Gettin’ a Woody: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (United Artists 1972)


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*(but were afraid to ask)

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and I’m sure some of you will), but from 1969 to 1977 he wrote, directed, and starred in some of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies ever made (after that, things got a bit pretentious, and his output has been hit-or-miss far as I’m concerned). Allen’s inventive mind took Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling sex manual EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (*but were afraid to ask) and turned it into a hilarious anthology that skewers not only societal mores and morals, but every segment parodies a different film genre.

Some are better than others, but each has something funny to offer. The first, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, finds Woody as a medieval court jester whose lousy Bob Hope one-liners bomb with the King (Anthony Quayle). The randy jester is dying to enter the Queen’s (Lynn Redgrave) “royal chambers”, but…

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Hiding in Plain Sight: THE FRONT (Columbia 1976)


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When a film gets labeled as a “comedy-drama”, chances are good you’re in for an uneven film. Such is the case with THE FRONT, Martin Ritt’s 1976 movie about the 1950’s blacklist. There are plenty of things to like about the movie, especially in the performances, but the somewhat heavy-handed script by Walter Bernstein results in an undeniably mixed bag.

Woody Allen  stars as Howard Prince, a lowly cashier perpetually up to his glasses in gambling debts, whose childhood friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) is a blacklisted TV writer. Miller asks Howard to “front” for him, putting his name on Miller’s scripts so the networks will buy them, in return for a 10% commission. Soon the network clamors for more of Howard’s “work”, and he begins fronting for two other blacklisted writers. Although Woody didn’t write or direct THE FRONT, he’s still basically playing his nebbishy ‘Woody’ persona, but with…

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Strange Days Indeed: Woody Allen’s SLEEPER (United Artists 1973)


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(I’m posting a bit earlier than usual so I can head up to the Mecca of baseball, Fenway Park! Go Red Sox!!)

Full disclosure: I lost interest in Woody Allen around the time he decided to become a “serious” filmmaker beginning with INTERIORS. Sure, I thought ZELIG and PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO were funny, and A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTS SEX COMEDY had its moments. But for me, the years 1969-1977 were Woody’s most creative period, spanning from the absurd TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN to the Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL. Landing right about midway in that timeline stands his brilliant sci-fi satire SLEEPER, which owes more to Chaplin and Keaton than Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

The fun begins when Miles Monroe (Allen) is woken from his cryogenic sleep in the year 2173. Two hundred years earlier, Miles had been the proprietor of the Happy Carrot Health Food store, and went in for minor surgery on…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Annie Hall (dir by Woody Allen)


anniehallposterYou take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall.  Do you address the accusations that have been made about him?  Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review?  Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film?  Or do you just let the work speak for itself?

I love Annie Hall.  Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people.  I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what?  I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.

First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances.  He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression.  He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc.  In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport.  It’s a wonderfully funny moment.  (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)

Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum.  He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.

Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater.  According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film.  That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film.  How glorious is that?

Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film.  It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now.  As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film.  Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America.  (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”)  The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally.  That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.

The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie.  While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure.  I knew what it was like to be nervous.  I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough.  And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness.  Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.

(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)

Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work.  “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies.  “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.

Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.

Seventh, there are just so many great scenes.  Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license.  And then, there’s that lobster scene.  And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.”  (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.)  There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience.  There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York.  And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office?  Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination?  Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy?  Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions?  Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters?  Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?

(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies.  Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense.  Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head.  You get in a crowd, not on them.  Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)

I like Annie Hall and I always will.  As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:

  1. I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
  2. Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.

Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points.  So be it.  Everyone has to make their own choice.  For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.

Here’s The Trailer For Magic In The Moonlight


Here’s the trailer for Woody Allen’s latest film Magic In The Moonlight.

For the longest time, a lot of film bloggers (myself included) have been predicting that Emma Stone might be Oscar-nominated for this film.  This was largely because actresses who appear in Woody Allen films always seem to end up getting nominated and we all know that Emma Stone is going to be nominated at some point in her career.

(She deserved a nomination for Easy A.)

(Oh, she so totally did!)

