LA DOLCE VITA

By Leo Racicot

La Dolce Vita – 1960 – dir. Federico Fellini

A master of baroque, neo-realist cinema, Federico Fellini took movies to a new level, turning standard, narrative storytelling on its head and replacing it with poetry. Few, if any, directors since even try to copycat his style, deferring to his one-of-a-kind status as a genius of camera-wielding and a maker of innovative art.  He was to the camera what Picasso was to the canvas and made us see Image as we had never seen it before.

La Dolce Vita (translated as “The Sweet Life” or “The Good Life”) stands as a perfect example of Fellini’s genius. One of the most acclaimed European films of the 1960s (indeed, it illustrates “The Swinging Sixties” perhaps better than any other film ever made of that era), it won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, winning for Best Costume Design. Entertainment Weekly named it the 6th greatest movie of all time and it shines now more than it did when it was made because our modern-day society with its attachment to shallow values, instant fame (Warhol’s 15 minutes of “Me”) and universal promiscuity mirrors Fellini’s world view and reveals the director, in addition to his many other gifts, to be a true prophet of the future.
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BIG FISH

By Jared M. Gordon

Big Fish – 2003 – dir. Tim Burton

Tim Burton’s Big Fish is an homage to everything that we were, everything that we are, and everything that we will be.  What really bakes your noodle is the reveal that it’s all happening, every moment, all at once.

Based on the novel by mythology enthusiast Daniel Wallace (watch for a cameo of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces on Ed Bloom’s nightstand), Big Fish is a tale about everything big in our lives: the worlds of our childhood, the worlds of being in love, and the worlds of responsibility, maturity, death, and beyond.

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CASABLANCA

By Peggy Nelson

Casablanca – 1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz

So.  Here you are, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), a young woman in your twenties, newly hatched and out and about in the world, meeting the usual suspects.  Among them is Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinreid); he’s handsome, passionate, committed to a good cause, the only cause: liberté, égalité, fraternité.  In fact, he’s actually the leader of the resistance!  And single.  And he singles you out.  You cannot believe your luck.  There are many late nights in the café, and then later nights at his apartment.  Your relationship is secret, this is for your protection he says, but that just adds to the aura.  There’s a lot of travel, too; it isn’t safe to stay too long in one place, especially for him.  There seems to be one “it” city every half-century, Paris is currently “it,” and you’ve arrived.

Then the Nazis pick him up.  Then you fall in love.  But not with him.

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CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

By Jared M. Gordon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – dir. Ang Lee

“When in comes to the affairs of the heart, even the greatest warriors can be consummate idiots.”

Ang Lee’s homage to Du Lu Wang’s kung-fu novel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, I must confess, did not make an instant impression upon me the first time that I saw it.  The film soars with Lee’s breathtaking direction and cinematography by Academy award-winner Peter Pau, but I found the story meandering and simple.

Of course, I missed the point, discovered only after a re-watch.  The story is indeed simple.  It is the characters who are complex.  This is an ironic movie about opposites: finding through loss.  Gaining through sacrifice.  Joy through despair.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple story about masculinity, femininity, and life.
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CASABLANCA: Valentine’s Day in Morocco

By Jared M. Gordon

Casablanca -1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz

Enough of whether Valentine’s Day was invented by greeting card companies, created in St. Valentine’s dark laboratory of evil science, or if “Valentine’s Day should be every day” in a healthy relationship.  You love the candy, so what does it matter?

Valentine’s Day should be an excuse (for those of us who need an excuse) to be just a little bit nicer to those for whom we care.  It should be a day of reaching out, of reforging connections, and of gratitude to those with whom we share compassion.  What a nice day!

So why celebrate it by watching Casablanca – a film, by most definitions, about love lost?

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DR. ZHIVAGO

By Peggy Nelson

Dr. Zhivago – 1965 – dir. David Lean

There are many characters in David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago (1965), the sprawling, epic portrayal of people caught up in the Russian Revolution, the least of which is, surprisingly, Dr. Zhivago himself.   In addition to Zhivago, Lara, Komorovsky, Pasha, and a host of others, there is the land, the weather, the first World War, the mountains, the interminable train ride, the tide of political events, the Five-Year Plans, even the giant posters of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, all playing their parts and threatening to upstage the action.  Beside all these a small story about love and betrayal should pale; as Strelnikov claims in the film, “the personal life is dead in Russia.”  But it is Lean’s achievement that it is not: it more than holds its own, and forms the core around which the rest crash and swirl.
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