DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Fellini's Roma

Fellini’s episodic romp through the space and time of the eternal city at the time of its release might have felt like an indulgent recycling of his usual cinematic themes hung on a disorienting episodic documentary-like narrative. And yet with today’s eyes, in the context of Fellini’s body of work, it’s an essential part of his filmography, a visual essay of Fellini’s lifetime of experience with the city, told as a typically brilliant choreographed dance of motion, light, and music.

Fellini’s Roma (1972) dir. Federico Fellini
Starring: Peter Gonzales, Fiona Florence, Pia De Doses, Renato Giovannoli

By Alan Bacchus

During one of the sequences, in which we follow a camera crew around town photographing a hippie student rally, we watch a group of bystanders discuss with Fellini himself their desire for the director to depict Rome with a modern sensibility. Fellini candidly admits he can only make a film from his point of view with his own unique peculiarities. Thus Roma feels like his final chapter of self-reflection after his notable pictures La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ .

The opening chapter takes place in the pre-War 1938, depicts a teenaged Fellini arriving in Rome for the first time and observing the strange and wonderful characters in the tenement housing community of his family. The episode is anchored by a stunningly visual sequence of the community preparing for and indulging a group meal on the evening streets. It’s a sequence featuring a hundred or so actors and background players choreographed with the hypnotic, trance-inducing thrill only Fellini can create.

Two other mesmerizing sequences stand tall in Fellini canon. First, a journey underground into a subway construction project, wherein Fellini and his crew get a glimpse of the massive engineering project next to newly discovered artifacts from ancient Rome. When the crew discover a lost chamber they are forced to stop digging to investigate. Unveiled is a pristine room full of wall frescos which upon exposure to the exterior atmosphere degrades and fades never to be viewed in his former condition again. It’s an astonishing sequence.

A papal fashion show and an early brother sequence showcases Fellini’s indulgence in garish pomp, but his scenes of brilliantly choreographed movements recall the cinematic elegance of 8 ½. In particular the final sequence which follows a group of motorcyclists through the streets and roundabouts of the city is gorgeous and supremely cinematic.

Fellini’s Roma is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Best of 2016

This year's Best of List includes familiar awards contenders, such as Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea, strange head scratchers such as Neighbors 2 and criminally unrepresented pictures such as Terence Davies' Sunset Song and Operation Avalanche.  Unfortunately I couldn't lift one or more of these out of the pack to formulate a true 1-to-10 list of top films in descending order, so here they are alphabetically.

AGE OF SHADOWS (dir. Kim Jee Woon)

Kim Jee Woon (I Saw the Devil) directs this Untouchables/Inglorious Basterds-like spy thriller with the highest level of execution. Set in 1920’s Korea, at the time of Japanese occupation, the allegiance of a Korean officer, working for the Japanese is put to the test when he’s tempted by the resistance movement. Astonishing set pieces executed with high production value (and some of South Korea’s biggest stars) meet the bar of Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

GREEN ROOM (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

After Blue Ruin, Green Room serves as the second half of an awesome one-two punch. As with the Blue Ruin Jeremy Saulnier constructs a terrifying predicament for his heroes, and orchestrates an intense adventure of escape within his pre-constructed scenario. In Blue Ruin it was the quid-pro-quo acts of revenge against two warring families, here it’s the more intimate and constrained scenario of a punk band under siege in a neo-nazi compound. Saulnier’s innate feel of realism puts the audience effectively in the moment-to-moment thrills of the characters.

JACKIE (dir. Pablo Lorrain)

The thrill of this picture is the unconventional stylistic take on a what probably seemed on paper a conventional script. As written by Noah Oppenheimer, the story of Jackie, tells like procedural events of Jackie Kennedy in the days after the JFK assassination. Some non-linear segments, flashforwards and flashbacks can give the appearance of an unconventional film, but everything we would need to see from this period of time we do see. For this reason, the film is thoroughly satisfying. But it’s Pablo Lorrain’s vision which elevates the material into something more than a good script. Lorrain’s work in recreating period detail and merging different media and archival footage elegantly in the Oscar nominated film No is applied directly to Jackie. The visual and auditory design of the film is stunning and transports the audience to 1963 with ease and grace.

