2010-19 2010-19 Reviews

Porto (2016)

I have found myself struggling with this film. Porto is a film that I enjoyed a great deal when I was watching it. But now that a distance from it has been established, the film feels like a justification or defense for Jake (Anton Yelchin) stalking and physically hitting Mati (Lucie Lucas). I know that is probably not the intention of the film, but that scene is such a profound moment that is enhanced even more due to the film’s structure. 

The audience is shown both point-of-views (Jake’s and Mati’s) and the film feels much like a “how did they get here” kind of film. I know there is probably a more nuanced way of saying that, but that’s how the film works. The structure is also a little complicated to explain because you see moments and flashes of images from all different time periods. You have moments of Jake and Mati before they met, moments of them together, moments of them right after they were together, and moments in the distant future. Director Gabe Klinger plays with the film’s structure by showing some scenes from different timelines back to back and does it with different point-of-views as well. 

It’s a very well-made film. With beautiful compositions, great acting from Yelchin and Lucas, and its clear love for European cinema, it’s hard not to be charmed and wrapped up in Porto. I can’t help but feel that if the film removed Jake hitting Mati and toned down his stalking, the film would feel way different. I found its structure and screenplay very compelling, although it’s not perfect. Mati feels much less fleshed out than Yelchin’s character, Jake. Porto begins with Jake and he seems to get the filmmaker’s sympathy, but it’s structure suggests Mati and Jake are supposed to equal, which makes it troublesome that Jake is more developed than Mati.

The message I gathered from Porto is people want different things in life and they sometimes make decisions that affect others in negative ways without anticipating the outcomes. It’s all about perspective and without it, it’s hard to understand why another person did what they did. I think this is rather interesting and Klinger’s structure helps sell this point. However, when you have a scene where one character hits another and have that serve as the turning point in the film it’s hard to move past it since it completely reshapes the film.


1930s Oldies

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a weak Best Picture nominee from the 1930s. It lacks any strong spark to bring it out of the dull territory it inhabits for 109 minutes. The film takes place primarily in one room with almost all of the action occurring inside the Barretts’ home. These interior scenes have uninspired staging and are boringly shot. Even if you didn’t know The Barretts of Wimpole Street was based on a play, you can figure it out pretty easily since director Sidney Franklin didn’t hide it very well. It often feels like a recording of a stage play rather than a film itself.

You can add The Barretts of Wimpole Street to the melodrama subgenre, “films with weird and controlling fathers who have uncomfortable relationships with their daughters.” Charles Laughton plays the annoying father to Norma Shearer’s Elizabeth Barrett. He has a very creepy relationship with his daughters and kisses his adult niece on the lips. Based on Edward’s (Laughton) relationship with Elizabeth, one could say it’s a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. He repeatedly tells his daughter that she’s sick and therefore cannot leave her house or bed. At one point in the film, Elizabeth manages to go down the stairs, but then is unable to go up them after Edward repeatedly tells her she won’t be able to. I believe that Elizabeth may have actually been sick at one point before the movie takes place but was “sick” for a long time afterwards because she believed she was, due to her father.

Norma Shearer is one of the very few good aspects of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In addition to what I said before, the film is fairly predictable. Many scenes set up each other so you know what’s going to happen in the following scene. The film’s plot is minimal, with its only conflict being that Edward won’t let Elizabeth do anything. The majority of the film is essentially Elizabeth talking to people and Edward bursting in to scold her and the people trying to make her life less unbearable. There are better movies out there with similar stories that are more worth your time.

2000s Oldies

L’enfant (2005)

I couldn’t help thinking I had already seen this film. I hadn’t, but there was something all too familiar about it. Films about young couples that are unable to raise newborns together are out there in spades. I’ll be upfront and say I don’t typically like films with this plot to begin with. 

I don’t know if it’s entirely Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s fault for its familiarity. I’m sure that after winning the Palme d’Or many filmmakers were inspired and wanted to emulate this film. I’ve probably watched several of The Child‘s the imitators over the years. The lack of freshness is a result of that. I felt like nothing about The Child really stands out and without that, I should be interested in the characters, but I found Bruno (Jérémie Renier) very unlikable and Sonia (Déborah François) underdeveloped.

