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A Film Unfinished

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

After all the films made about life, and death, in the Warsaw Ghetto – from Polanski’s award-winning The Pianist to Cannon Films' rather silly Jews-fight-back-while-falling-in-love War and Love (aka The Children’s War), not to mention countless documentaries -- it is still a kick in the gut and the head to experience a movie like the new A Film Unfinished from documentarian Yael Hersonski. Whatever the "magic of movies" (and I'm a firm believer in same), to my mind no narrative film I've yet seen begins to pack the punch of watching a documentary such as Shoah. There is something about the reality of documentary film that wipes the floor with the romanticizing in narrative Holocaust movies, from Schindler's List to the latest Claude Lelouch, which – as much as I love his new film, Ces amours-là -- gives us this in spades. (Only Lajos Kotai's Fateless manages narrative in a way that does not end up somehow reducing the Holocaust.)

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Jane Eyre Giveaway!

Jane Eyre poster Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) star in the romantic drama Jane Eyre, based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, from acclaimed director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre). "Wasikowska is flawless, complex, the most self-possessed Jane ever," writes Caryn James in IndieWire. "and Fassbender the most romantic Rochester in a glorious film that embraces Bronte's wildest emotions." The film opens in select theaters March 11. And now you have a chance to win a cool Jane Eyre prize package thanks to a giveaway sponsored by GreenCine and Focus Features.

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Senso

Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Rating (out of 5): *****

The essayist Phillip Lopate came up with a perfect phrase for Luchino Visconti's style: operatic realism. Like his contemporaries Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Visconti experimented with a realistic style, though it can be argued that he made only one genuine "Italian Neo-Realist" film, La Terra Trema (1948). Visconti was interested in adding personal flourishes to his films in addition to the realism and the social commentary, and his films eventually grew bigger and showier through the decades, while focusing on more personal themes.

It can be argued that 1954's Senso (1954) is the culmination of Visconti's work, the perfect collision of style, themes and look --and perhaps his greatest film.

 

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Still Walking

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

Hirokazu Kore-eda's new family drama Still Walking - now out courtesy of Criterion - is his most beautifully accomplished work since After Life (1998), but if it also comes so close to Yasujiro Ozu territory -- especially the themes of Tokyo Story (1953) -- that it ends up paling a bit in comparison. Still, it's a lovely work.

Ryo (Hiroshi Abe) is an unemployed art restorer who has married a widow with a young son. Upon the anniversary of his older brother's death, he returns home for an annual family gathering. His grumpy father (Yoshio Harada) is a doctor who was forced to retire due to failing eyesight. His dream of one of his sons taking over his clinic has come to nothing. (Of course, the happy future of everything that could have been is projected onto the dead son.)

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Underdog's 2011 Stab in the Dark Oscar Predictions!

By Craig Phillips

What follows are my sheer gut-instinct (or in some cases presumably rather obvious) predictions for who will win in each category in this year's Academy Awards -- followed by who I think should win.

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Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ***

Don't screw with Vincent Cassel. If there's any French actor destined to play his country's most notorious gangster, it's this guy. Cassel's headlong stride, vivid emotional range and masculine charisma make him ideal for volatile character studies and anti-heroics. The forthcoming Our Day Will Come (Notre Jour Viendra) builds an entire movie around Cassel, playing a renegade shrink who takes an emotionally troubled teenager under his wing and basically shows the boy how to be a man – a process that involves a lot of dangerous, illegal and outrageous behavior.

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Last Train Home

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Filmmaker Lixin Fan served as a producer on the remarkable documentary Up the Yangtze, and he continues with much that same style with his directorial debut Last Train Home. It's a fascinating, heartbreaking attempt to capture both the overwhelming hugeness and harsh growing pains of China's exploding economy, by focusing on one family.

For over a decade, the Zhangs have worked in a big city factory and returned to their rural home only once a year, for Chinese New Year. According to the film, about 130 million Chinese in the same situation make a similar journey at the same time, making it the largest human migration in history. This, of course, makes for a nightmarish journey, including hard-to-get train tickets, cramped quarters and flared tempers.

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Kites

Reviewer: James Van Maanen 
Rating (out of 5): *½
(Hollywood remix) Rating (out of five): **

I have now made my more-or-less annual visit to Bollywood, and once again returned with my jaw hanging down to my knees. What can one say about a project as silly, expensive and inconsequential as Kites? As much as I sometimes rail against Hollywood's blockbusters, they seem models of intelligence and restraint when set against this schlockfest. If you found, as did I, the screenplay for Avatar slightly "wanting," wait until you get a load of Kites, produced by Rakesh Roshan and directed by Anurag Basu. 

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Skin

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

"I'm not black," says little Sandra to her schoolmate, after the girl has mentioned that all her best friends back home are black. No, Sandra is "white," as we learn in a terrific movie called Skin, which, before it is over will have sent Sandra, officially, from black to white to black -- and back again. The adult Sandra is played by the beautiful actress Sophie Okonedo (of Hotel Rwanda and Secret Life of Bees), and the younger version by charming newcomer Ella Ramangwane, who comes across as lovely as she is intelligent.

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America, America

 

Reviewer: Philip Tatler
Rating (out of 5): ****

In Elia Kazan's 1963 America, America, now finally out on DVD from Warner Home Video, the idea of the eponymous land of opportunity supplants the actuality. Indeed, America herself only appears in a short cameo at the end of the 167-minute film. The title even subtly suggests duality: "America" vs. America.

In the film's opening narration, Kazan's own voice sets the stage for this very personal epic (the story, based on Kazan's 1962 novel of the same name, is loosely based on the life of Kazan's uncle): it is 1896 in Ottoman-ruled Turkey. Native Armenians and Greeks have been marginalized by their conquerors, with the former group especially stigmatized as a "dangerous minority."

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