Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the MoonlightMagic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen’s film is a pleasurable if breezy experience, harmless fun in the best way; the story, little more than an excuse to display immaculate, rich art and costume design, beautiful cinematography (by the great Darius Khondji) and justifiably use a jazzy score. This being an Allen’s film, there is the usual assortment of amusing one-liners. The cast is very attractive, and perfectly capable to reading the smart dialogue; Colin Firth makes a perfect curmudgeon, and Emma Stone is equally fine as the ingénue.

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Lucy (2014)

LucyLucy: in equal measures vapid, pretentious and needlessly violent, Luc Besson’s film is an unpleasant spectacle. The high-concept plot feels almost an afterthought, simply being the vessel for a lot of philosophic mumbo-jumbo. Scarlett Johanson plays not so much a character, but an all-powerful cypher; not much is known about her, making it hard to care, relate or worry about her fate. Morgan Freeman is not given much to do. Visually, the film is slick; the early interludes end up being distracting rather than elucidating.

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The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent SevenThe Magnificent Seven: John Sturges worked out of a fantastic blueprint for this western (not that it’s a guarantee of anything, of course), and the results show. The action is fast, furious and exciting (both well shot and edited); that leaves plenty of time for the story to unfold, and for the group of characters to display what they are made of. The large cast respond in kind and is generally strong; Eli Wallach creates a great villain and is the stand-out. Elmer Bernstein created a great action score, probably one of the most recognizable of all time.

Read also: Seven Samurai

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The Great Escape

The Great EscapeThe Great Escape: John Sturges makes one incredibly entertaining film, all the more impressive since the story (against all appearances) is based on historical fact. One of the factors that make this such a spectacle is the great, instantly recognizable, score by Elmer Bernstein; in particular the main theme, but all of it resonates (even if he borrows from another collaboration with Sturges, another great action score). However, it’s undeniable the film would not connect so well if not for the great cast; there are a great group of recognizable faces and they are all in top shape; Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleasence may be the ones that rise further, but there’s not a wrong note. The writing is careful enough to give most of the characters a moment of growth, even if the plot is what matters most. Beautifully done, well shot and edited; the production design of the main setting very carefully realized.

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Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo JimaLetters from Iwo Jima: Clint Eastwood sets the mood beautifully in this war film, with (his own) simple, delicate score and great all-around acting from the cast, in particular from the two central actors, Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya. The classic, linear structure and the respectful, balanced tone were good choices to tell the story, furthering the themes. Tom Stern, once more, shoots this film beautifully, but the color palette (excessively cold and desaturated, for the most part) is distracting.

Read also: Flags of Our Fathers

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Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our FathersFlags of Our Fathers: the back-and-forth structure muddies the story of this film (of one of the iconic images of its century); it is, nevertheless, a delicate war movie which avoids the typical jingoistic tone as it portrays the hell of war (not only the combat, but also ancillary aspects of it). Clint Eastwood extracts subtle performances from his cast; but other than the main group, most of the other characters are virtually undistinguishable (even physically, which aggravates the confusion created by the structure). His score, moody and simple, fits the film quite well. The war scenes are well-shot by Tom Stern, but the desaturated palette makes them somewhat unattractive.

Read also: Letters from Iwo Jima

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Il Sorpasso

Il SorpassoIl Sorpasso: in some ways, an archetypical road movie; Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant play the odd couple perfectly (particularly the former), making the whole journey very entertaining and interesting to watch; at the same time, it’s not simply comedy for comedy’s sake, as there is great care for the all the people in the film, not simply the main characters. Dino Risi makes great use of the locations, both the eerily empty Rome and the enchanting countryside; Alfio Contini’s camera work, of course, is an important factor in that. Music also plays an important role, both the original soundtrack and the songs.

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Red River (1948)

Red RiverRed River: Howard Hawks (I wrote about my appreciation of his work before) weaves a great tale; it contains elements which are very particular about the place and time (the hardships of that life, the arrival of civilization) and also universal (the indomitable human spirit, sense of honor and companionship). It’s also, more relevantly, supremely entertaining; it has both tight action scenes and lots of low-key funny moments. The flawless cast is a big reason for that: a great gallery of character actors, led by the peerless Walter Brennan. However, Montgomery Clift and John Wayne are also impressive in their roles. Music, as is usually the case in Hawks’ films, is very important, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is a joy to listen to. Visually, there are no frills, just a great sense of efficiency both in the camera work and editing.

To be clear, this film is near the top of the list of my favorite films of all time.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the GalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy: James Gunn’s film is very entertaining, thanks to the light tone (it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t fall into parody territory) and the inspired choice of soundtrack. The relentless pace (the action scenes are varied and efficient) hides somewhat the fact that the story is formulaic (and suffers from an excessive number of villains and/or antagonists, not allowing most of them to feel well-developed), but still gives enough space for the characters to display an attractive banter and relationships. Visually, the film is well-done; only the character design is mostly lacking (since they don’t go much further than a neon-colored skin). The obvious exceptions are Rocket and Groot, also the best characters in the film, grounded on good voice acting by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. In fact, the five central characters and well-played by the cast, and they bring some heart to the proceedings.

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Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionInvestigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion: Elio Petri’s film certainly is politically charged and courageous; very much a product of its time and place, thematically. Gian Maria Volonté creates a character that is unpleasant to watch, but at least is interesting; his acting is borderline histrionic, but that’s part of the aesthetics chosen to tell the story, alongside Ennio Morricone’s stylized score, Luigi Kuveiller’s interesting camera work and Ruggero Mastroianni’s editing (all a reminder that the story is a satire, should not be taken too seriously, even if the message is important for the filmmaker.)

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