I didn’t care for Bruno and Sonia’s relationship and didn’t care about it being successful. Sonia was better off without Bruno and I couldn’t wait for her to distance herself from him. I have to give the Dardennes credit for not trying to string that relationship along for the whole movie with the state it was in. Many filmmakers fall into this trap and it makes for an excruciating experience for me. 

Bruno was not charming and most of our time is spent with him. He’s a man-child, which is entirely the point, but I didn’t need to watch 95 minutes of him being immature for him to figure that out. An issue lifelike films fall into is that they can be predictable and that’s fine, but from start to finish it needs to be engaging enough for the audience to get a worthwhile experience. The Child does have interesting moments, but the overall sum of its parts leaves a lot to be desired.

1950s Oldies

Le Plaisir (1952)

I have to be honest, I had never heard of Max Ophüls until February during TCM’s 30 Days of Oscar. I watched La Ronde as part of my March Around the World this year and was not a fan. From now watching Le Plaisir, they’re very clearly made by the same filmmaker, but the ideas and views expressed in Le Plaisir are less shallow. There is still plenty of cynicism to go around, but there is a touch of optimism in Le Plaisir. Regardless of how I felt about La Ronde, one thing I can say is the two films I’ve watched had me thinking about his ideas.

Ophüls clearly has an obsession with infidelity and I’m unsure if it’s related to French culture around the time of the stories or just his perception of the world and/or monogamy. Just like La Ronde, cheating on your wife or significant other is presented in such a casual manner you would think it was an every day occurrence outside of his films. There’s a comedic undertone Ophüls expresses as well particularly during the second vignette that is rather interesting because of its joyous nature.

Films made up of vignettes can be a recipe for disaster because some may be good and others may be bad. As a result, a film can come off disjointed. All of the stories need to be engaging enough to keep the story going along smoothly. Story One and Three are interesting enough, but Le Plaisir‘s second, “La Maison Tellier,” is where the film truly shines.

Before the second vignette begins, the narrator describes it as a fairy tale and it’s absolutely true. The way the camera shoots the brothel is the way you might shoot a castle. Even though the camera is voyeuristic, it never feels obtrusive and the audience never sees anything private that the parties involved wouldn’t want you to see (except their wives). The countryside is absolutely beautiful. The countryside scenes have a classical Hollywood feel and look.

I have to admit, I wouldn’t normally say this, but I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful the second vignette would have been in color. The whole vignette, particularly the scenes in the countryside, feel like they’re begging to be colorized. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” Oscar nomination the film received was very well-deserved.

I love the way “La Maison Tellier” is constructed. When I was watching it I was unsure what the story was going to be and who it was going to focus on. Once the film centers on the main characters, it really hits its stride. The story flows so well and is fascinating enough that it doesn’t matter how free the story feels. The story could have gone anywhere and I would have followed it without hesitation.

“La Maison Tellier” is where Le Plaisir truly shines.

2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

And Then We Danced Will Make You Stand and Cheer

Challenges like “March Around the World” are great because not only do they show us different cultures and experiences, but they also result in us watching films that might not have been on our radar. And Then We Danced taught me about Georgian dance, which I honestly had no knowledge of beforehand. I also never would have watched it if it wasn’t for this month’s challenge. When I saw And Then We Danced was playing near me and was from Georgia, I figured it was definitely worth checking out.

I love going into a movie almost completely blind and really digging it. I feel that some of the best moviegoing experiences can come from that circumstance. And Then We Dancedcompletely blew me away in terms of how much I liked it considering I knew nothing about Georgian dance and don’t even have any experience with dance myself. I think that is testament to the power of And Then We Danced and how good it is.

And Then We Danced is led by Levan Gelbakhiani, who plays Merab, a character you root for immediately. Right from the start, Merab wants his teacher’s praise and acceptance, something that we can tell from the very beginning he will not get. Merab, probably somewhat aware of this, tries to not let it phase him because his passion for dance is too strong. Gelbakhiani wears the passion, kindness, and yearning on his face for the entire movie. He gives a moving, internal performance, which makes the ending that much more powerful.

Gelbakhiani is complemented by Bachi Valishvili, who looks like the love child of Jack Reynor and Christopher Abbott. Valishvili plays Irakli, a dancer that replaces someone in the National Georgian Ensemble. He is instant competition for Merab and this disdain Merab feels for Irakli transforms into strong affection. Despite director Levan Akin falling into familiar clichés with Merab and Irakli’s relationship, the rest of the film is so strong and the ending so astonishing it doesn’t matter. It’s an ending that makes you want to stand up and clap when the credits roll.


