TV review: Inside Man (2022)

The four-part mini-series each lasting one hour debuted last week on Netflix. I watched it because the premise seemed interesting and it had good actors. It features Stanley Tucci as a criminologist who brutally murdered his wife and is now on death row in the US. But it turns out that he has powerful analytical skills and a superior knowledge of human psychology and this enables his to solve crimes even while in prison. The prison warden allows people to consult him on unsolved cases. A fellow death row inmate in the adjacent cell happens to have an almost perfect memory and accompanies him during these interviews to serve as a recorder. David Tennant is a vicar in the UK dealing with a troubled verger in his church. (A verger is someone who serves as a caretaker and attendant in the church, assisting the vicar in his duties.) Although the vicar and the convict never meet, their stories become intertwined because a British journalist visits Tucci to try and get him to solve the disappearance of someone the journalist knows who happens to be the mathematics tutor to Tennant’s son.
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Film review: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

My tastes in art are decidedly lowbrow. I am the kind of person who would benefit from reading certain authors (James Joyce, William Faulkner) and poets (T. S. Eliot) and seeing the films of certain directors (Luis Bunuel, Frederico Fellini) within the framework of courses taught by experts in those areas who can explain to me what the hell is going on. If ever I needed to be reminded of this, my recent viewing of this film by director Alain Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet certainly did so. I had heard of this film ages ago and was intrigued by the fact that some film connoisseurs rave about this film (it has a 95% rating of critics at Rotten Tomatoes) while others have placed on the list of the fifty worst films of all time. So when I finally got a chance to stream it, I did so.

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Midsomer Murders takes on atheism

As long time readers know, I am a fan of TV detective stories, especially the genteel type of story set in quiet settings where the villain is unmasked at the end. The British police procedurals are a significant sub-genre and one of the most venerable is the series Midsomer Murders that began in 1997 and is now in its 24th season. Set in a fictitious rural county in England, it follows a set formula and that very familiarity is part of its appeal.

I have seen all 22 seasons and noticed that over time it has developed a certain campy quality as the writers seem to be trying to introduce ever more bizarre ways of having the murderer kill their victims. You would think that any reasonably competent murderer would try to make it quick and clean in order to avoid getting caught. But these murderers seems to be artists who want to make a statement and thus seem to spend a lot of time creating increasingly exotic ways of staging victims, even in places where they are likely to be found doing so. The campiness has reached a point where the discovery of the victims makes me laugh out loud.
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Film review: The Big Sleep (1946, 1978)

I recently watched this 1946 film directed by Howard Hawks. It had long been on my list of must-see films because it is considered a classic of the film noir genre and I finally found a DVD of it at my library. Based on a novel by Raymond Chandler, it features Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the former as a private detective Philip Marlowe hired by an elderly millionaire with two willful and beautiful daughters, the elder of whom is played by Bacall, who has a wild, drug using, promiscuous younger sister who is being blackmailed with photographs taken of her in compromising positions.

As Marlowe’s investigation proceeds, people start getting killed left and right. But unlike most detective stories, where everything is neatly tied up at the end and there is a single killer (or maybe two killers), this one defies any such clean denouement. I counted seven killings, with six each committed by a different person and the seventh unaccounted for. The Bacall character also keeps popping up everywhere, even in places where should not be, without any explanation as to why she is there and what she is doing.
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Choosing films to watch

This comic strip will strike a chord with many readers who have spent a long time idly skimming through the streaming options trying to find something to watch. It can be difficult even if one is alone and there are no competing views.