However, having now seen the trailer, I’m no longer quite as sure.  It looks like it’s going to be a perfectly charming little comedy and the trailer is gorgeous to look at but the film itself doesn’t look like it’s going to be the type to resonate as strongly as Blue Jasmine or Midnight In Paris.

On the plus side, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be another To Rome With Love, either.

Lisa Predicts The 86th Annual Academy Awards


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Well, it’s finally that time!  The Oscars are tomorrow night and, with so many close races this year, I can’t wait to see who actually wins.  Below, you’ll find my predictions for what will win.

Please note that these are not necessarily the films that I personally would pick to honor.  You can find that list here.  Instead, these are the films and performances that I think will win tomorrow.

A few notes: I’m predicting that Gravity will win the most awards but I still think that 12 Years A Slave will win best picture.  However, I also think that either American Hustle or Dallas Buyers Club could pull an upset win in this category.

For best actor, I am picking Matthew McConaughey but I do think that Bruce Dern could possibly win.  Dern’s been acting forever and the Academy might feel that this could be his last chance to win an Oscar.  Plus, he was really good in Nebraska.

For best actress, I’m predicting that Amy Adams will upset favorite Cate Blanchett.  As we saw with the SAG awards, American Hustle is popular with actors and the Academy might be hesitant about honoring a Woody Allen film this year.

Finally, for Best Makeup, I am predicting that Bad Grandpa will win.  Why?  Every year, there’s at least one totally fucked up win that nobody predicted.  And what win could be more fucked up than Bad Grandpa?  (Also, if Bad Grandpa wins, I’ll be able to say that I was the only person who predicted it.)

Best Picture — 12 Years A Slave

Best Director — Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

Best Actor — Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress — Amy Adams in American Hustle

Best Supporting Actor — Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress — Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Best Original Screenplay — Her

Best Adapted Screenplay — 12 Years A Slave

Best Animated Film — Frozen

Best Foreign Language Film — The Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Documentary Feature — The Act of Killing

Best Documentary (Short Subject) — The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Best Live Action Short Film — The Voorman Problem

Best Animated Short Film — Mr. Hublot

Best Original Score — Gravity

Best Original Song — “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Best Sound Editing — Gravity

Best Sound Mixing — Gravity

Best Production Design — The Great Gatsby

Best Cinematography — Gravity

Best Makeup and Hairstyling — Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Best Costume Design — The Great Gatsby

Best Film Editing — 12 Years A Slave

Best Visual Effects — Gravity

It’s The 2014 Independent Spirit Nominations!


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The nominees for the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards were announced earlier today.  While the Spirit noms aren’t exactly the most accurate of Oscar precursors (and the rules of Indie Spirit Awards are pretty much specifically designed to honor the type of low-budget films that are often ignored by the Academy), more than a few of the Spirit nominees are usually remembered when the Oscar nominations are announced.

The winners will be announced, by Patton Oswalt, on March 1st.

Myself, I’m just happy to see Frances Ha and Upstream Color’s Shane Carruth nominated.

Best Feature:
“12 Years a Slave”
“All Is Lost”
“Frances Ha”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Nebraska”

Best Director:
Shane Carruth, “Upstream Color”
J.C. Chandor, “All is Lost”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Jeff Nichols, “Mud”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Best Screenplay:
Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Nicole Holofcener, “Enough Said”
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, “The Spectacular Now”
John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Female Lead:
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Gaby Hoffman, “Crystal Fairy”
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12″
Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”

Best Male Lead:
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

Best Supporting Female:
Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station”
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Yolonda Ross, “Go for Sisters”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Best Supporting Male:
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Will Forte, “Nebraska”
James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12”

Best First Feature:
“Blue Caprice”
“Concussion”
“Fruitvale Station”
“Una Noche”
“Wadjda”

Best First Screenplay:
“In a World,” Lake Bell
“Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt
“Nebraska,” Bob Nelson
“Afternoon Delight,” Jill Soloway
“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” Michael Starrbury

John Cassavetes Award:
“Computer Chess”
“Crystal Fairy”
“Museum Hours”
“Pit Stop”
“This Is Martin Bonner”

