Archive for DVDs

Shrove Tuesday Means “Black Orpheus” To Me!

I post this every year – because I can and also because I get a chance to tout a favorite movie from back in the day: “Black Orpheus”

I cannot think of any Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival (March 4th this year) without having this terrific movie samba- ing across my mind.

“Black Orpheus”, 1959, was made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus. It is the classic Greek romantic tragedy of Orpheus (Breno Mello) and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) set against the back drop of a high energy, high drama, dance troupe.

The costumes, the music of Rio de Janeiro, the dancing, and all those pretty people being chased by a man in a skeleton mask – fabulous.

Even if you haven’t seen this film, you are probably familiar with its great music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, including “Manhã de Carnaval” (written by Luiz Bonfá).

So, if you can’t get to a Mardi Gras near you,  get the “Black Orpheus” DVD, put on some feathers and sequins, throw some beads out the window to people and enjoy!

Per WikiPedia: “Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or prize at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival as well as the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.”

 


The “Funk Brothers” on DVD

“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day…”

The opening bass line that precedes the above lyric to the “Temptations” song “My Girl”, is instantly recognizable, instantly evoking a time/ place/age gone but still very much alive when the music plays. (I still know all the words.)

I watched the DVD, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” again. It tells the story of the “Funk Brothers”, those musicians who rhythmically supported the stars of Motown with their piano, drums, horn section and guitars. According to the liner notes, “They played on more #1 records than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis combined…”

There are interviews, funny and touching, with the guys as they reminisce about their experiences at “Hitsville, USA”.  Unknown by the thousands of us that religiously bought a new 45 whenever possible, they drove the beat behind the Motown hit records from the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder (he was “little” then), the Miracles, etc. The stars were good, but so was the band.

We are also treated to concert footage – artists of today singing the old songs. It’s been a long time, but the music lives – they do a great job, different but still great.

 

Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” on DVD

Famed director Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”, (1957) with the amazing Max von Sydow and the rest of his stable of actors (Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, and Bibi Andersson) gained a cult following when first seen in the U.S. I was introduced, in the late 60’s, to this beautiful black and white film about a chess playing chalk faced man in a black cloak and loved it. It still shows up on those “Greatest Films of all times” lists after all these years and I still think it’s terrific.

In short, the story is about a 14th century Swedish knight that returns from the crusades. After being followed home thru the devastation of a war torn and plague infested countryside, he plays a game of chess with “death” to save his life. Lots of stark landscapes, lots of symbolism and abstraction – great stuff! “The Seventh Seal” isn’t shown much now, so I am grateful for the DVD.

Ingmar Bergman, (1918-2007) – Hugely prolific, below are only some of his films that are available on DVD:

1950s: Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries

1960s: The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, Persona

1970s: Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage , Autumn Sonata

1980s: Fanny and Alexander

 

DVD: Mr. Belafonte!

Everyone knows who Harry is – just listening to a few chords of “Day-O” or “Ma-tilda” brings his handsome face to the mind’s eye. At 85, he is still attractive of course, but Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song, a fascinating documentary out on DVD, fills in and rounds out the well lived life of the entertainer to be more than a man in a sexy shirt and tight pants. Besides being a singer, actor, husband and father, Mr. Belafonte is an activist, a pioneer and a humanitarian. A full life.

BTW:  There is a book My Song: A Memoir and a CD, Harry Belafonte Sing Your Song: The Music that also celebrate this man’s life and music.

 

DVD Corner: “A Prophet”

French film, A Prophet (Un Prophète, 2009) directed by Jacques Audiard struck me as a cautionary tale for wayward youth. It details the experiences of 19 year old Malik (Tahar Rahim) as he serves his 8 year prison sentence for refusing to cooperate with police.

A product of juvenile detention facilities, incarceration in an adult prison matures him, not in the way usually meant. Instead of rehabilitation, “learning his lesson” while repaying his debt to society, etc., prison teaches him questionable survival skills and he toughens. What he learns in prison far surpasses what he could have learned on the streets.

Surviving alone may work on the outside, but in captivity, being part of a group is vital, and being the top dog in that group is prime, doing whatever it takes to get there. Malik adapts to the inhumanity that surrounds him and prospers.

You get drawn into the story and after awhile, you start to root for this young man and want him to rise above somehow. Which perhaps is a testament to both the acting and writing because Malik does some evil stuff, but you still want him alive and freed after his 8 years. (It’s not so much that you want him to “win”- but you want him to survive, to live long enough to discover another way of being in the world.)

But, what lingering effects will violent actions and experiences have on a kid? Are they difficult to erase like tattoos? Is he branded forever? I don’t know.

Fascinating movie.

BTW:  Un Prophète (2009) won the Grand Prize at Cannes Festival, 2009


DVD Corner: About That Girl and Her Tattoo…

I kept noticing this “Tattoo” book on the local paperback best seller list for the past year or so and  I got curiouser and curiouser.

So, I cheated and watched “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” on DVD first and then read the books – yes, plural. I was so hooked on the main characters and their adventures that  reading the whole trilogy by Swedish writer Stieg Larson was the only option.  Had such a great time! (All 3 are now available on DVD)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The books are cleverly dense with detail, suspense, intrigue and double dealing. The screen writer was selective in what was included in the subsequent movies, but they are well done (I think  “Tattoo” was the best).  I love a mystery – who disappeared, who was betrayed, who covered up. The 2 main characters, fearless,  antisocial “Lisbeth Salander”, fiercely brought to life by Noomi Rapace and investigative journalist “Michael Blomkvist”, played by Michael Nyqvist, were great, but I must say that everyone was.  Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, they did a super job.

