I’m playing catch up with some choice random films that I have watched in the past week. First up, Bicycle Thieves:
Underneath the basic plot of a man looking for his only means of transportation to and for his work, lies a story about a boy coming to age on the poor streets of Italy. His main attachment is his father, the man who loses the bike while working his job posting posters. Together, they go on a journey to track down the stolen vehicle. Neo-Realism is a punch in the gut and Bicycle Thieves offers little happiness. These people are desparate, poor, and most importantly, relatable. De Sica’s camera never loses sight of the plight of these unfortunate souls. I felt like looking away, but by the halfway mark, I was hooked on finding the end of this tale. The film constantly switches perspectives between the two protagonists. At times, it’s difficult to tell whose world we are in, but towards the end that switches become much more visible. It starts out as a tale about the father, but as the climatic shots show us, this film is truly about the boy and his first steps into gaining a perspective on the world. There is so much this film says and it doesn’t do much at all. It’s very much like a silent film. One of my favorite things about the film is the final shot: the father, looking at the camera, turns around and disappears into a flock of people. Bicycle Thieves is a honest story about individual who most people in society just writes off as another person in the lower class.
Spielberg and Day-Lewis have a lot to live up to. This isn’t a full on biopic, but for what it is, it’s practically perfect. Overly sentimental and unabashedly patriotic, Young Mr. Lincoln is a treat to anyone who loves watching films about historical figures. It may not be 100% true, but Henry Fonda’s portrayal of the young would be President is full of depth – here he plays a struggling defense attorney who takes a case that has seemingly supported evidence to prove the accused guilty. Ford introduces the icon in the most relaxed, unexpected way (shown in picture above). If you’re an American, you instantly know who Fonda is playing immediately – Ford nails every last detail of Lincoln’s famed appearance. Later, we see Lincoln delivering a rousing idealistic speech to a angry mob who demand the lynch of the two boys he will later defend in court. The speech is easily the highlight of the film, simultaneously condemning the mob while upholding the truths of American idealism to back up this condemnation. The slow drawl that Fonda creates for the Lincoln character captures him perfectly. We see Lincoln not as a superhero, but as a man of the people, the land, and the Bible. We know the history. Young Mr. Lincoln tells us the story of what made the man who made history. The truth is marching on.
I generally like Luc Besson’s work. Not love, like. I liked Leon: The Professional. It’s not a incredible story – it’s somewhat cliched and pretty ridiculous. However, the acting and direction supports the thin, seen-it-before plot very well. The story is about Mathilda, who’s foster family is brutally slaughtered by a bunch of ruthlessly corrupt DEA agents. She doesn’t care about the majority of them, though, only her four year old brother who’s killed off screen. She admits this to her new somewhat “foster” parent, Leon, who moonlights as a cleaner aka assassin. The film is vibrantly directed, eclectically shot, and quickly paced. It moves along quite well, but nothing about the story is extraordinary. Natalie Portman, in her first role, throws a lot of energy and emotion into the role, resulting in a memorably powerful, if a bit uneven, performance as Mathilda. Gary Oldman cracks his neck as the insane antagonist. Whenever he arrives on scene, Besson gets a little over stylistic with his signature pill popping lunatic. Finally, there is Jean Reno who gives a reserved performance as the incredibly private titular assassin who becomes increasingly paternal towards his adopted apprentice. With these three excellent performances and Besson’s signature eccentric film making, The Professional rises above its doldrums as a weak plotted film and becomes one of the best exciting revenge subgenre film experiences.