My Ballot: 2014 OMIEs

The OMIEs are an award, that’s voted on by users on the blog Flixploitation. It honors those the Oscars overlook. This year’s OMIEs ballot takes a slightly different approach than last year’s. Rather than being all write-ins there are suggestions for nominees. You can find them here. Below I will highlight my choices and explain why.

Most Deserving Documentary

Blackfish (2013, CNN Films)

Blackfish

In introducing my method in selection BAM Best Doc nominees I said:

With Best Documentary I again had a re-adjustment as award time started to roll around. I wanted to avoid redundancy in the topics as much as I could and really focus on the crafting on the film more so than any greater message or social purpose. Issue-based documentaries are great to rally behind and can incur real change, and they can also be great films, but you can have one without the other.

Because it lacked slightly as a film that eliminated it. However, based on the choices given, and the fact that I said this about it:

I heard of this film quite some time ago as it featured prominently on My Radar. I recorded the CNN airing a while ago but was reticent to watch it. In the end I’m glad I did. There are a few graphic and disturbing images but the takeaway from the film is far more profound than that. The scariest, most stomach-turning thing is the pervasiveness of lies documented that Sea World spews as facts. Lies that I as a child believed to be true and still recalled learning there. What this film shows is not only that these massive mammals are smarter and more complex that we can yet understand, but also that there are dangers inherent to the people who attempt to keep them in captivity as glorified circus performers.

this is clearly my winner.

Most Deserving Foreign Language Film

Two Lives (2012, IFC/Sundance Selects)
Two Lives

Two Lives is a very solid film. I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard more about it to be quite honest. I enjoyed it very much. Its omission in my foreign category was more about finding far more off-the-beaten path stuff that I enjoyed even more; as for the Oscars I have no idea.

Most Deserving Original Screenplay

The Way, Way Back (2013, Fox Searchlight)

The Way, Way Back

I didn’t get to discuss The Way, Way Back too much in the BAMs, or on the site in general. There are in this film several tremendous scenes and for as quirky, funny and witty the characters are they are very real and their interaction with one another is more so. Excellent work.

Most Deserving Adapted Screenplay

august-osage-county

August: Osage County

This is one of those interesting ones where a contender for this year (due to it’s wide release coming in January – for more on my late-year release issues go here) is my choice for an award last year. There was much talk of the running time being chopped down, but it doesn’t feel like anything essential was lost.

Most Deserving Supporting Actress

fruitvale-station04

Melonie Diaz Fruitvale Station

This was the first film that got any Oscar buzz. Of course, with its being released early in the year it was destined to get nothing. Diaz was a revelation.

Most Deserving Supporting Actor

THE WAY, WAY BACK

Sam Rockwell The Way, Way Back

I was very close to picking Sam Rockwell. With regards to the Oscars there were a few things going against him: it was a summer release and it’s a comedic performance. Those shouldn’t matter, but it seems to. Rockwell is damn near perfect here.

Most Deserving Actress

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Tribeca Film)

Veerle Baetens The Broken Circle Breakdown

It was nearly a sweep for this film in the lead acting categories in my awards. Again, I’m astonished she hasn’t garnered more notice or a nomination. More attention needs to be drawn both to this film and her work in it.

Most Deserving Director

Woody Allen (2013, Esquire)

Woody Allen Blue Jasmine

Basically, the thought here (as it seems to be with the Oscars many years) is to award the director of the film you’re going to choose as best from the candidates.

Most Deserving Picture

Blue Jasmine (2013, Sony Pictures Classics)

Blue Jasmine

Not much to explain in my choice here, for a bit more detail check the BAMs or my brief write-up linked above. Similar logic to the above, essentially it was the highest ranking film of my top 10 to make the list.

If interested in casting your choice for nominees please follow the link!

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2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

“Me sitting down for dinner with Ingmar Bergman felt like a house painter sitting down with Picasso.”

-Woody Allen, interview with Esquire Magazine 6/4/2013

Woody Allen

I saw a tweet over the summer, leading up to the release of Blue Jasmine, that asked something to the effect of: I wonder why now is the time that many publications have chosen to do a career retrospective on Woody Allen? Logically speaking, I can’t answer that. He hasn’t necessarily slowed down and like all of us he’s not getting any younger. My theory though is that it took the film-loving community by surprise that shortly after Midnight in Paris he returned with another widely acclaimed film so soon. Due to that fact it caused many to want to start looking back over his career.