Best Cinematography:
Sean Bobbit, “12 Years a Slave”
Benoit Debie, “Spring Breakers”
Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Frank G. DeMarco, “All Is Lost”
Matthias Grunsky, “Computer Chess”

Best Editing:
Shane Carruth & David Lowery, “Upstream Color”
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, “Museum Hours”
Jennifer Lame, “Frances Ha”
Cindy Lee, “Una Noche”
Nat Sanders, “Short Term 12”

Best Documentary:
“20 Feet From Stardom”
“After Tiller”
“Gideon’s Army”
“The Act of Killing”
“The Square”

Best International Film:
“A Touch of Sin”
“Blue Is the Warmest Color”
“Gloria”
“The Great Beauty”
“The Hunt”

Robert Altman Award (given to a film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)
“Mud”

Piaget Producers Award:
Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston
Jacob Jaffke
Andrea Roa
Frederick Thornton

Someone to Watch Award:
“My Sister’s Quinceanera,” Aaron Douglas Johnston
“Newlyweeds,” Shake King
“The Foxy Merkins,” Madeline Olnek

Truer Than Fiction Award:
“A River Changes Course,” Kalvanee Mam
“Let the Fire Burn,” Jason Osder
“Manakamana,” Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Trailer: Fading Gigolo


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Directed by actor John Turturro, Fading Gigolo has recently been getting a lot of buzz.  Some people have even speculated that it might get Woody Allen an acting nomination to go along with all of the probable nominations for Blue Jasmine.  All I know is that Fading Gigolo sounds like a bit of an over descriptive title.

James Bond Film Review: Casino Royale (dir by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, and Richard Talmadge)


As you probably already know, we here at the Shattered Lens have been counting down the days until the American release of Skyfall by reviewing every single film in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the first non-EON Bond film, the epic, psychedelic 1967 spoof Casino Royale.

Where to begin?

When Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, veteran Hollywood producer Charles K. Feldman bought the film rights.  However, Feldman didn’t buy the rights to Fleming’s subsequent novels and was forced to sit by and watch as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had unexpected success with Dr. No and the subsequent EON-produced Bond films.  Much as Kevin McClory did with Thunderball, Feldman first attempted to co-produce a serious adaptation of Casino Royale with Broccoli and Saltzman.  However, when Feldman, Broccoli, and Saltzman couldn’t come to an agreement on how each side would be compensated in the proposed production deal, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale on his own.  He also decided that, instead of trying to compete with EON by making a “straight” James Bond film, his version of Casino Royale would be a satirical extravaganza.

Feldman’s vision of James Bond is apparent from Casino Royale’s opening credits.  While the credits are definitely based on the iconic openings of the EON Bond films, they’re also designed to play up the fact that Casino Royale — in the grand tradition of the Hollywood studios at their most excessive — is meant to be a big budget, all-star extravaganza.

Casino Royale actually starts out with a pretty clever premise.  It seems that the name “James Bond,” is simply a code name that has been assigned to several British spies over the years.  As M (played by John Huston, who also directed the first third of the film), explains it, the name “James Bond” strikes such fear in the hearts of Britain’s enemies that the name must be kept alive.

(Speaking for myself, this is an idea that I kinda wish that the official James Bond series would adopt.  If nothing else, it would certainly explain how Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig could possibly be the same person.)

The original James Bond (played by David Niven) has long since retired to his stately country estate, where he spends his time playing the piano and complaining about how the agents who have inherited his name are sullying his reputation with excessive womanizing and violence.  It turns out the Sir James Bond is a man renowned for his “celibate image.”  At the start of the film, Bond is asked to come out of retirement by not only M but the heads of the CIA, KGB, and French secret service as well.  SMERSH, an organization of female assassins that’s led by the mysterious Dr. Noah, has been eliminating agents worldwide and only the original (and very chaste) Bond can defeat them.  Bond, however, refuses and M responds by ordering a mortar attack on Bond’s estate.  The estate is blown up but so is M and Bond soon finds himself returning to London as the new head of MI6.

