The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

the honeymoon killers 1970 film review

This is one of those films in which case the story of its production is more interesting than the film itself. Warren Steibel, a television producer, had an ambition to make a movie and convinced a wealthy friend to put up $150,000 to make it. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) had been released recently so Steibel suggested to his roommate, Leonard Kastle, a composer, that they make a film based on the true story of an obese nurse and a Spanish-American con man who fleeced and sometimes murdered women they met through lonely hearts clubs in the late 40’s. Steibel convinced Kastle to write the screenplay, arguing that he had the necessary experience since he had written librettos for his operas. They fabricated a screenwriter’s name for the producer’s sake while Kastle researched court records for the case and came up with the screenplay. After the producer read and approved the screenplay they revealed their ruse. Martin Scorsese was hired to direct but fired after a week when it became obvious that his approach to the film would cause them to exceed their limited budget. A few scenes that Scorsese directed were used in the film. Kastle ended up directing with assistance from cinematographer Oliver Wood, who has had the most illustrious career, besides Scorsese, of all those who worked on the film. Kastle detested Bonnie and Clyde due to its glamorization of violence and chose a quasi-documentary style for his film, making his characters and their deeds as unglamorous as possible. One of the advantages of using unfamiliar actors in a film is that the viewer is never sure whether they are acting or not which works especially well with Kastle’s documentary style. As one critic remarked, he forgot he was watching a film and felt he was peeping through a keyhole. I found it to be a bit like an early John Waters film minus the camp. It has its humorous aspects but overall one is left with a feeling of disgust which most likely was the intention. Despite writing several more screenplays, Kastle never made another film and refused offers to make a sequel or something similar to The Honeymoon Killers.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

The Honeymoon Killers  at imdb.com

As of April, 2017, The Honeymoon Killers is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

rabbit-proof fence film review

Imagine that a nearly invincible invader usurped your country, deemed you unfit to raise your own children, and forcibly moved them to camps where they were trained to become servants of the invaders. That describes official policy in Australia from 1905 to 1971 towards half-caste Aboriginal children. Now known as the Stolen Generations, the number of children removed from their families is estimated to be between 20,000 to 100,000. The film is based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, which is an account of her mother Molly Craig’s abduction and relocation to the Moore River Native Settlement, some 1,000 miles from her family. She escapes along with her younger sister Daisy and cousin Gracie with the intention of returning home on foot, following a wire fence that stretched from the north coast to the south coast of Western Australia.

Besides the incredible story and its historical significance there are several serendipitous factors that contribute to making this an excellent film. Australian born Hollywood director Phillip Noyce met fellow Australian Christopher Doyle in Taiwan where he was hired as an interpreter for Noyce. Doyle confided his dream of being a cinematographer to Noyce and the two kept in touch. Doyle eventually realized his dream, winning great acclaim for his work on In the Mood for Love (2000). For this film he used different film stocks and processing methods effecting a harsh quality to the Moore River Settlement scenes and the subsequent journey through the Outback whereas the scenes in which the children are with their family have a lush, soothing aspect. This being an independent production, there wasn’t much money allocated for a score but Peter Gabriel turned down a more lucrative offer to score this film because he felt drawn to the story and relished the opportunity to provide atmospheric music for the long stretches of the film that have very little dialogue. The music is ambient, incorporating Aboriginal instruments and voices and even sounds of nature recorded during filming which were played back at different speeds and processed in different ways. Much of the film’s emotional wallop can be attributed to Gabriel’s contribution.

By far the most crucial element on which the film depended was the casting of the three leads: Molly, Daisy, and Gracie. There were no professional Aboriginal child actors so Noyce interviewed thousands of children all over Australia. Everlyn Sampi, age 11, was chosen to play Molly, Tianna Sansbury, age seven, replaced Noyce’s original choice for Daisy shortly before shooting began, and Laura Monaghan, age 10 was chosen to play Gracie. None of the girls had even seen a film before much less acted in one. Noyce’s task was to make them feel at ease in front of the camera and coax natural performances from them which he certainly did. Veteran actor David Gulpilil, whose first film appearance was the lead role in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971), plays Moodoo, an Aboriginal tracker out to find the girls. The behind the scenes documentary included on the Lions Gate DVD edition of the film reveals that Sampi suffered a crisis of confidence a few days before shooting began. She ran away and tried to book herself a flight home. In a 2013 interview she disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted at the age of eight causing her to lose her self-esteem which led to drinking, smoking, thieving, and suicidal thoughts. She felt she wasn’t qualified to be in the film because of what had been done to her. Happily, the overwhelmingly positive response to her performance dispelled the self-loathing though her life after the film hasn’t been entirely trouble-free. Her only other forays into acting are a few guest appearances on an Australian television miniseries. Like Molly, Sampi prefers to be with her own people and doesn’t like being told what to do by white people.

