Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Salesman *** (2016)

Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for the 2017 Oscars.  In protest to the Trump Administration's travel ban directed at Iranian nationals Farhadi did not attend the awards ceremony.  That's a shame, because I think if more Americans watched movies from other cultures reactionary politicians would never introduce such policies.

The Salesman tells the story of an Iranian couple played by Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti whose lives get turned upside down after a home invasion.  The film begins with a harrowing sequence as their apartment building begins to collapse.  Forced to find a new place, they settle into a two bedroom apartment.  Emad (Hoesseini) teaches literature at the local High School and directs a production of Death of a Salesman by night. His wife Rana (Alidoosti) acts in the play.

One night an intruder enters the apartment and attacks Rana.  Insulted at the attack on his wife, Emad is torn between the conflicting emotions of revenge and being supportive to Rana.  A thoughtful man who his students look up to, he is unable to deal with his emotions, handling it with an uneasy stoicism.  What is expected of man in that situation? Meanwhile Rana struggles to deal with trauma and her husband's desire for revenge.

The filmmaking style achieves a sense of realism, immersing the viewer in the urban milieu of modern Iran.  One gets the sense of urban blight that infects so many cities around the world.  People go on with their lives the best they can and not lose hope.

As The Salesman wheels towards a heady climax, the film is interspersed with scenes from Emad's production of Death of the Salesman, a play with deep resonance to the themes in the film.  Everyone aspires to achieve dreams and sometimes expectations are not meant. Whatever happens we have the power to control our own reactions  An immersive film with impressive performances all around, The Salesman is a sensitive meditation on empathy and conflicting emotion.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Robert Osborne

A generation of movie fans were introduced to classic film by TCM host Robert Osborne. Mr. Osborne passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He served as the affable movie host during prime time for TCM from 1994-2016.  Before each film Osborne talked about the making of the film and afterwards shared trivia and some final thoughts.  Starting in 2006 he was joined by a rotating group of co-hosts for the weekend series The Essentials.

Turner Classic Movies continues to show countless movies on television no one else will show, ranging from silent cinema to obscure films impossible to find anywhere else.  As a commercial free network, TCM epitomizes counter programming for the 21st Century media landscape. With the proliferation of streaming services and home entertainment systems, the network remains vibrant and innovative.

A film historian and journalist, Mr. Osborne was a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge. He appreciated all genres; never patronized his audience. We'll miss his incisive commentary and passion for film. 

Logan ***1/2 (2017)

Logan, starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, perhaps the most popular of the X-Men, will go down as one of the greatest superhero films ever made. After two unremarkable stand alone films, Wolverine X-Men: Origins (2009and The Wolverine (2013), Logan brings a powerhouse of pathos and emotion rare in comic book movies.

Most Marvel movies are entertaining enough for at least one viewing, but Logan transcends the limitations of the genre.  Deeply inspired by the Western, evident in a poignant reference to Shane, Logan eschews fantasy in favor of a gritty realism.  By far the most violent Marvel film ever produced, it also provides some of the best performances from Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and newcomer Dafne Keen. 

Logan is a changing of the guard story told in the context of a world that eerily reflects our own, or what it could become.  Will Logan point the way forward for future movies of its genre, just as Deadpool did last year?  Or will it be a stand alone oddity in the Marvel universe, not unlike the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Whatever happens, Logan tells a modern myth with extraordinary grace.