The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

21st Century Treasure Quest #4

 

 

Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a more thorough introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)

 

The Ratings

1 chest: Definitely worth missing
2 chests: Okay to kill some time
3 chests: Not a complete success, but rewarding
4 chests: Well-crafted, creative and memorable
5 chests: A real treasure, deep, profound and original

 

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016—Director: Zack Snyder)

This much anticipated comic book superhero film is a super-slog of sensory assault, misguided character arcs, premature and heavy-handed introductions to the DC universe, and visually opaque, chaotic action sequences. Ben Affleck manages to overcome his underwritten part to breathe some life into The Dark Knight as well as alter ego Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot brings distinction to Wonder Woman with a sultry, femme fatale-like persona. On the other hand, Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel exhibits emotions as lively as his character’s element. Worse still is Jesse Eisenberg, whose hackneyed portrayal of Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor will hopefully be considered notoriously bad enough to coax Gene Hackman out of retirement. 

2 Chests.png

 

 

 

Eye in the Sky (2015—Director: Gavin Hood)

After a decade of disappointing output from the director of 2005’s Oscar-winning Tsotsi, Gavin Hood finally redeems himself with this incisive and engrossing film. Hood’s confident guidance anchors Helen Mirren and a stellar supporting cast including Alan Rickman (in his final live-action film performance). This intelligent war/thriller presents a gripping moral dilemma guaranteed to keep its audience fastened to their seats. 

 

 

 

Hardcore Henry (2015—Director: Ilya Naishuller)

hardcore-henry-movie-haley-bennett.jpg

A nauseously disorienting experiment in first-person cinematic storytelling severely handicaps an otherwise exciting action narrative and visually textured worldview. Director Ilya Naishuller and company do occasionally season their captured imagery from a brilliantly fascinating perspective. Another plus is the versatile performance of Sharlto Copley who captivatingly plays, in Peter Sellers fashion, a number of distinctive characters.

 

 

 

Hello, My Name is Doris (2015—Director: Michael Showalter)

Sally Field skillfully commands this endearing, if somewhat bizarre, indie romantic dramedy, which answers the question: “What if Sixteen Candles was about a woman nearing retirement instead of a teenager?” What makes this down-to-earth character study work are the well-rounded personalities appearing throughout—especially a feisty Tyne Daly as Field’s best friend, Stephen Root as her brother, and Max Greenfield as a young employee for whom Field becomes smitten. 

 

 

 

London Has Fallen (2016—Director: Babak Najafi)

A generally gratifying sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that trades the “rough and ready” look of the first film for a more polished, less-gory action thriller. The disturbing revenge and overbearing patriotic theme may be off-putting to some, but there are enough big-city, eye-catching incidents of mayhem and easily distinguishable good from bad guys around to keep most thrill-seekers pleasantly satisfied. Keep an eye out for a spectacular one-take action sequence toward the story’s conclusion. 

 

 

 

Meet the Blacks (2016—Director: Deon Taylor)

This Mike Epps starring vehicle is a misbegotten, bargain-bin excuse for tasteful and safe boundary worshipping “entertainment.” It does not spoof but hijacks the concept of 2013's The Purge to use as a platform for unfunny jokes and hopelessly sophomoric, unidentifiable characters. Even if the cameos from Mike Tyson and Charlie Murphy offer some temporary relief from this torture, it won't be enough to merit renting this travesty, even for free.

0 treasure chests! 

 

 

 

The Mermaid a.k.a. Mei ren yu (2016—Director: Stephen Chow)

There are vivid but disappointingly unconvincing special effects. Some of the ensemble performances are cringe-worthy. Even the concept of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style romance between an egotistically wealthy man-child and a naive but kind-hearted mermaid seems trite and dramatically thin. Despite these drawbacks, the creators of this fantasy-romance—the latest from the director of 2001’s outrageously enjoyable Shaolin Soccer—manages a plethora of humorous anecdotes to miraculously solicit practically non-stop laughter from his audience. One must see it to believe it. 

 

 

 

Triple 9 (2016—Director: John Hillcoat)

This competent ensemble crime thriller has a few exceptional action set-pieces. For some unfathomable reason, however, the filmmakers too often confusingly jump to and from various point of view shots, hindering our ability to identify and engage with their story’s characters. Besides, the plot doesn’t become clear until roughly a third of the way through, all of which sadly keep this film from being a hidden gem of 2016. 