The action takes place in Sweden – I marvel at the similarities and the differences to American life. A conspiracy is a conspiracy, politics is politics, muckraking is muckraking regardless of the language.  The methods to uncover evil machinations are now global with the blanket use of the internet. Hacking has never seemed so exciting. A warning – some scenes are violent, but, they do give some insight as to why our “Girl” behaves as she does.

Of course I’m sorry Mr. Larson passed away in 2004, especially since after reading the final book and watching the DVD (“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”), I got the distinct impression that our non-heroine/heroine, Ms Salander, was not finished – there was more to do, more to reveal and dig up, more people to disturb. Sigh… (Hope that didn’t sound too callous?)

I don’t know why, but there is an American remake planned with David Fincher as Director (He did Social Network), David Craig (the most recent actor to play James Bond) and relative newcomer Rooney Mara as the tattooed girl.  It better be good!

FYI: I’m getting a Tat for my next birthday – something tiny and therefore, not too painful (but I’ll feel a little fierce 8-) )

 


“Precious“ * The Famous African Lady Detective

“Precious Ramotswe“ is Botswana‘s only female private investigator – the main character of the HBO series, now on DVD. Directed by the late Anthony Minghella, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency “, was produced for the BBC in 2008 and then shown in the U.S. in 2009.  It is based on the popular book series by Alexander McCall Smith.

“Precious” is played by Grammy winner Jill Scott. Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose and Idris Elba from “The Wire” are also part of the great cast. As in the books, our bush tea drinking, lady sleuth tracks down wayward husbands, missing children and solves village mysteries all the while keeping to the traditions of her culture and maintaining the standards of both Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela (she admires both).

There are 3 DVDs in the set and I enjoyed them all. “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency“ has charm and heart. Great fun.

BTW: I noticed a few years back that Ms Ramotswe and the author’s name were listed week after week on the San Francisco/Bay area California paperback bestseller list. I discovered that the Botswana detective has a worldwide cult following.

Books in the series:
* 1998 .The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
* 2000 .Tears Of The Giraffe
* 2001 .Morality for Beautiful Girls
* 2002 .The Kalahari Typing School for Men
* 2004 .The Full Cupboard of Life
* 2004 .In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
* 2006 .Blue Shoes and Happiness
* 2007 .The Good Husband of Zebra Drive


DVD: Director Roberto Rossellini

Italian Neorealist director Roberto Rossellini, (1906-1977), made a series of films just after World War II labeled the “War Trilogy”. They have been issued in a DVD box set :
“Rome Open City, (1945)” “Paisan” (1946) and “Germany Year Zero” (1948)

Acclaimed by French directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, their articles appeared in the film magazine “Cahiers du Cinema”,  declaring Rosselini “the father of the French New Wave”. His use of non-actors, his focus on little human interest stories and his use of the Italian street as back drop gave Rossellini ‘s films a grittiness and realism rarely seen in Europe before the war.

Roberto Rossellini’s “War Trilogy”



I Watched “The Departed” Again

This 2006 film, directed by Martin Scorsese, was just on network TV last night and I couldn’t help myself, I watched it again. Even with all the commercials and bleeps, it is a fabulous movie. (If you can, find the DVD to have a seamless experience and no bleeps – If you like Scorsese, you’ve heard the words before.)

The Departed is a violent, hard film, no sweetness here, no happy ending. A young police officer goes undercover in a local gang, just as another cop infiltrates the same gang.

Who’re the good guys? Who’s wearing the “white” hat? Who is doing what to whom? Cynical with assorted shades of grey – both cops and criminals seem to have other revenue sources, sort of a cross pollination effect.

As always, this director knows the value of a good story- a lot of blood, high suspense and one of the most explosive final lines of any film that I’ve heard.  The actors were totally committed to making the bizarre characters real and believable which is not just an example of the talent of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg, but it is also a testament to Scorsese’s skill.

I’ve seen most of Scorsese’s films and if this isn’t the “best” he has done, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director, it’s pretty close to my other favs like Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc.

The Departed – a tough, entertaining movie!

Btw – The Departed is a remake of the 2002 Chinese movie called Infernal Affairs, directed by Andrew Lau (also on DVD)

Michael Jackson

“This Is It” is the documentary released in DVD that captured the final days of the “King of Pop” as he prepared for a concert tour in 2009. I’ll be honest, I began to watch with some hesitation – Is this going to be a sad, tragic documentary about a frail former super star? (I didn’t really want to see that.) But happily, no worries.

“This Is It” is a joyous celebration of the pop entertainer’s talent and hard work.  This compilation of rehearsal footage includes a lot of the songs and dance moves we all know and love and as the show is rehearsed and shaped, we also get to see the attention to detail, the professionalism that was Michael Jackson. He was totally present and engaged. Nothing was too small to go over until it was right. He loved it all.

It becomes obvious why MJ was not “famous” just for wearing gem encrusted gloves -  his fans loved him because he so obviously cared about them. He wanted his audience to be entertained. He wanted them to say “Wow” and they did.

Michael Jackson, R.I.P. (Still hard to believe)