Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! Some excellent movies in this batch. Hoping you seek at least one or two of them. If you do, let me know what you think.
Opening statement of the film (which is now 20 years old):
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. By the time the Soviets withdrew 10 years later, the country had become a ghost of its former self. The devastation, combined with an ensuing civil war, the brutal reign of the Taliban regime, and a 3-year drought, prompted millions of Afghans to flee their country. The UN estimates that Iran now hosts 1.5 million Afghan refugees. Most of the young generation was born in Iran and has never been home.
Starring: Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Amir Naji, Hossein Mahjoub, Abbas Rahimi, Gholam Ali Bakhshi, Jafar Tawakoli, and many others.
Director: Majid Majidi
Genres: drama, romance
Synopsis: Set mostly at a construction site where workers are busy constructing a tall brick building, Iranians and Afghan refugees work side by side – until the inspectors come. Because they don’t have “green cards” the Afghan workers have to run and hide (sound familiar?) Lateef (played by Abedini) is one of the few workers who has his green card. He’s a young man whom the boss, Memar (played by Amir Naji) has assigned to make tea and to go to market to buy groceries. When one of the Afghan workers falls and injures his leg, the injured worker sends his “son,” Rahmat (played by Bahrami,) to work in his place or the family will have no income. The “son” isn’t cut out for hard manual labor, so the Boss, being kind-hearted, gives Rahmat Lateef’s cushy job and makes Lateef start doing the hard labor. Resentful of Rahmat, who not only took his job but does the job much better than he did, he sets out to sabotage him – until he sees something that changes everything. The often cavalier and disruptive Lateef is transformed to a pensive and generous young man. The other main setting is the small quaint village where the injured worker, a widower, and his children live. Interspersed with the story are conversations about loved ones still living in Afghanistan and the hell they are going through.
Impressions: The film creates a love story in the middle of what looks like a tough place to try to survive, especially if you are a refugee without a green card. Meticulous attention to detail and an unrushed pacing works so well in “Baran.” Having Lateef’s character tell the story through his voyeuristic observances also works very well. I liked seeing what a small Iranian village looks like, including vegetation, climate, architecture, food, and ways of living. The transformation of the self-centered Lateef to the lovestruck altruist was very heartwarming.
Etc.: Set in Tehran, Iran. Selected as Iran’s submission in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2001 Oscars. The director is the same one who directed, “Children of Heaven,” the movie about the children and the missing shoes.
Awards: 13 wins and 5 nominations
Skipped trailer on this one as too much is given away in them.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Don Beddoe, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce, Gloria Castillo, and many more.
Director: Charles Laughton
Genres: crime, drama
Synopsis: The story begins where a bank robber dad (played by Peter Graves) gets back to the farm long enough to hand a wad of cash to his young kids. He tells them to hide it well and whatever they do, don’t tell anyone where it is. Both kids do as they are told. Their guileless mom (played by Shelly Winters) is getting community pressure to abandon her husband in prison and remarry (or something close.) Cut to the prison, where “the preacher” (played with frightening and sinister perfection by Robert Mitchum) shares a cell with dad, who talks in his sleep. The preacher finds out the money is at the farm and the kids know where it is. When he’s released from prison, the preacher mosies on to the sleepy community and woos not only the mom but the townsfolk. Once he’s woven his spell on them, he commences trying to find out from the kids where the money is hidden. The little girl is too innocent to resist him but the boy knows he’s bad to the bone. And so begins “The Night of the Hunter.”
Impressions: Liam at Panorama of the Mountains wrote a review of the film. It intrigued me not only because of the plot but because it was the only film Charles Laughton ever directed. The black and white film is noir at its finest. The way it is shot lends itself not only to menace but surrealism. Mitchum as Harry Powell plays the serial killer who gaslights his victims with the skill that comes with practice. The savior of the kids, and the hero of the story, is played by Lillian Gish. Mitchum and Gish elevate the movie from great to iconic. Film school students should study this one. It’s a masterpiece before its time.
Etc.: trivia per imdb:
Stanley Cortez, the film’s cinematographer, had also worked on Orson Welles’ masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). He remarked some years after the making of this film that only two directors he’d worked with had understood light, “that incredible thing that can’t be described”: Welles and Laughton.
There is a wealth of trivia about this movie at imdb!
Awards: 2 wins
Honest (2008) 6-part TV series
Starring: Amanda Redman, Danny Webb, Sean Pertwee, Michael Byrne, Matthew McNulty, Amit Shah, Eleanor Wyld, Laura Haddock, Thomas Nelstrop, Maye Choo, Ewan Bailey, Bert Kwouk, and many more.
Creators: James Griffin, Rachel Lang
Synopsis: Redman plays Lindsay Carter, the matriarch of the Carter family after her husband, Mack (played by Webb) goes to an unexpectedly long 4 years in prison. The revolving door of prison is status quo for the criminally minded family but usually only short stints. The Carter kids are twin young men (played by McNulty,) one who is an attorney and one a proper street hood; a young woman Kacie (played by Haddock) who is gorgeous; she idolizes Naomi Campbell and will do anything to be a top model celebrity; a high school-aged daughter, Lianna (played by Wyld,) who has been wiggling out of attending for a very long time. Throw in paternal grandfather, Norman (played by Byrne,) who taught his son the tricks of the trade and is a real hoot; and the thug twin’s inseparable sidekick, Reza (played by Shah,) and you’ve got a charismatic household. The premise of the show is now that Mack is gone for 4 years, Lindsay decides the family is going to leave its criminality behind and start working and living in an honest fashion. Lindsay is committed to the idea, but neither her family nor the police detective Ed Bain (played by Pertwee) or his bumbling sidekick, Harrison (played by Thomas) believe it can be done. There is also a very interesting cast of other characters on the show, including Mr. Hong (played by Kwouk,) who may or may not be a Triad boss, and his lovely “dragon lady daughter,” Vicky Hong (played by Choo.)
