such extraordinary circumstances, her actions and reactions were so normal that it made her parents seem even more unreasonable than they actually were.

On my list of films to watch are Gespenter (Ghost) (2005) and Yella (2007), which together with this film are known as director Petzold’s Gespenter trilogy.

106 min. Not rated. Adult themes.

Sholay-Movie Review *** 11/10/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Comedy, Indian language film, Movies, Musical, Thriller.

Sholay (Indian) 1975

A classic Indian film, directed by Ramesh Sippy.
Starring Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, and Amjad Khan.

What starts out seeming to be a lighthearted movie with two fun-loving bad guys, complete with Bollywood style singing and dancing, soon develops into a thrilling story about good versus bad versus incredibly evil.

Jai (Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) are two thugs who pride themselves on their marksmanship. They are hired by Thakur Baldev Singh (Kumar) to avenge the horrible deeds done to himself and his family by Gabbar Singh (Khan), sadistic leader of a cadre of nasty bandits. The odds of survival in the fight scenes that ensue are unbelievable, but are somehow made believable enough. There are a lot of bad guys, and a lot of bad guys die.

In the midst of the revenge plot, many other subplots take place, including happy love scenes and comical scenes highlighting one or another of the characters.

I loved this movie and can well understand why it is considered a classic. My only complaint is that there are no subtitles for the lyrics; the musical numbers are obviously carrying the plot forward.

204 min. Rated PG. Much violence.


No Country for Old Men-Movie Review 07/18/2010

Posted by Films to consider in American, Movies, Thriller.
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No Country for Old Men (American) 2007

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), Academy Awards
Winner, Best Supporting Actor (Bardem); Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
Nominee, Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

“Well, it’s a mess, ain’t it, Sheriff?”
“If it ain’t, it’ll do ’til the mess gets here.”

In the desolate lands of west Texas in the 1980s, a drug deal goes bad. A local man happens upon the huge cash payment. No one’s around, so he takes it, thinking he can get away scot-free. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

I started watching this film with some trepidation, as I’d heard about the level of violence. But from the very first horrible scene, the story itself was intriguing enough to keep me watching. I also thought Josh Brolin (as local Llewelyn Moss), Tommy Lee Jones (as Sheriff Bell) and Javier Bardem (as the psychopath Cigurh) were just right for their roles.

With that said, I’m still glad I didn’t see this on the big screen. Or read the book (too scary for me). Still, I plan to watch it again.

122 min. Rated R. Note: There is a lot of bloody violence.

Munich-Movie Review 07/13/2010

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true story, Israeli language film, Movies, Thriller.
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Munich (American/Israeli) 2006

Among other awards:
Nominee, Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Academy Awards
Nominee, Best Director; Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
Best Actor (Eric Bana), Australian Film Institute

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Based on the book Vengeance, by George Jonas.

The film follows a plan to take revenge for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Recruited to lead the five-man squad of assassins is former Golda Meir bodyguard Avner (played by Eric Bana), a young man dedicated to the cause of his Israeli homeland. After the squad carries out some successful executions, a couple of Avner’s own men get killed and one commits suicide. He becomes increasingly (and understandably) paranoid that he, his wife, and baby daughter are targets of the enemy.

I especially liked Bana’s performance as Avner tries to balance his desire for revenge with his increasingly emotional reactions to his assignment.

164 min. Rated R. Note: There is a lot of bloody violence and many explosions.


The American Friend-Movie Review 06/24/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on a novel, German language film, Movies, Thriller.
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The American Friend (German) 1977/2003
Der Amerikanische Freund

Winner, Film Award in Gold (Wenders); Film Award in Silver (Outstanding Feature Film), German Film Awards
Winner, Best Foreign Performer (Ganz), Sant Jordi Awards
Nominated, Best Foreign Film (Wenders), César Awards, France
Nominated, Golden Palm (Wenders), Cannes Film Festival

Written and directed by Wim Wenders
Starring Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper

“What’s wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?”

As my tribute to the late Dennis Hopper, I offer this post-Easy Rider film. Hopper plays Tom Ripley in a story loosely based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, Ripley’s Game.

A terminally ill man is convinced to commit a revenge murder for money, in order to provide for his family after his death. Just one murder, that’s all. I won’t tell more – the film deliciously unfolds. Hopper plays the role of the American “friend” with a mixture of charm and ruthlessness, as the ailing man (Bruno Ganz) gradually falls apart.

John Malkovich starred in a more recent version of Ripley’s Game, which I haven’t seen yet.

125 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


District 9-Movie Review 06/05/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Australian, Movies, Science Fiction, South African language film, Thriller.

District 9 (South African/Australian) 2009

Among numerous other awards and nominations:
Nominated, Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects; Best Editing, 2010 Academy Awards
Nominated, Best Screenplay, Golden Globes

Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) and Carolynne Cunningham

From the very first moments of this sci-fi film, filmed on location in South Africa, I was taken in by it. Presented as a mix of documentary and storytelling, the premise is that a spaceship full of about one million ailing aliens hovers above the city of Johannesburg. Humans take them off the ship and extend humanitarian aid – for a time. More than 20 years later, with the alien population nearly doubled, the authorities decide they must be moved away from the city. Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), intent on doing his new job at Multinational United (MNU), is in charge. He gets a lot more involved than he planned.

A chilling and, for the most part, subtle commentary on human nature. Film 2 is mentioned in the special features, and I’m looking forward to it.

Caution: Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language (although the violence is abstract enough that I didn’t find it disturbing)

112 min.

For more information about the film:

Noise-Movie Review 05/24/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Australian, Movies, Thriller.
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Noise (Australian) 2007

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Film; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Cinematography; Best Editing, Australian Film Critics Circle
Nominated, Best Film; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography Best Editing, Australian Film Institute (Australian Oscars)
Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival; Newport Beach Film Festival; Seattle International Film Festival

From Film Movement

Directed by Matthew Saville
Starring Brendan Cowell, Nicholas Bell, Luke Elliot, and Maia Thomas

The film opens with a horrific scene on a subway, where a mass killing has  taken place. The only witness is a young woman, Lavinia (Thomas), known to the killer by name but left unharmed as he escapes. As police try to find him, another killing takes place, this time of a young woman, in her own neighborhood.

Detective Graham McGahan (Cowell), who is afflicted with worsening tinnitus, is given overnight desk duty consisting of manning a van in the woman’s neighborhood where neighbors can drop in with any information they think would be helpful. When the detective’s disability causes him to neglect his duty, the stage is set for the killer to make himself known.

The detective’s plight almost becomes more intriguing than the search for a killer. I found the cinematography an important and effective element in the building of suspense; some scenes were downright spooky. Lavinia, trying to live a normal life knowing that the killer knows who she is, bravely confronts the driver of a car following her down a dark and deserted street.

The dialogue was occasionally too fast for me to catch (sorry, Aussies), so I resorted to closed captions (there are no subtitles). I did learn some new cusswords (thanks, Aussies!).

Brendan Cowell does a great job as Detective McGahan. I also thought Maia Thomas was especially impressive as Lavinia.

109 min. Unrated. Bloody violence.