I must say it hit me the same way. I caught Blue Jasmine a little later than many but I was quite blown away by it, and even with his recent triumph surprised by it. Woody Allen was one of the earliest writer/directors I gravitated to by name. He’s also one I came back around to, at least once, after I became obsessed by Bergman, seeing as how Allen is a fellow disciple.

It’s a virtual prerequisite that I’ve seen most of the works if not all of the works of the winning director. However, I know there are some of his I’ve not yet checked out (many recent) and I also have a volume of his short stories to check out. It’s a retrospective I’d be glad to take in.

Especially considering that one of the most overlooked aspects of Allen’s repertoire is his ease of going back and forth between comedy and drama, and even mixing them. In my family Allen’s name has long been synonymous with greatness, in writing especially, if not also directing; and I’ve certainly taken the ball and run with it in terms of tracking down his works.

While Allen has had his share of off-screen production-related drama lately he seems to have found a new home at Sony Pictures Classics and has adopted a late-career globetrotting aesthetic that is making returns to New York, even for a scene, a breath of fresh air as well. And, as always, these awards are a recognition of onscreen accomplishment, and Allen’s works have been with me a long time already and I hope to many more years of enjoying his films.

Considerations for the 2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award and the same goes for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that unlike the Entertainer of the Year Award there are few if any set-in-stone pre-requisites. Having said that notable filmmakers or actors with works due out this year that I have not yet seen are eligible here.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Michael Apted (Need to see the latest installment of the Up series.)
Alain Resnais (His latest is a must-see that should be added to My Radar.)
Max Von Sydow
Martin Scorsese*
Francis Ford Coppola*
Bernardo Bertolucci*
John Carpenter
Roger Corman
Terence Malick*
Oliver Stone*
Ken Burns
Woody Allen
Ridley Scott

*Would need retrospectives

Birthday Movies 2013

This is a new edition of this post, it’s a follow-up to one wherein I chronicled the films I could recall having viewed on my birthday. Some have been good to great, some have been awful. I usually try to make the selection something befitting a mood I wouldn’t mind being in on that day (hence I saved Amour for today) and something I think I would remember. I think both the titles from yesterday. For a guide to what these ratings mean, please go here.

Twixt

Twixt (2011, American Zoetrope)

This is a film that I wanted to see first because it’s Coppola returning to horror, but then also because of some of the people involved. I cannot argue by any means that it’s perfect. However, if there’s one thing that gets under my skin is when people argue “It’s just a horror movie” implying: there’s a ceiling to how good it can be, or it’s OK if it’s stupid, or worse, it’s allowed to be unambitious. I don’t think this film falls into any of those tappings. It’s hard to say if going beyond a standard horror film’s running time would’ve benefitted or hurt it, but I think it may have hurt. I recall that why I liked My Soul to Take so much was underscored by what was left on the cutting room floor. The exposition that was deleted spoon-fed things I and my friends pieced together after it was over, and that made it more powerful. There are deeper mysteries and enigmas here and multiple plots all horrific and well-wrought, though they don’t always seem so. After seeing him in a few that were not-so-great, it’s good to see Val Kilmer in a fascinating horror film.

8/10

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (2013, Sony Pictures Classics)

The allusion I made above to occasional greatness definitely applies here. For a filmmaker such as Woody Allen who on many occasions has been accused of using his films as therapy and being un-cinematic this film is a rebuttal. For myself, as a long-time devotee, it’s wondrous not only to see him work a story that again employs a wonderful editorial language that is quickly-learned and never off; but also such a non-judgmental character study. It’s a film of revelation rather than reparation. It has its humor, too, but is perhaps the most searing, honest drama he’s committed to the screen since Husbands and Wives. The casting, as well as the cast, is flawless; but it’s really Cate Blanchett who makes this film work. She’s as powerful, if not more so, in her character’s detached, pained moments as she is in the “big” ones, which is what makes her turn so immaculate. It’s a performance that towers not only due to the sparsity of great roles afforded women in the American cinema lately, but because of how titanic an effort it is on its own.