LA LA LAND (dir. Damien Chazelle)

The familiar is made fresh from the hot Damien (Whiplash) Chazelle. The thrill of Whiplash was Chazelle’s claustrophobic intensity and laser-specific focus into the mind of his artist-alter ego. La La Land is the largest canvas he could possibly play on. Treading in the musical genre taking place over several years, against the backdrop of Hollywood, the music industry, and Los Angeles the city of dreams. The familiar ground is the artistic pressure of the Hollywood lifestyle. All About Eve, or A Star is Born seem more appropriate comparables than the traditional Hollywood musical. The anchor of the picture isn’t necessarily the musical set pieces, which admittedly still don’t ever match up to the best of Hollywood’s past. Gosling and Stone try their best, but they are no Rogers/Astaire, Garland/Rooney or Kelly/Caron. The picture succeeds because of the agonizing frustration which results from the strain on their idealized relationship and resonates on a level rarely achieved even by the best of Hollywood musical standards.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)

Tragic and devastating. Kenneth Lonergan’s original script, directed with working class humble honesty, puts his ordinary characters through the ringer. Weirdo Casey Affleck is perfectly cast as the unlikeable and reluctant social misfit forced into become surrogate father to his nephew, and in the process is forced to reconcile his own tragedies of his past. The heavy loaded drama admirably mixes in disarming comedy resulting in a perfect concoction of palatable tragedy.

MOONLIGHT (dir. Barry Jenkins)

Barry Jenkins’ already massively-celebrated impressionistic memoir of his own youth is as graceful and moving as proclaimed by most critics. Jenkins eschews narrative convention at the same time retooling familiar elements of coming age stories. Jenkins’ hero Chiron grows up in Miami amidst the temptation of drug lifestyle and frustrated by his mom’s own crack habit. An unlikely mentor arises in a drug dealer to become his surrogate father. The evolution of character from child to youth to adult immediate recalls Boyhood. The gentle approach to the often grim subject sparkles with inspiration and innovation in every frame, even when the Jenkins is forced to rely on those familiar coming of age tropes.

NEIGHBORS 2 (dir. Nicholas Stoller)

This delirious and inspired sequel to the 2014 hit film enriches the beautifully conceived characters of the first film. Seth Rogan and company already had perfect comedic concept to work with in the first film – an anxious couple with a new baby moves into a new house only to discover their neighbour is a raucous frat house. Here, the same characters are back, except the frat house is a sorority helmed by a trio of misfit students eager to create the same kind of college experience as their male counterparts. The chemistry of Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne carries through in this sequel, same with the valuable b-player presence of Ike Baronholtz and Carlo Gallo as their dufus best friends. The trio of Chloe Grace Moretz, Kersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein make admirable comic adversaries, but this picture is Zac Efron’s whose comic chops blossom like never before.


Matt Johnson’s scrappy fake moon landing movie bristles with low budget ingenuity. While the production tales of the filmmakers sneaking into the real NASA to film segments of the film under their own noses tends to lead the discussion of the picture, the film is an impressively complex arrangement of thriller-genre elements, deceptively clever character development and truly awesome combination of reenacted period detail and archival footage.

THE RED TURTLE (dir. Michael Dudok de Wit)

The story of a shipwrecked man on an South Pacific deserted island and the strange but life affirming relationships he forges while on the island. This French/Belgian Studio Ghibli-influenced animated weeper submits itself to the constraint of having no dialogue. The film elegantly lifts itself from the self-conscious to something magical and enchanting, however desperately the filmmakers strive for this effect. You have to give to the filmmaker for effective pulling the heartstrings of the audience so effortlessly.

SUNSET SONG (dir. Terence Davis)

The release of a Terence Davies film nowadays has the same of privileged anticipation we used to get from Terrence Malick. Despite claims in the media of Davies as the great living British filmmaker, he’s relatively unknown, even within cineaste circles. Sunset Song is Davies’ biggest film, based on the revered Scottish novel by Cedric Gibbons which depicted the 20 year journey of a lowly farm girl making a life for itself amid the hardships of rural working class life. For those familiar with the Davies-style, all the visual and narrative hallmarks of the master are in play and elevated to mythic cinematic heights. Comparisons to the work of John Ford are front and centre, but it’s no doubt a gorgeous Terence Davies picture furthering the already impressive body of work of the master.

Honourable mentions:

It was tough to exclude Hell or High Water, a crackjack heist thriller which deceptively turns into a thought-provoking and tragic family drama. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals was a loony thriller playing in the David Lynch world of visceral violence and eccentric quirky humour. Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, deceptively proclaimed to be a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused only to reveal itself another type of metaphysical slacker comedy without a beginning, middle, or end. The morbid curiosity surrounding the story of Christine Chubbock, who committed suicide on camera in the 1970’s was enough to make Antonio Campos’ intense biopic Christine a guilty pleasure. Although barely released theatrically Karyn Kusuma’s The Invitation was an invigorating nail biting chamber drama. Clint Eastwood’s Sully, honoring the humble working class nature of the hero of the Miracle on the Hudson, was effective in its own clinical modesty. Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World adds even more flare to his already impressive filmography of stylish suburban shouting matches. And the new franchise starter, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was surprisingly effective at transplanting the style, tone and thrill of the HP universe to 1920's New York.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

'Dreams' is pure cinema, an intoxicating assembly of images, sound and thought-provoking existentialism that only cinema can provide. Kurosawa’s confidence in his ability to hold the audience’s attention through a series of narratively disconnected and peculiar episodes is remarkable.