Interestingly enough, David Niven was one of the actors who was considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No.  Reportedly, Ian Fleming was quite enthusiastic for Niven to take the role but, by the time that Dr. No went into production, Niven was considered to be too old.  There’s a nice bit of irony here in seeing David Niven playing a retired James Bond who spends a good deal of the film complaining about the men who have subsequently assumed his name.

Once Niven takes over MI6, he orders that, in order to confuse SMERSH, all British agents (including female agents) will be known as James Bond.  The rest of the film is divided into episodes that feature these new James Bonds battling SMERSH and the mysterious Dr. Noah.

Among these agents, there’s the handsome Coop (played by Terrence Cooper) who has been trained to resist all sexual temptations.

There’s Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

There’s Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) who is sent to seduce and recruit the expert gambler Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) so that Tremble can beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the Casino Royale.

Best of all, there’s Sir James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond.  Jimmy Bond is played by Woody Allen and … well, let’s just take a look at Jimmy’s first scene in the film:

Casino Royale had a notoriously troubled production history and most of those troubles seemed to center on Peter Sellers.  While the film was designed to be a broad, slapstick comedy, Sellers reportedly insisted on trying to play his role straight and even rewrote his lines to make his scenes more dramatic.  Welles eventually grew so disgusted with Sellers that he refused to be in the same room with him.  This caused quite a bit of difficulty since Sellers was in almost every scene that featured Welles.  Eventually, Sellers walked off the film and the film had to be hastily (and awkwardly) rewritten to account for his sudden absence.

When one watches Casino Royale today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sellers was essentially correct.  While most of Casino Royale often feels disjointed and incoherent, the scenes featuring Sellers, Andress, and Welles are some of the strongest in the film.  Sellers’ dramatic approach doesn’t negate the film’s comedy.  If anything, it makes the comedy even stronger because Sellers actually seems to be invested in the reality his character, regardless of how ludicrous a situation that character may find himself in.

When I watched Casino Royale, I was struck by the stark contrast between the parts of the film that worked and the parts that didn’t.  This is a movie that truly swings from one extreme to another.  Either the film’s satire is working  brilliantly (mostly in the scenes featuring Woody Allen and Peter Sellers) or it’s falling completely flat (like in an extended sequence that features Deborah Kerr as a SMERSH assassin).

I found myself laughing more at the little scenes than the big set pieces.  For instance, I loved it when David Niven embraces Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet) just to be then told that she’s actually the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny.  I don’t know much about the actor Terrence Cooper (though, according to Wikipedia, he was also a contender to take the role of James Bond in the official series) but I enjoyed the brief sequence where Moneypenny “tests” him to see if he can take on the Bond identity.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really have enough of these small, clever moments.

Ultimately, I found that Casino Royale works best when viewed as a time capsule.  Casino Royale was made at a time when the established major Hollywood studios (and veteran producers like Charles K. Feldman) were struggling to remain relevant.  Foreign films (including, it must be said, the James Bond films) were challenging the common assumptions of what could and what couldn’t be shown on-screen and the studio system reacted by trying to make films that would appeal to younger audiences while also reassuring older audiences that the movies hadn’t really changed that much.  The end result were films like Casino Royale that featured the occasional psychedelic sequence along with cameos from old (and safe) Hollywood stars like George Raft, William Holden, and Charles Boyer.  Casino Royale is the type of self-indulgent film that could only have been made in 1967 and, as such, it’s a valuable time capsule for all of us cinematic historians.

I also have to admit that, as excessive as Casino Royale may be, I happen to love excess.  Casino Royale might be overlong and occasionally incoherent but the costumes are simply to die for.  The film is a visual feast, if nothing else.

Casino Royale was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office but, in the years since, it has become something of a cult favorite.  Our own Trash Film Guru has identified Casino Royale as his favorite Bond film.  Myself, I found the film to be extremely flawed and yet oddly fascinating to watch.  Casino Royale is a total mess and that is both its greatest flaw and greatest strength.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the official James Bond series by taking a look at You Only Live Twice.  