Engaging and enthralling from the first frame this film of a life shattered, whether by design or not, may be his most Bergmanesque, and is truly one of the year’s best.

10/10

Five Most Outstanding Fake Movies

One a recent episode of Jessie a faux Danish arthouse film was mentioned in passing. It was called Cries of Ice and Pain and elicited from me one of the few genuine laughs that show can ever get. However, it did bring to mind that there are quite a few fake movie titles mentioned or chronicled either in a film or on TV shows that are funny and in some cases that I’d want to see.

What I will list below are just the five most outstanding examples that come directly to mind. I’m sure I like many others, and as I’ve said before no list is ever complete, and I’d welcome additions to this list and other suggestions.

Je Vous Présente Paméla (Meet Pamela) in François Truffaut’s Day for Night

Day for Night (1973, Les Filmes du Carrosse)

I have a long history with Day for Night. Since I first saw the film I have watched it anew on the eve of every new production I’ve directed. While Day for Night is about the production of the aforementioned film there are but fragmentary glimpses of what the film actually is. However, there is enough information that would make it an enticing view. It may seem, in terms of the synopsis we get, to be a plain film, but the scenes viewed suggest otherwise.

The Purple Rose of Cairo in The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, MGM/UA)

Woody Allen’s faux film may be eponymous with the one he actually created. However, Allen beautifully and lovingly created Golden Age touchstones that made Farrow’s character’s obsession strike very true. While I personally, based on what is shown, may not have become obsessed with the tale, I could if a whole existed and I admire it for inducing such passion.

Don’t in Grindhouse

When dealing with faux films that are conveyed through faux trailers there are quite a few options one could consider. The bumps at the beginning of Tropic Thunder being quite memorable. However, if my wanting to see the film is a criteria, and is that an accurate rendition of a trailer style is also, then I must include Edgar Wright’s Don’t from Grindhouse. It not only emulates trailers of a certain era, but is also a hilarious send-up of the horror genre. For what else do people yell out at characters more than “Don’t…”?

The Pain and the Yearning on Seinfeld

Seinfeld (Castle Rock Entertainment)

The faux title that was the genesis for this post in all likelihood owes a debt to this Seinfeld faux film. I highly doubt there was a sitcom ever that created a vaster array of fake films than did Seinfeld. As with all things Seinfeld, the films are quite memorable, such as the tagline from Death Blow, or the climactic moment in Cry, Cry Again that is taped over with Elaine’s awkward, spastic dance. The amazing thing is we never see these films at all. In this episode we see video tape boxes, on occasion one sheets, and this is as close to seeing the film we ever get. It’s mostly about voice acting, scoring and the dialogue the main characters have about the film. What made me choose this one is that the one-line synopsis Elaine reads is “An old woman experiences pain and yearning,” which is a hilarious send up of the vague synopses some film have, particularly art films that are harder to summarize.

The Foot from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (2011, 20th Century Fox)

One very old trope by now is: kids, without their parent or guardian knowing, watch a horror film and are terrified for the rest of the night. They subsequently cannot sleep and/or get paranoid about everything. Perhaps the best twist on this I’ve seen is The Foot in Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 because the film they watch is highly ridiculous, but then they’re scared by it making an old hat routine much funnier than it normally is.

As mentioned before there are likely many other ideas that could’ve been on here. I’d be gladly reminded of some.

Short Film Saturday: A Therapy (2012)

Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley in A Therapy (Prada)

At the time of his arrest I wrote an editorial on Roman Polanski. It’s not really topical unless there’s a new development with regards to his status so I don’t foresee reporting it any time soon. I will merely state that I watch films and the works of filmmakers. I do not confuse the artist and the man, nor do I allow my perception of creative persona to color what my thoughts are on a person and vice versa. After all, Woody Allen still releases a film a year on average and his scandalous divorce from Mia Farrow is barely mentioned anymore.

