Friday, January 27, 2012

January: Quick Reviews and Ratings

I don't have the time and energy to review every film I watch, so I'll give a quick capsule review and rating of some first viewings I have not looked at in a feature length review throughout January:


Cabaret (Bob Fosse 1972) - Cabaret won eight 1972 Academy Awards, losing out to The Godfather for Best Picture. Bob Fosse took home Best Director and Liza Minnelli (excellent) won Best Actress, and the film is widely considered to be one of the revolutionary musicals ever created. Not having much of an interest in musicals, I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy this film, but due to its significant prestige, I figured it would be worth a look. It is excellent - and I was impressed by the strength of the emotional impact produced by the story, and the catchiness of the song and dance sequences. Set in Berlin in 1931, Cabaret follows the lives of an American singer and cabaret star, Sally Bowles (Minnelli), and Brian Roberts (Michael York), a reserved English academic, who moves into her building at the start of the film and later becomes her lover. Amidst the turbulent political period, they also experience ups-and-downs in their own lives. Even the subplots (a romance between two of Brian's pupils - a German Jew posing as a Christian and a wealthy Jewish heiress) have real bearing on the story. What gives Cabaret a lift beyond simply being an engaging romance, or a catchy musical, is the fact that it is socially conscious. Almost all of the musical interludes, which feature inventive choreography, are shot and edited in a dynamic and visceral style - seamlessly captured from all angles (from the POV of the crowd, from off-stage). They also directly relate to the narrative and the rise of the National Socialist Movement, while also existing as a performance in the Kit Kat Klub. Even for cinephiles with little interest in musicals as a genre, this one is well worth a look. ★★★★


The Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr, 2000) - Considered to be one of the masterworks of Hungarian master Bela Tarr. It is based on the novel, The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. It is shot in black and white and the 145-minute running time is composed of just thirty nine lengthy shots. The central character is Janos (Lars Rudolph), a kind-hearted and gentle young man living in a small town surviving a bitter winter on the Hungarian plains. He is a postal worker who also takes care of an elderly music historian, and has great interest in the cosmos and the miracles of creation. One night - and casting a sinister shadow over the town, despite it being the dead of night - a traveling circus arrives in town with an enormous dead whale entombed in a corrugated iron trailer. Rumour quickly spreads around town about another accompanying attraction, dubbed "The Prince", whose feared influence over the bewildered and restless townsfolk, who assemble in the cold around the trailer, soon becomes horrifically apparent. The plot, to say the least, is bizarre, but what Tarr manages to convey in this series of richly textured, and marvellously constructed sequences (despite their length, they never cease to be captivating), is simultaneously beautiful and haunting, but above all, thought-provoking. There is sparse use of music throughout the film, but when it is present (the wonderful opening sequence, the beautiful moment where Janos first investigates the whale, and the finale, are examples) it is unforgettable. But scenes like these are reciprocated with equally disturbing ones - the townfolk's mass ransacking of a hospital ward as if under a trance. Tarr's floating camera takes us through these strange occurrences - never relinquishing this feeling of ominous tension. Masterful. ★★★★★

14 comments:

  1. I'd love to see Cabaret. I still remember the time our cinema tutor broke out some Bob Fosse dance moves when talking about his films.

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    1. You should check it out - it's pretty extraordinary. Phenomenal direction.

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  2. I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information I got gathered. Thanks to Author.

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  3. I agree, Werckmeister Harmonies is a masterpiece. I'm glad you got to see it.

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    1. I saw you gave it a 9.3. High praise indeed!

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  4. I haven't seen Cabaret but sounds like it's something I might enjoy. On my favorite actors voices post, someone mentioned Michael York as their fave voice, so I'm curious to check that out as well.

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    1. He does have a great voice - and I had no idea who he was when he cameos in the third season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (he's one of the restaurant investors), but realised he was probably famous because of this role. Worth a look, for sure.

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  5. I agree with you on both these reviews. Cabaret is a film I didn't expect much from going in, but I came out liking it a lot. I plan on revisiting it at some point.

    And Werckmeister Harmonies enthralled me from beginning to end. Some of the best long takes of cinema, an enthralling and breathtaking film. I need to check out more Tarr.

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    1. Yeah, one of my friends said it was one of the best directed films he has ever seen - and Fosse beat Coppola for Best Director that year. I can say I have seen it now, and I think it is essential viewing for any film enthusiast. I heard so much about The Turin Horse last year. It played at the Sydney and Melbourne International Film Festivals, but I had no interest in it. I guess Satantango is essential Tarr - but it is a gruelling 7 1/2 hours.

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  6. I really like Werckmeister. I probably sound like I'm back selling but there are some slow moments, which makes the use of the cinematography and score and camerawork more poignant.

    And I'm probably the only gay man who hasn't seen Cabaret yet and I need to be tied down to rectify that.

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    1. Some really phenomenal camerawork, and yes, the pace of the film does accentuate the technical brilliance. The way the scenes continue to evolve over their extreme length and include tracking shots, circling shots, aerials and close-ups all in the same movement. I love the use of score also - and that final shot brought tears to my eyes. Dude, check out Cabaret. It's pretty good.

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  7. Glad to see some love for CABARET (especially from a non-musical lover). I'm elicited much ire when I said I wish it'd have won the Oscar over THE GODFATHER (apples and oranges, of course). But, it's a fine film regardless of awards' sensibilities.

    I like, for example, your use of the word "visceral" - the film for all its visual prettiness is hardly "easy" or "pretty".

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    1. Well I am a big fan of The Godfather - but I totally see why Bob Fosse beat out Coppola for direction. The film was splendidly choreographed - and you're right, the Kit Kat Klub was quite dingy. Not at all a pretty location. I really dug it. A few of my friends had been championing it, and I had it sitting on a pile for more than a month. Glad I dug it out.

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