4 Late Quickies With Lisa Marie: Bully, For Greater Glory, Sound of My Voice, To Rome With Love


While I try to review just about every film I see, there are times when I don’t get to review a film as soon as I would like.  Fortunately, in this age of Netflix, DVDs, and Blu-ray, it’s never too late to review a film!  I saw the following four films earlier this year.  These reviews are a little late but here they are.

1) Bully (directed by Lee Hirsch)

This documentary, which follows and tells the story of several bullied teenagers over the course of one year, has the best of intentions and it’s definitely effective as far as making you dislike bullies and feel sorry for their victims.  That said, did anyone really like bullies before this film was released? 

Bully got a lot of attention when it was released earlier this year and a lot of people (who should have known better) said that the film itself was a solution to the problem of bullying.  I doubt that this film (or anything else, for that matter) will solve the issue of bullying but it is a well-made look at what kids do whenever adults aren’t watching (and, sad to say, sometimes when they are). 

One problem I did have with this film is that it chooses to limit itself to schools in small towns and rural communities, which gives the whole enterprise something of an elitist feel.  Are there no bullies up north? 

2) For Greater Glory (directed by Dean Wright)

For Greater Glory is a dramatization of the bizarrely obscure period of Mexican history known as the Cristero War.  In 1920s, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles (played in this film by Ruben Blades) started a violent and relentless crackdown on the country’s Catholic faithful.  Churches were burned, priests and nuns were murdered by supporters of the government, and eventually Catholic peasants rose up in violent rebellion.  The Cristero War lasted from 1926 until 1929, eventually ending with a truce that was brokered by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow (played by Bruce Greenwood).

For Greater Glory set box office records in Mexico but it received some pretty negative reviews from American film critics.  To a certain extent, the negative reviews are not surprising.  The film is long, frequently heavy-handed and melodramatic and it’s also unapologetically pro-Catholic in its storytelling.  (Roger Ebert, who never seems to get tired of apologizing for having been born into a Catholic family, was especially critical of that aspect of the film.) 

With all that in mind, I still enjoyed For Greater Glory.  It’s a well-made and ultimately rather moving film (though I imagine some parts of the film might be a bit confusing if you don’t have at least a little bit of a Catholic background) and it features excellent performances from Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac as two of the rebel leaders.  In many ways, For Greater Glory feels like a throwback to the epic films of the past and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

3) Sound of My Voice (directed by Zat Batmanglij)

Like last year’s Another Earth, Sound of My Voice is a science fiction film that stars and was co-written by Brit Marling.  The difference between the two is that Another Earth was a pretentious mess while Sound of My Voice is an effectively creepy little film that puts story and atmosphere above trite pronouncements about the state of existence.

Brit Marling plays a mysterious woman who claims to have been sent from the future.  She has a devoted cult of followers who spend their nights sitting on the floor around her, listening to her talk about the horrors waiting for them in the future.  Two journalists go undercover and infiltrate her cult, hoping to expose her as a fraud.  

Sound Of My Voice keeps the viewer guessing as to whether or not Marling is who she says she is and the film’s ending, while not a total surprise, is still effective enough to inspire debate after the end credits roll.  As opposed to Another Earth, Marling gives an actual performance here and is both creepy and sympathetic at the same time.

4) To Rome With Love (directed by Woody Allen)

Woody Allen’s follow-up to Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love tells four separate stories that all take place in Rome.  Despite the fact that the cast features everyone from Alec Baldwin to Roberto Begnini to Penelope Cruz to Ellen Page, the true star of the film is the city of Rome.  I spent the summer after I graduated high school in Italy and this film brought back a lot of good memories.

Unfortunately, the film’s four stories are pretty uneven and the film’s frequent transitions from story to story are pretty awkward.  The worst story features Alec Baldwin meeting his younger self (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and trying to prevent him from falling in love with a neurotic actress (Ellen Page).  The film’s best story is a satiric fable about an ordinary man (played, in an excellent performance, by Roberto Begnini) who wakes up one day to discover that he’s the most famous man in Italy. 

The film doesn’t really work but I still loved to getting to see Rome once again.