El Mudo {The Mute}

El Mudo

Why Watch It: For its non-judgmental story about the world of judges, cops, criminals, and families in Peru. For the direction of Diego Vega Vidal and Daniel Vega Vidal. For the acting of Fernando Bacilio.

Warning: Plot Spoilers ahead.

Review: Constatino Zeggara {Fernando Bacilio}, a Peruvian judge, who is seen to be tough on crime, gets shot in his neck and loses his voice. Because of his inability to speak, he faces challenges in his work, and has to deal with changes in his household led by his wife Otilia{Norka Ramirez} and his daughter.

So Constantino must learn to speak, to cope with his new job responsibilities, and to navigate the dynamics with his family members. The police suspect that he may have been accidentally shot. But he declines to believe this. He keeps pushing the police to investigate criminals he has been tough on, even resorting to bribery. How Constantino copes up with the changes at the workplace and house, investigates the shooting, and tries to recover his voice is artfully shown in this subtitled film.

Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars. Almost gets very interesting but misses the spot because of the slow pace.

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Citizen Kane: A Rosebud By Any Other Name

Former media mogul Charles Kane {Orson Welles, also the film’s director} has it all — a palatial residence in Florida enigmatically called Xanadu, vast amounts of wealth, staffers waiting at his beck and call, a large private zoo, cars, highly priced pieces of art. But then he is withering away; lying at death’s bed. Just as he breaths his last, he murmurs “Rosebud.” The entire story of Citizen Kane is about the mysterious last word of the super-rich newspaper mogul Charles Kane, “Rosebud” and how a reporter researches Kane’s life to find out what that particular word means.

The first 13 minutes of the movie are tough/boring to watch but if you survive those minutes you might find the narrative getting easier by the minute. The movie may not seem great by today’s standards. But the editing is quite sharp, the camerawork is excellent, the sets are impressive, and Orson Welles does justice to the role of Kane. It is a must-watch for people studying the history of English films. The review below contains details of the film’s story so future viewers beware!

English:

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the course of the film, the reporter keeps inquiring about the word “Rosebud”. He pores through reams written about Charles Kane, and chats up people who spend years with the super-rich man. Through the journey of the reporter, the movie traces the rise and fall of Kane as he seeks to be successful and loved on his own terms, beginning from the time the protagonist became the inheritor of a vast fortune to the time he passed away.

He learns how Kane became rich as a child when gold was discovered in the mine owned by his mother and how he preferred working on the newspaper business when he legally took control of the wealth. He finds out about Kane’s romantic idealistic notion of helping the public and how Kane was dejected with the strong negative public reaction to his extra-marital affair with singer Susan Alexander, given the corruption of his political rival. The reporter is told that the publicity from this  affair led to Kane’s defeat in New York State’s governor election, the weakening of his newspaper, and also to divorce from his wife, the President’s niece, Emily Monroe Norton. He notes the circumstances in which Kane parted ways with childhood friend Jedediah Leland. He is informed about Kane’s obsession with the voice of Susan, who he married after his divorce.  He is told how Kane spend large amounts of money trying to make Susan an opera star, his desire to keep her alone with him in Xanadu  and his penchant for buying her expensive gifts and how that marriage too came apart. He comes to know that Kane had said “Rosebud” even in the aftermath of this breakup.

There is nothing more to the story of Citizen Kane or to the word “Rosebud”…it seems. So the reporter gives up on his search and concludes that Kane’s life and character could not have summed up in a single word even if that word was his final message. Of course, away from the reporter’s eyes, the observant viewer is rewarded with the inside-knowledge of what “Rosebud” means and why it is important but you might miss that scene if you blink.

Taxi Driver: Politicians and Pimps

Cover of "Taxi Driver [Blu-ray]"

Cover of Taxi Driver [Blu-ray]

Taxi Driver (1976) is a cult movie dealing with enraged armed-and-dangerous taxi driver on a mission to rid the system of its grime. Please note that the  story and the ending are disclosed in the paragraphs below.So if you want to watch the flick and not know what to except then stop reading here.

War veteran Travis Bickle {Robert De Niro} can’t sleep. He reckons that he could use the extra waking hours and gets hired as a cabbie driving in rough areas at night. He notes the rain batter the streets and wishes they could wash away certain criminals from there as well.

He gets strongly attracted to Betsy {Cybill Shepherd} a woman canvassing for Presidential Candidate Charles Palantine {Leonard Harris}. After some hesitation he decides to offer to volunteer for the campaign and ask her out.

Meanwhile, he gets shaken up with an incident where a 12-year-old runaway girl Iris {Jodie Foster} gets into his taxi and asks for his help but is then pulled away by a pimp. Travis decides he wants the streets to be emptied of the pimps and dealers.  When Candidate Palentine rides in his cab, Travis tells him his concern but candidate politely tells him that it’s a problem that will be difficult to handle. Meanwhile, the early promise of a good romantic relation with Betsy ends when she is extremely put off by a movie he takes her. Betsy is unwilling to consider giving him another chance. Upset at all these events, Travis theorizes that society is cold-hearted and calculated and that no-one is doing anything to make the necessary changes.

He decides to be unlike others and be the man “who stood up” against all that was wrong. With this in mind, he arms himself and stakes out the Presidential candidate Palantine who gave him a lackadaisal response. His attention is once again drawn towards Iris whom he recognizes when he sees her again — this time on the street and also encounters the pimp Sport {Harvey Keitel} who is exploiting Iris.  Travis is mentally disturbed, his emotions are heightened, his sleep is compromised, his energy is peaking and he wants to shake up the system. He wants to get eliminate not only the criminal underbelly but also society’s passivity towards the thugs. As such, he is on two missions. After some explosive action Travis completes at least one to his satisfaction — luckily it’s the one which the law approves off, i.e. the rescue of the child prostitute.

Rating: 7/10 for De Niro’s and Foster’s acting, some tense moments, the conclusion of the story, and “You talking to me?” mirror scene. Also a big thumbs up for comparing the crimes of commission done by thugs with the sins of omission by authorities who avoid tackling crime and helping the victims.

Russian Ark: Novel Approach to Royal Treasures

Russian Ark

Russian Ark (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

Russian Ark is a smart surreal Russian parallel cinema movie directed artistically by Alexander Sokurov.

The flick begin with a man awakening to snowfall and being unaware where he is, and unsure why no one can see him {Is he a ghost? Or just invisible? }. He also can’t figure out why an aristocratic Frenchman is able to converse fluently with him despite claiming to be not well-versed with Russian.

Together the Frenchman and the Russian {the first-person narrator} try to figure out: where they are, the era in which they are, and why some people can see them and others can’t. They admire the royal costumes, the opulent palatial settings of the building they are in, the sculptures, the paintings, the lay of a huge banquet. They observe actors, visitors, curators, and royal dignitaries around them{and even some beautiful women who might actually be angels}. The Frenchman scares some people, bothers several court staff and soldiers, and together with the narrator goes on a time-hopping journey as they discuss intricacies of art, culture and Russian history.

russian_ark

russian_ark (Photo credit: 沐小川)

Rating: 10/10 for novelty. I loved how the entire 1.5 hours of film is captured in an unbroken single-shot via videocam, and how the story keeps surging forward. The print, costumes, decor, direction and action were marvellous. Great if you like experimental cinema and are interested in Russian history, art and culture. Also a great movie to disabuse anyone of the notion that offbeat equals boring.