1950s Oldies

Terror is a Man (1959)

I don’t remember how exactly how I stumbled upon Terror is a Man, but I do recall how the story behind the making of it intrigued me. Filipino directors Gerardo de León and Eddie Romero teamed up with American producer Kane Lynn to create one of the first Filipino horror movies: Terror is a Man. This movie was a success and gave birth to the Blood Islandseries and changed the Filipino film industry forever. I’ve loved horror films for a long time, so when I caught wind of a 50s horror like this, I knew I had to check it out. Unfortunately, the background of Terror is a Man is the only interesting part of it.

Maybe I expected too much going into it. I thought that Terror is a Man was going to be a bold horror with plenty of gore, but ultimately it’s derivative of the other campy monster films that were coming out around the 50s and 60s. It’s not as good as The Fly (1958) or Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). It’s fairly generic and the only part that is remotely exciting happens during the final act. However, I was so bored by the rest of the movie that the ending of the film made virtually no impact on me.

This apathy could be attributed to the fact that you can see what’s going to happen from a mile away. A soldier, William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr), washes upon the shore of a small island. He is discovered by Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer), who conducts experiments that many people would not agree with. Obviously, Mr. Fitzgerald is going to be one of those people and spends the whole movie trying to find out more about Dr. Girard’s experiments. It felt like every scene between Fitzgerald and Dr. Girard was the same. They talked about Dr. Girard’s experiments and Dr. Girard danced around specific questions we already knew the answers to in order to extend the film’s runtime. The only difference is that sometimes the filmmakers might change the location of the conversation and the phrasing of the questions

The logistics of Dr. Girard’s experiments aren’t as sophisticated as Fitzgerald makes them out to be. William Fitzgerald is a very frustrating character. He seems to want every minute detail of what’s going on before he makes a move. Even when it seems like Fitzgerald knows everything he keeps prying Dr. Girard for answers, all while trying to steal his wife. Fitzgerald is the type of bland leading man you might expect from a monster movie from the 50s. It doesn’t help that the rest of the characters are about as exciting as a slice of rye bread. Gerardo de León and Eddie Romero could have reduced the damage of their uninteresting characters with a more engaging story, but they are two peas in a pod.

Terror is a Man is a movie with a plot so thin and blandly executed that it probably shouldn’t have been more than 70 minutes.

1950s Oldies

La Ronde (1950)

I’m going to be participating in the Letterboxd March Around the World 2020 Challenge this year so you may see some reviews posted on here. Click here for a link to my list.

On paper this seemed to be right up my alley, but it missed the mark for me. I think it’s intriguing that it draws attention to itself through the existence of Raconteur (Anton Walbrook) and the carousel. I think Anton Walbrook makes La Ronde more entertaining, but his character’s appearance can be off-putting at times. I think Raconteur works best when he’s interacting with the characters in the stories. When the film cuts away to him at the carousel La Ronde loses momentum sometimes. Nevertheless, I would have liked this movie much less if Anton Walbrook wasn’t so good in it.

Eventually the repetitiveness of the film wore me out. One person cheats on someone with another person. I acknowledge there is a gray area with some of these stories (The Prostitute and the Soldier), but essentially each tale is about one person not being faithful to another and/or using someone else for his or her own benefit, uncaring of the other person’s feelings.

The characters are hypocritical, morally dishonest, and lacking of any substance. The characters are bland and unlikable, so I did not care about them. The only character that seemed to have more depth than the others was The Count (Gérard Philipe), but he doesn’t come in until the last tale. The Count’s story also seemed shorter than the rest, but it may just feel that way because he was the only character I wanted to see more from.

The whole story feels fabricated and this makes total sense due to the nature of La Ronde, but the characters’ motivations feel more guided by the plot than their actual desires. The characters are cheating on one another because they’re supposed to, not because they profoundly want to.

I really thought I would like La Ronde, but unfortunately it did not connect with me this morning.

1930s Oldies

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

I went into this film really wanting to like it, I promise. I had heard great things, saw it on a few prestigious lists, and knew I had to watch it at some point. I recorded it a year or so ago on TCM and didn’t end up watching it until this year. I had heard it was depressing and I wanted to make sure I was in the right headspace before I dove in.