 

 

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016—Director: Glenn Ficarra)

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This biographical war dramedy has given 2016 one of its most pronounced and dramatic narrative shifts. For the first half-hour, Tina Fey and the supporting actors uneventfully meander through Afghanistan— until a certain moment arises involving some village women and a well. After this, the film soars. The character dynamics and cinematic storytelling techniques become riveting, while the chemistry between Fey and Martin Freeman sizzles. The result is one of the most astonishing film surprises this year, even though viewers will have to endure a monotonous first half-hour to discover it. 

 

 

 

Zootopia (2016—Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

The 55th entry from Walt Disney Animation Studios stands out due to an imaginative display of ideas, fusing inquisitiveness with hopeful perseverance. It also explores themes of prejudice and stereotyping amongst its vibrant and diversified characters in a creatively presented anthropomorphic world. This results in a rich and rewarding family entertainment.  

R.N.B.

Capturing a Golden Moment #15

In this series, I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.

 

Guys and Dolls (1955)

 

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

 

Scene: "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat"

 

Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson sings this showstopping song fabulously, perhaps as a result of perfecting the role and number on Broadway during the show's 1200 performances. Guys and Dolls won the 1951 Tony Award for the Best Musical. With such lively and exuberant characters and songs like the one seen here, it's easy to see why.   

 

 

Guys and Dolls  is available on Blu-Ray here:

Guys and Dolls [Blu-ray]
$18.49
Starring Various

 

It is also available for U.S. download here:

A.G.

"Now Listen to Me..."

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

 

There are 8 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:

 

If I was in charge of choosing a single film noir for someone only willing to see one in the entire canon, I would select Double Indemnity as its most fulfilling and accomplished representative. It has been previously reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: Double Indemnity. Thoughts of adultery, greed and murder will manifest themselves on TCM Friday, June 3 at 9pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Next is one of the western genre's finest and another excellent pairing of star James Stewart with director Anthony Mann: The Man from Laramie.

James Stewart

James Stewart

This was the last western the duo made together and perhaps their finest. Previously they collaborated on Winchester '73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, and The Far Country in that order. In this film, Mann's by now familiar themes of buried hostility, vengeance, familial loyalty and expectation seem developed in a more complex fashion, therefore affording the director a deeper exploration of his characters' conflicts, motives and desires. As always the situations are masterfully presented and infinitely captivating. The Man from Laramie has been previously reviewed as Top Ten Western #7 and will appear Saturday, June 4 at 3pm PST.  

 

 

 

 

 

The next film to see is Guys and Dolls, a rollicking "good time" musical.

Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons

Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons

It's a previous TCM recommendation here. Those distinctively funny and endearing characters will present themselves Thursday, June 9 at 12am (midnight).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up is Ace in the Hole: Billy Wilder's scathing examination of American opportunism and moral depravity via cocky newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum, played with unrelenting cynical ferociousness by Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas, Robert Arthur

Kirk Douglas, Robert Arthur

Kirk Douglas, Richard Benedict

Kirk Douglas, Richard Benedict

He's stuck in small town U.S.A., having been fired from 11 big city newspapers, and winds up working for the local humdrum Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin while hoping for that one sizeable "human interest" story to take him back to the big time or even better, the "big apple." His chance finally arrives when poor Leo Minosa, attempting to retrieve Indian artefacts from a cliff dwelling in nearby Escudero, becomes trapped after a cave-in. While investigating, Tatum will tell his young protege Herbie Cook of a prior situation (and true-life story): Floyd Collins, similarly trapped in a cave and the reporter on the scene who wound up winning the Pulitzer Prize.

 

 

Jan Sterling, Kirk Douglas

Jan Sterling, Kirk Douglas

Tatum's interactions with everyone he meets are spellbinding, including Leo's "fed-up", stingingly caustic and apathetic wife Lorraine portrayed to perfection by noir-great Jan Sterling. We can feel Tatum's lust for that brass ring and are convinced of his willingness to prolong the rescue operation, to cut out other hungry reporters with the help of a corrupt Sheriff, and embellish the situation with "evil spirits." This will allow him to build the story to a feverish pitch, ultimately to get his former employers to forgive his past transgressions and desperately call on his services. He succeeds all too well: The practically once deserted 'Minosa's Trading Post' is turned into a carnival with masses of hungry spectators lured to the scene by Tatum's sensational, highly descriptive reporting. The big city newspapers come soliciting, including Tatum's ultimate prize: New York. His orchestrated success, however, will come at a terrible price. Finally, it's Tatum's own conscience, his previously buried humanity (metaphorically like Leo Minosa himself) that triggers his demise.