Friday 2 December 2016

Short Cuts

Robert Altman’s deliriously-intricate LA mosaic is just about the last word in ensemble film. With effortless style, Altman’s observational approach to the collection of Raymond Carver writings used to inspire this film creates a uniquely disarming melodrama which starts out as a light satirical farce, then sharply turning into dead serious emotional powerhouse.

Friday 18 November 2016

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

For those new to 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' it can be hard to relate to its reputation as the anti-Western that shook up the genre. Today, a non-traditional film like this would be common place, but in 1971, at the beginnings of the New Hollywood movement Altman’s shaggy Hippie Western was as strange an anomaly as could be.

Wednesday 2 November 2016


The humble workmanlike nature of pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who flew the Miracle on the Hudson plane into the Hudson River in Jan 2009 sets the tone for Clint Eastwood’s no frills dissection of the events following the famed event. There’s no doubt this is a film about a hero, but Eastwood’s emotionally-detached approach plays against heighten state of action which belies other recent conservative-value hero films of late ('Deepwater Horizon', 'Captain Phillips', 'Lone Survivor', or even his own 'American Sniper'). 'Sully' is the best of these pictures.

Thursday 27 October 2016


A horror film of a completely different kind, Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing in Antonio Campos’ sobering cinematic rendering of the true story or Christine Chubbock, a Sarasota FL news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974. Campos lets the audience’s own morbid curiosity and fascination with death and violence create the unique and extremely uncomfortable psychological journey.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

Often regarded as revered Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi’s first masterpiece, this pre-war picture personifies the poetic elegance of the ‘Mizoguchi-style’. An epic/tragic romance of a struggling actor and his supportive lover, Mizuguchi crafts a melodramatic love affair strained by the pressures of finance, class, family expectations and the demands of artistic life.

Friday 7 October 2016

A Taste of Honey

One of the seminal British kitchen sink dramas of the 60’s, A Taste of Honey, resounds today on the strength of Rita Tushingham’s delightful screen debut and author Shelagh Delany’s taboo-confronting script which looks at interracial romance, homosexuality and teen pregnancy with delicate earthy realism.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Night Train to Munich

Carol Reed’s WWII espionage pot boiler confidently stands as tall as any of the celebrated Hitchcock war thrillers of the era. While this picture predates his more acclaimed post war pictures, The Third Man and Odd Man Out, it sizzles with the same kind of high stakes urgency.

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Woman in the Dunes

'Woman in the Dunes', the third film from Japanese provocateur Hiroshi Teshigahara, is an indefinable film for genre and full of glorious Japanese strangeness, a captivating two-hander about a man imprisoned in a sand dune with a woman with no means of escape. Both a thriller, and meditative art film -  "Knife in the Water" meets "L'Avventura"- the film also has the distinction of receiving a Best Director Oscar nomination – then a rare feat for a foreign language film.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Night and Fog

Despite numerous other documentaries on the subject, as a masterwork of craft and technique, Alain Renais’ landmark Night and Fog still evokes the mind-boggling obscenity of the Holocaust with maximum impact. Renais forces us to witness the horror and digest those horrible images which, once seen, never leave one’s mind. While the breadth of Claude Lanzmann’s work is missing from Night and Fog, Renais’ vision in documenting the Holocaust is close to being the first and final word on the subject.

Monday 20 June 2016

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Alexander Hall’s thoroughly delightful ‘heavenly’ comedy, a Capra-esque tale of a deceased boxer who’s given a second chance at life by his angel/mentor Mr. Jordan by being able to inhabit the bodies of other recently deceased persons, is perhaps most famous for its notable remake as Warren Beatty’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’. But as produced under the studio system (Columbia), Mr. Jordan represents that unmistakable pre-war Hollywood magical combination of swift screwball comedy, dry black humour and high concept fantasy.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

The Naked Island

Two lowly Japanese farmers repetitively climbing an intense incline slope from the seaside shore to the top of a mountain to water their measly crops is the signature image of Kaneto Shindô’s social realist experimental film. Shindô observes his characters' backbreaking work with the same kind of salt of the earth honour as in the Soviet propaganda films if the 1920’s. Shindô’s cinematic eye triumphs over his self-imposed dialogue-free obstruction to achieve a woefully tragic slice of Japanese peasant life.