I know that Make Way for Tomorrow has its fans and those fans are very passionate about it, so I apologize. I just couldn’t get into it.

For me, Make Way for Tomorrow functions as a 91 minute ABC Afterschool Special. “Be nice to your old parents or you’re going to hell” is what I gathered from it. There’s this feeling I got while watching that the filmmakers are looking down on you, trying to make you feel guilty and the writers wanting to be as depressing as possible. It felt like the writers cared more about forcing you to feel sad rather than tell a story that does make you feel sad. For them, the emotion comes first, then the story, which I think creates a film that feels disingenuous. Putting it simply, its agenda is too strong and obnoxious. Beginning the film with the title cards that end in “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” results in Make Way for Tomorrow painting itself as a domineering hall monitor, demanding everyone’s utmost respect right away without earning it first.

The characters drove me crazy. Lucy and Barkley’s kids, except George, are the worst children anyone could ask for because of course they are. Thomas Mitchell’s character George is the only child given any point-of-view and empathy. You can tell that he loves his parents and wants to care for them, but is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side you have his mother and the other side you have his wife and daughter. He wants to make both sides happy, but is learning that it won’t be possible because no one is compromising.

Besides George, Lucy and Barkley’s other kids couldn’t care less what happens to them after losing their house. No one will take them in besides George and Cora, and even though Cora takes Barkley in, she treats him horribly. The children of Lucy and Barkley are so terrible and one-dimensional (besides George) that it is almost comical. With them being horrible human beings and Lucy being unrealistically naive, I had a hard time connecting with anyone besides George and Barkley.

By the time Lucy and Barkley’s sweeter-than-candy walk down memory lane occurs I was already too annoyed with this movie. This section of the movie does redeem it slightly, with good chemistry between Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, but not enough to make up for the first half.

2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Let It Snow (2019)

Delightful. This is the best way to describe Let it Snow. Based on current movie culture this may sound like a criticism or condescending, but here I mean it in the best way possible. These days it feels like if a film delivers glee or a form of shameless elation it’s too lowbrow and not to be taken seriously. I would argue in this day in age, when we’re not getting too many movies that uplift you and make you think that maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. Right now, we NEED more movies like this. We need movies that inspire people and give them hope.

OK, time to get off my soapbox now.

The reason why I even wanted to preface my thoughts on Let it Snow with those declarations is after watching this movie, I could already imagine the criticisms that would be thrown at this movie. Twee is the word that came to mind. Is Let it Snow realistic? Of course not. Do I care? No.

Let It Snow is way too fun and its characters too charming for me to care about its unlikeness to real life. When you have a movie that focuses on several relationships the struggle is always finding the balance between making all of them equally interesting. Let It Snow succeeds on that front.

The standout story thread for me settles on Stuart (Shameik Moore) and Julie (Isabela Merced), but all of them are worthwhile stories and none of them instill a groan when the movie switches. Despite the film’s unlikely scenarios (e.g. running into an enormous pop star in your small town or holding a party at a stand-in Waffle House) many of the actors bring an honesty to their performances that you may not normally see in a teen film. You could write it off as their natural charisma and talent, but they feel authentic even when the dialogue doesn’t do them the best of favors.

Liv Hewson, who plays Dorrie, shines in this movie. Her character feels like she stepped off the set of a John Hughes movie and walked into this one. Let it Snow certainly takes from John Hughes, but Hewson is the only actor that would fit right in among Anthony Michael Hall or Molly Ringwald.

When I look for Christmas movies I love ones that have a pleasant atmosphere and a story that puts you in a great mood. Let It Snow is a movie I could see playing every Christmastime on television if it wasn’t a Netflix original. It’s hopeful and I can see myself coming back to this as an annual Christmas movie.

There’s a very good chance it will put a smile on your face.


2015 Reviews

Carol (2015)

Carol tells the story of a relationship that develops between two people who meet by chance.  Carol may be gorgeous, but I found its story unsatisfying.  I thought that the story wandered a little too aimlessly at times.  Thinking technically, the film is incredibly well-made.  The cinematography is gloomy, but also very pretty.  Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give great performances in Carol.

It is hard to recommend Carol because of its loose story.