Impressions: Funny premise that is executed very well. The series does a great job of showing how the lines between the law abiding and the criminal worlds blur. I recently finished watching 10 seasons of “New Tricks,” another UK series starring Amanda Redman and went out to find more of her work. I wasn’t disappointed!
Etc.: UK series. This is the only season made, which is a shame.
Awards: none known
Starring: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Darío Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner, Pilar Castro, Nathalie Poza, Susi Sánchez, Joaquín Notario, Priscilla Delgado, Blanca Parés, Ariadna Martín, Rossy de Palma, Sara Jiménez, Ramón Agirre, Tomás del Estal, and many more.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Genres: family, drama, mystery
Synopsis: Julieta, a young woman (played by Ugarte) meets a handsome (married) stranger, Xoan (played by Grao) on a train. They go their separate ways, she to a teaching position and he back to his beautiful home by the sea. When Julieta receives a letter at the school from Xoan it works out that she can go to his home to see him. His situation has changed and soon they are parents. A big event sends Julieta on another path, one that leaves her alone and in torment.
Impressions: The story is told in segments of past mixed with present, which works really well to weave the mystery of why Julieta finds herself where she is: alone and in torment. Ugarte as young Julieta and Suarez as older Julieta give seamlessly polished performances. Ava (played by Cuesta,) the beautiful artist, also gives an excellent performance. Grao as the handsome husband fisherman who is also a terrific father, has you rooting for he and Julieta’s union. Argentinian actor Grandinetti as Lorenzo, the man who tries to build a new life with the older Julieta, is perfectamundo as the gentle lover and support person (where can I find his twin!) What pulls this whole thing together so beautifully is the direction of one of the best directors in the world, Almodóvar.
Etc.: Spanish, filmed in 16 locations in Spain, in Spanish with English subtitles; imdb trivia: Based on three stories by Alice Munro: “Chance,” “Soon” and “Silence,” from her 2004 collection Runaway.
Awards: 16 wins and 62 nominations
I Care a Lot (2020) netflix
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Nicholas Logan, Liz Eng, and many more.
Director: J Blakeson
Genres: crime (imdb labels it as a comedy also but isn’t funny at all to me!)
Synopsis: Pike as Marla Grayson is an impeccable-looking package: perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, perfect everything – but with insides that are evil to the core. She runs a business (i.e. court-sanctioned racket) where she becomes the legal guardian of the elderly who are deemed (by her, the doctor she is in cahoots with, and the gullible, clueless judge who never questions Marla because she has her ducks in a row in the courtroom) as incompetent and unable to care for themselves or their estates. Marla has a well-oiled machine that quickly confines the elderly, who often never even appear in court to defend themselves, to lockdown assisted living, and then kicks it into gear by liquidating all of their assets – into her account! She looks like a saint on paper, but she soulless and proud of it. Where the machine gets sand in the gears is when she tries her stuff on the wrong old lady who isn’t the “cherry”(i.e. no relatives, no connections, nobody to care what happens to her, etc.) she appears to be. To Marla the old woman is just another easy mark that lines her pockets, but she quickly learns otherwise. Marla’s nemesis is the ever-excellent Peter Dinklage as Roman, and it becomes a Clash of the Sociopathic Titans.
Impressions: I really liked the first 2/3 of the movie and it built up so very well until it just sort of fell apart and into the absurd. Pike was able to generate a feeling of rage in me at how cavalier and uncaring she was in her behavior, expressions, and life view, as I know there are real people like her out there, but even her evil became mechanical at the end. Dinklage was the worthy, ominous opponent until that last third, when he too fell into a caricature of badass. It’s a shame they did. The ending should have popped but instead fizzled. Wiest was great as the old lady but they underutilized her. Messina was excellent as the slick attorney.
Awards: 1 win
Roy Orbison: Black & White Night (1988)
Starring: Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d.lang, Bonnie Raitt, J Steven Soles, JD Souther, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Jennifer Warnes, Alex Acuna, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Scheff, Ronnie Tutt, Mike Utley
Cinematography: Tony Mitchell
Genres: musical performance
Synopsis: Roy Orbison and a stellar ensemble plays his hits. Filmed in black and white.
Impressions: Great music! Only thing I didn’t like was it was very difficult to hear the backup singers. Come on, these singers are awesome but barely audible.
Etc.: per imdb:
The show was filmed in 1987 at the Coconut Grove club in Los Angeles. The original TV broadcast was in 1988, at 55 minutes, in 4:3 format. The VHS release corresponded. The DVD issued in 1999 was slightly reedited, 1h05m, 16:9 format. TV showings after 2000 corresponded. In 2017 Roy’s three sons issued a 30th anniversary disc. It was rearranged. The show was 1h33m, including a private session after the audience had left.
Awards: 1 win