(Pearls Before Swine)

I have pretty much given up on searching through the catalog as a way of finding films. It is very rarely that I stumble across anything that I think is worthwhile to spend a couple of hours on. When I do find something, it is a title that I had heard about before and made a mental note of as possibly interesting and then forgotten about it. What I do now is maintain a list of films that I would like to see based on reviews or recommendations, and then wait until they become available in some format.
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Film Review: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)

This British documentary directed and narrated by Mark Cousins looks at the history of film making around the world starting from 1888, looking at them from the point of view of the social context of films, the times in which they were made, what they were trying convey, their innovations, the techniques that were used, and how they influenced each other. The scope of the documentary is of the entire history of film over the entire globe, and includes explorations of the work of lesser-known (to me at least) directors, including those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The documentary lasts 15 hours in total that are spread over 15 episodes. It is interspersed liberally with clips from many films in order to make its points. Despite its length, some selectivity is of course essential. Cousins focuses on the creative aspects of films and thus the work of directors and, to a lesser extent, screenwriters and cinematographers. Cousins is clearly partial to the realist school of filmmaking and to those directors who took risks and made experimental films that pushed the boundaries of the craft or showed their societies in a realistic and hence unflattering light and thus risked repercussions from their governments. Such directors are less well-known outside the cognoscenti because their films were usually not box office hits. You will find few mentions of the big Hollywood blockbusters unless they used some innovative techniques or are used to contrast with more realistic depictions.

The documentary is presented largely chronologically, except when jumping from one era to another in order to show connections. I think that the more attuned you are to the aesthetic of cinema, the more this will appeal to you. Even though I am somewhat of a low-brow film viewer, I still found the documentary engrossing.

Here’s the trailer.

Police shows as propaganda

I have never watched any episodes of the extremely popular Law and Order and its multiple spin-offs and after watching John Oliver’s critique of it as essentially police propaganda, I am not likely to. He says that these shows get the assistance of police departments to produce them (thus greatly reducing their production costs) and in return portray the police and the US justice system in a very favorable light, as consisting of people who always have justice as their goal and almost always close their cases, which is simply not true. The shows, while claiming to get their material from real life, ignore the systemic problems that exist in the system and the many real life cases of police atrocities.

The great Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a giant of a man, not just physically but by virtue of his many talents as a professional athlete, lawyer, singer, actor, and political activist. By rights, he should be much better known than he is in the US. One should find his name on public buildings and monuments but his political activism, his steadfast support of socialism and the working class, his anti-imperialism, and his relentless denunciations of American racism made him a pariah to the ruling elites in the US who tried their best to derail his career and ruin his life and they partially succeeded.

In Howard Bryant’s excellent book The Heritage that deals with black athletes and politics that I reviewed here, he described Robeson’s testimony in 1956 to the House Un-American Activities Committee that hauled him up before Congress and tried to berate him. But he was defiant in his testimony.
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Dramatic rescue of stranded horses

I am reposting something that I originally published over a decade ago for the benefit of those who did not see it, because it is one of those things that makes me feel good whenever I see it.

The video is undoubtedly enhanced by the music by the Greek composer Vangelis that begins around the one minute mark. It was the soundtrack for the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). He also won an Academy Award for his equally memorable score for Chariots of Fire (1981).

Film review: Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Just recently I watched this film version of the musical that has been one of the biggest musical stage sensations ever since it was first performed in 1986. I have not lived in places where big-budget musicals are staged and even if I did, I would likely not have gone to the theater to see them because the ticket costs would have been beyond my means. So I wait until they make a film version and usually watch it when they stream it.

Given how massively successful it was on stage, I was expecting a lot and was hugely disappointed in this film. It was, to be honest, quite boring and apart from a few songs that have become hits (the title song, Music of the Night and All I Ask of You), I found the whole thing underwhelming.

Not all successful stage musicals translate well to the screen. Other failures include Hair and Cats. Some notable successes were South Pacific, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Why do some fail and others succeed? It is not due to skimping in the film version. Since this film production was lavish and elaborate (as the stage production was reputed to be) the difference may well be due to the fact that what people find spectacular when seen live on stage may seem just ordinary to film viewers who are used to special effects. It also depends on the strength of the music. The successes I listed each had many more memorable songs than this one.
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