 

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas

The sad figures who are genuinely concerned for Leo's well-being, like his father, are engulfed by not only the press, the Sheriff and Lorraine with their insatiable appetite to exploit the tragic circumstances, but the public at large, portrayed by Wilder and company as a mob-like feeding frenzy mainly because so many others are, like themselves, drawn to a situation by an overwhelming attraction to human volatility. Even the morally upstanding Mr. Boot, the Sun-Bulletin's publisher, is happy to enjoy the fruits of another's misfortune: His paper's increased circulation. As Tatum acerbically informs young Herbie: "Bad news sells best. 'Cause good news... is no news." After the guilt-ridden reporter realises his worst possible fears, he venomously delivers the tragic news like a "sermon on the mount" to his anxious followers. Fuelled with as much contempt as he can muster, Tatum wraps it up with: "Now go on home, all of you! The circus... is over." The few surrounding opportunists who ultimately pay for their selfish sins or compliance, will, however, like Tatum, only include those capable of "knowing some touch of pity." The rest, like Leo's wife Lorraine, are in a way, worse off, already dead inside with nary a trace of human compassion.

 

John Berkes

John Berkes

Billy Wilder's tragedy of Shakespearean proportions comes full circle in its final series of ruinous resolutions like nothing seen before. This auteur has grabbed us by the throat, squeezed us into submission and devastated us with virulent words and striking images so potent, they'll remain with us for the rest of our lives. Despite the film's disappointing box office results, there is a tremendous degree of pathos here, ironically considering this ultimate indictment of human nature's darker side. It is Wilder's own cinematic "ace in the hole" and he plays it magnificently. He'll "show his hand" on TCM Friday, June 7 at 7pm PST.                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is indeed an unforgettable American treasure and a prior TCM recommendation here. Its cinematic riches can be uncovered on TCM Tuesday, June 14 at 5pm PST.

Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt

Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt

 

 

 

 

 

Another prior TCM recommendation is Robert Siodmak's expert 1949 film Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo imbuing their characters full of heart-rending passion and complex individuality.

Criss Cross was previously reviewed here. It will cast its noirish spell on TCM Saturday (early morning), June 18 at 3:45am PST.

 

 

 

 

The spirited, eccentric, super-cool, and notorious con-artist of rural Kentucky, Mordecai Jones, (George C. Scott radiating his usual abundance of charisma), takes on army deserter Curly Treadaway (Michael Sarrazin, perfectly cast) as his young protege in director Irvin Kershner's delightful situation comedy The Flim-Flam Man.

(From left to right): Michael Sarrazin, Slim Pickens, George C. Scott

(From left to right): Michael Sarrazin, Slim Pickens, George C. Scott

Watching their relationship develop as the two initiate their scams, along with the increasing precariousness of their circumstances, offers many humorous anecdotes along the way. Additionally, a touching bond grows between them, despite Curly's guilty protestations over their dishonest escapades. Some of the film's characters and situations appear overdrawn; its tone occasionally shifts awkwardly. Nevertheless, there's much to appreciate along the pair's journey, including a hilarious car chase, helmed by second-unit director and famous stuntman Yakima Canutt. There's also a diverse cast of characters and the notable actors who play them, e.g. Curly's love interest Bonnie Lee Packard, naturally portrayed by a fetching Sue Lyon. Scott's grandiose performance is 100% proof, clearly evident in the film's subtle but precious closing moments. Last but not least, there's a hidden character of sorts, making perhaps the most endearing contribution of all: Jerry Goldsmith's infectious and charming score. The Flim-Flam Man will "stop by" TCM Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 pm PST.   

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there's Diary of a Country Priest a.k.a. Journal d'un curé.

This is one of the Top Ten World Cinema Treasures and a previous TCM recommendation here. This indisputable masterpiece will air on Monday (early morning), at 3am PST.

Claude Laydu (In this dissolve, symbolically imprisoned)

Claude Laydu (In this dissolve, symbolically imprisoned)

 

 

TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of TCM's programme.

 

 

 

 

 

A Happy Birthday shout-out to gonzo filmmaker and serious dramatic actor Robert Downey Sr. who turns 80 June 24th.

