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Recent Movies: The Act of Killing; Fill the Void; Computer Chess; Old Movies: All About Eve

August 17, 2013

Recent Movies

The Act of Killing

This Danish-British-Norwegian documentary exposes the chilling history of Indonesia in the mid-1960s during which about half a million people were murdered by a movement started by the Indonesian Army.  The main targets were Communists and ethnic Chinese.  Some of the gangster-murderers are interviewed and asked to use actors, props, and settings to re-enact the murders they undertook.

This sinister approach has some interesting payoffs.  The thugs, who were never persecuted, believe that they and their history are being glorified.  The paramilitary organization in which they continue to take part is exposed as radical, subversive, and dangerous.

For me, the initial shock of being in the presence of such evil wore off after about twenty minutes or so.  Then, the interviewees became dull and uninteresting  which could only be expected from those who badly lack conscience and soul.

The ending is quite riveting and makes it almost worth having waited the two hours for it.  However, two hours still seems like a long ride for a journey that feels grueling.

It is a good history lesson but not for the faint of heart.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Fill the Void

In a Haredi (most conservative Orthodox) community in Tel Aviv, Israel, a family faces an unexpected tragedy; then tries to encourage a recent widower to stay within the community.  The film is written and directed by Rama Burshetein who is an Orthodox Jew herself.  The story takes place strictly within the Orthodox community with no interactions at all with the secular world.

Gratuitous sex and violence are so common in movies today, they almost seem mandatory to the point of being nearly repetitive and predictable.  Their complete absence in “Fill the Void” is a plus for this film for being unintentionally outside the current mainstream.

The story itself is rather simple and ordinary.  It misses the impact of a simliar film “Kadosh” (1999) which demonstrated tension and rebellion within the Orthodox community.  However, Burshtein’s use of misty cinematography plus a fine cast makes this film sweet and special in its own way.

Rating:   * * *

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Computer Chess

In 1980, a convention in  California takes place among computer experts who have each programmed a machine to win at chess.  Their machines are set up to compete against each other in a contest.

The film is made in a cheap black-and-white photography that is likely meant to reflect the technology of the time.  The film also uses devices to reflect the times such as overhead projectors which went out of style once Powerpoint was king.

The movie is amusing regarding the subtle clashes of personalities.  Most amusing is another convention taking place at the same hotel:  a New Age marriage encounter group.  The accuracy in this group’s depiction is funny and scary at the same time.

Overall, the film is mildly amusing and anti-nostalgic at the same time.

Rating:   * * *

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Great Old Movies Seen Again

All About Eve  (1950 – U.S.)

A major star of the New York stage takes a smitten fan under her wing only to learn later that the fan has ulterior motives.

This brilliant classic could possibly boast “best of all time” in the categories of screenplay (by director/writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz), ensemble acting, and a single performance by Bette Davis though other performances are also highly noteworthy.

The story is loaded with superb, stinging, intelligent wit with many memorable lines delivered perfectly by a superb cast.  It was written at a time when profanity was not allowed in movies but within this limitation, its use of the English language has far more sting than swearing ever could.  Even without the wit, “All About Eve” is a strong story that exposes the consequences of a hyper-ambition that borders on evil and how evil attracts more evil.  Adding to this is a great exposé of the joys and insecurities of the theatre world.

As a grand stage star who might be considered “too old” at the age of forty, Davis is stunning.   Whether displaying neurosis, anger, drunkenness, egotism, sentimentality, or light-heartedness, she is at the very top in all of these emotions.

As the upstart Eve, Anne Baxter does superbly in a very difficult role.  Not only does she not get to deliver any of the script’s sharp lines (most of which are directed against her character), she does what few can do:  be believable when pretentiously simpering and grovelling; then, in seconds, ably displaying the evil behind the mask.

As an acid-tongued theatre critic, George Saunders adds his own special venom to the brilliant lines he spouts.  He is the human version of a predator animal.

Other members of the great cast include Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter. and Barbara Bates.  And Marilyn Munroe also shows her best in a very small role.

Rating:   * * * *

Notable Achievements:

1)  Directing by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

2)  Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

3)  Acting Ensemble highlighted by Bette Davis, Anne Baxter (both leading) and George Saunders (supporting)

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One Comment
  1. Mary-Ann permalink

    Hi. I’m happy to see your review of “All about Eve” – its an all time favourite of mine.

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