The film has sparked some controversy in Australia where it is shown to schoolchildren as a teaching aid. Conservative journalist Andrew Bolt and historian Keith Windschuttle claim that the film is historically inaccurate, that children were rarely taken forcibly, and that the children were uncared for in their original environment and engaging in underage sex with whites. As a matter of fact, Molly, Daisy, and Gracie did leave voluntarily according to Pilkington’s book but Bolt’s claims have been widely discredited by historians who accuse him of historical denialism. Studies have shown that the removed children are no better off than the children who were not removed. The social positions in white society of both groups is about the same and according to one inquiry, an estimated 17% of the girls and 8% of the boys were sexually abused while in an institution, at work, or living with a foster family. The arrival of white settlers in Australia has been nothing short of a calamity to its indigenous people. An estimated 90% of the population was wiped out between the years 1788 and 1900 due to the spread of disease and warfare with whites. The child removal policy is yet another shameful chapter in the history of the migration of European settlers to the New World and their attempts to convert indigenous people to their supposedly superior way of life.

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Rabbit-Proof Fence at imdb.com

As of October, 2016 Rabbit-Proof Fence is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.

Michael the Brave (1970)

michael the brave film review

Considered by many to be one of the best if not the best Romanian film ever made, Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) is an epic historical drama depicting the efforts of a late 16th Century Wallachian prince to unite the Romanian principalities of Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia into one nation. He successfully waged war against the Ottoman Empire but his most dangerous enemies turned out to be his so-called Christian allies in Europe. The cast of thousands, courtesy the Romanian Army, makes for some impressive battle scenes. This film is only available on YouTube as far as I know which is unfortunate as I’m sure it would be visually stunning on the big screen or if it was restored for release on DVD or Blu-ray.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Michael the Brave at imdb

 

Korczak (1990)

korczak film review

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish-Jewish educator, children’s author, pediatrician, and founder/director of an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. When the Nazis invaded Poland Korczak was forced to move the orphanage and its 200 children into the Warsaw Ghetto. Due to his fame he was offered several chances to escape but chose to remain with the children and die with them when they were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. The screenplay is by Agnieszka Holland, writer and director of Europa Europaanother Holocaust related film also released in 1990. The cinematography is by Robby Müller who also shot Down by Law and Paris, TexasThe choice to use B&W film lends a documentary aspect and helps to blend in a few snippets of newsreel footage from the Warsaw Ghetto. It may also be what inspired Steven Spielberg to shoot Schindler’s List (1993) in B&W. He called Korczak “one of the most important pictures about the Holocaust.” I would say the film is more about Korczak than the Holocaust. I don’t think it was the writer’s and director Andrzej Wajda’s intention to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust and evoke sympathy with a tearjerker. It is an homage to a man who did the right thing, who would not allow a dehumanizing situation to rob him or his charges of their dignity, and who faced death without fear and sought to teach others to do the same. His courage is a lesson for all of us and for all time and his story should be known to everyone.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Korczak at imdb.

As of November, 2015 Korczak is available on DVD and online at Amazon.com.

Lady of the Camelias (1981)

lady of the camellias film review

Marie Duplessis (1824-1847) was a French courtesan and mistress to several wealthy and famous men including Alexandre Dumas, fils, for whom she was the inspiration for his novel, La Dame aux camélia, which he adapted into a play which in turn became the inspiration for Verdi’s opera La traviata and numerous films including Camille (1936) with Greta Garbo. Italian director Mauro Bolognini’s 1981 film is intended as a biopic though little is known about Duplessis other than contemporary legend and what can be derived from her literary persona. Apparently she was extremely beautiful, of humble birth, and, if the film can be believed, pimped by her own father when she was still a girl. She also had TB to which she succumbed at the age of 23. She is played here by Isabelle Huppert, who in my opinion is rather ordinary looking. She is portrayed as morose and forthright with a tendency to frequently bring up the fact that she’s dying. It was a stretch to imagine that so many men found her desirable. Otherwise it’s a lush production with an emphasis on costumes and opulent settings.  The score by Ennio Morricone includes selections from La traviata and other classical pieces which were for me solely responsible for the one or two moments I felt moved during the film.

★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ (5/10)

Lady of the Camelias at imdb.

As of November, 2015 Lady of the Camelias is available on DVD from MovieDetective.net.

Knute Rockne All American (1940)

knute rockne all american film review

Though I’m not a sports fan I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s a biopic on Knute Rockne (1888 – 1931) who emigrated to America at age 5 with his family from Norway. Growing up in Chicago he developed an interest in football and went to school at Notre Dame where he studied chemistry and played on the football team. He is credited for revolutionizing football due to a famous game with the Army team in 1913 where he and Charlie Dorais utilized the forward pass which had previously not been used regularly in any major contest.  The film emphasizes the moral standards that Rockne instilled in the students he coached. He strongly believed that athletics were an educational necessity due to what he perceived as a progression towards flaccidity in America. He even goes as far to state that football can prevent wars in an impassioned speech he gives to a committee investigating allegations of professionalism in college football. This was the role of a lifetime for Pat O’Brien who bears a remarkable resemblance to Rockne. I’ve never heard any recordings of Rockne speaking but I’ve read that O’Brien was able to perfectly mimic his speech delivery which sounds a lot like James Cagney. I’ve also read that this was O’Brien’s favorite role. Ronald Reagan is rather likable in a small role as George “The Gipper” Gip, a rather flippant young man with whom Rockne developed a very close relationship. If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “Win one for the Gipper” originated from this film will explain it for you.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Knute Rockne All American at imdb

As of July, 2015 Knute Rockne All American is available to rent on DVD from Netflix