 Some of the choice films he wrote and directed include Chafed Elbows, Pound, Greaser's Palace, and one of my Top Ten Guilty Treasures: Putney Swope. As an actor, he's given memorable performances in To Live and Die in L.A., Family Man, and Tower Heist amongst others. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June's recommended soundtrack is the pulse-pounding score to the action hit Predator.

The energetically inspired music is by Alan Silvestri who inventively combines other-worldly atmospherics with super-charged rhythmic dynamics in creating this most distinctive musical soundscape. A definitive release of this highly popular soundtrack was produced by Intrada Records and is available directly from the manufacturer. More information including international ordering is available by clicking on the image.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blu-ray recommendation for the month is one of TCM's encouraged showings and is reviewed above, Ace in the Hole a.k.a. The Big Carnival. There are 2 equally fine transfers to choose from. That choice will probably depend on where one resides.

The first is a Blu-Ray/DVD combination from Criterion (for North America) and is region A locked. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second is a region B (locked) Blu-Ray and is compatible for the U.K., Europe, and Australia. It has been made available from Masters of Cinema.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More information including ordering from Amazon U.S. (top) and Amazon U.K. (bottom) can be obtained by clicking of either of their respective images 

 

 

A.G.

21st Century Treasure Quest #3

Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed another batch of more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a more thorough introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)

Read More

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 8 (#71 - 80)

I'll continue with some of cinema's most treasured images. For those familiar with the scenes represented they're bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in order of greatest impression with #71 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

Read More

Treasure Trivia: Quiz #6

Treasure Trivia:

The Cinema Cafe has a chat room on Facebook that readers are welcome to join here. On Mondays we have a movie trivia game called "Match-up Mondays" where the object is to name the common denominator between all of the captures provided and also identify each of the films pictured. 

My most recent post seems to have stumped even our most knowledgable and regular members as to the common denominator, so I thought I would post it here and offer a prize to the first person who can identify (in the comments section below) what the following film characters share in common. 

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There are 6 characters, all of whom have been identified correctly by various chat room members and confirmed on the "Match-up Monday" post. One may use whatever resources are available to answer correctly and guess as often as possible. The prize selected is one I believe most film buffs don't already have but should: A new and sealed Region A Blu-Ray of Hidden Gem #17: The Matrimony a.k.a. Xin zhong you gui (2007, China)  which will be internationally airmailed to the winner. 

 

 

Here are the 6 previously identified film characters (Good luck!):

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

21st Century Treasure Quest #2

Our new contributor, Renard N. Bansale has completed another small batch of more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience.

Read More

Capturing a Golden Moment #14

In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.

 

Ikiru (1952)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Scene: "The Finale"

 

*Note: My approach to describing the following scene will be different than the preceding entries in this series. The dramatic effect of Ikiru's final moments is not as self contained as its predecessors and is cumulative in nature, relying on the narrative strength of what has come before it. I would therefore request that it be respectfully observed by those who have seen the entire film. Otherwise it would be like reading only the last pages of a literary masterpiece. Please pardon my reverential attitude here, but I consider this film to be cinema's finest, most spiritually profound masterpiece.

This final scene concerns one of the office workers. After expressing his wordless outrage at his bureaucratic colleagues returning to their former ineffectiveness, he's stared down by his superior and reluctantly retreats behind a mountain of paperwork. At the end of the day he looks down from an overpass at some children joyfully using the playground his deceased former colleague Watanabe, with great effort and perseverance, created. (Previously celebrating his glorious accomplishment, Watanabe sat on the playground's swing in the night's freezing cold, singing a most poignant song). Two children abandon the swing, the seats of which are empty; the shot is held there as they gently sway back and forth. The song's tune is heard on the soundtrack. Is this meant as a symbolic invitation for us to fill the empty spaces and become "creators" ourselves? The figure stares down at the park before finally walking off. As he walks across the bridge from above, notice how the filmmakers ingeniously capture him if only for a few seconds, in a pyramid shape of the swing structure, the chains of which can still be seen swaying. And as he walks out of this framing device and then leaves the scene completely, is he representative of time that passes regardless of how we choose to live our lives, suggesting the fleeting nature of man’s opportunity to give unto others? Watanabe is gone but his creation, his spiritual inspiration, endures. Its meaning however, and perhaps more importantly what will be done about it, is left up to us.

Ikiru is available on Blu-Ray (North America Region A locked) here:

Ikiru (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
$27.13
Starring Takashi Shimura

It is also available for U.S. download here:

Ikiru
$2.99
Starring Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Kyoko Seki, Makoto Kobori, Kumeko Urabe