Having said all that, here are some interesting things to note about this very short film Polanski has made for Prada. First, it’s a short film commissioned by a corporation, which is back en vogue since BMW started making a few for web consumption. The second thing is the film is completely about the performance of Ben Kingsley and is a great example of a flashback not taken. You can see in his face there’s a reverie, a remembrance but we see it only in his face and not in actuality. It’s great stuff.

A Therapy (2012)

The 5 Most Invalid Star Wars Complaints

With the recent release of Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace in one additional D that has never before been seen there were bound to be many new articles that wrote upon the first film (chronologically) all over again.

Now, it’s been well-documented that fans and critics alike didn’t have much regard for Jake Lloyd’s interpretation of Anakin Skywalker and this was reiterated in the new articles. However, what struck me as a I read a new piece on old news was that, even in Episode One, much less the entire series, there are far more bothersome things that those of us who are fans can nitpick about. So, since fandom breeds nit-pickery whether one likes it or not, I have decided that there needs to be some priority set to this nitpicking. Namely, the focus will be on things ought not be nitpicked when you think about it.

I have asked Joey Esposito and Tom Sanford V to contribute their own lists as they are bigger die-hards than I, I’ll link to those when they’re up. I provide a sort of detached-weirdo perspective as the first time I truly saw the trilogy was in order in 2005 after I had seen Episode 3.

So enjoy (or become enraged by) my opinions below.

5. The Alternate Versions

This one is the last on my list because I agree with the fans right to complain about the alternate edits with new effects and the like with a caveat: namely, and this is a theme with me, if it really enrages you that much don’t buy them. I know I’m sticking with my DVDs for the time being. While I agree with the director’s right to change his film if he so pleases, I would prefer it if Lucas treated Star Wars like Spielberg treated E.T., meaning the original, unaltered version was always available and the new stuff was optional. I went to see the new E.T. but that was the only time, every other time the original has been just fine by me. So, yes, you have a right to complain about this switch, however, if you keep buying every release it’s falling on deaf ears. Therefore your options are one of two: hold out or get over it. None are great I grant you, but it’s the sad truth.

4. Midi-Chlorians

Here’s where my watching the series knowingly in chronological, so far as the narrative goes, order starts to factor in. This is one of the most over-debated and over-analyzed aspects of the entire saga. You can like or dislike it as you please, but I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms about this point, when you have so many you could possibly choose from. Granted you implement things in the prequel trilogy that don’t follow through to the original and it removes an element of mystery but how much does it really detract? Furthermore, to parlay the filmmaker point above, it was introduced when the prequels were very much Lucas’s design, as concessions may have been made later on, so clearly he had it in mind. So it may not fit your vision but it fit his. Essentially, if one if offended by the very notion of the prequels they ought not waste time on this factoid. Conversely, if this is your biggest issue with the series that’s not so bad or you’ve blown it way out of proportion.

3. The Prequels In General

I alluded to this above but there are some who never got over the prequels happening in the first place. That’s fine. The original films are still there and if you watch those on an endless loop for all of eternity and never watch the prequels, would you still feel dirty knowing they exist? I wouldn’t. Now, even having seen the prequels first and then racing home to finish the series that night I won’t say the prequels are better, however, the concept was new to me when I first heard of it so I figured: “Why not watch it in order?” Today I think my appreciation for the saga and for prequels in general are heightened for it. Yes, I saw the prequels first, and yes, The Empire Strikes back is my favorite, and yes, The Phantom Menace is my least favorite, but in a lot of ways it functions like A New Hope does as a prelude to what’s to come.

2. Writing

People started to pile on to Lucas’ screenwriting seemingly only from 1999 to 2005 when seeing the new ones and then retroactively casting aspersions on his prior works. I can’t defend him in some areas but he knows his style and he jokes about being the “master of wooden dialogue.” He’s not Woody Allen or Joseph Mankiewicz or any of the greats, he knows that but he also typically writes his script in milieus he knows and where his style can flourish: Sci-Fi and adventure tales structured like serials, at least 10 films he had a hand in creating are in this vain (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) they emulate the style down to visual transitions and what I prefer to refer to as functional dialogue. However, suddenly when there are movies of his forthcoming some are not excited to see he is to be mocked and ridiculed? It’s exactly the same as what he’s always done. It worked then and it worked when the films rolled around again, the difference was in the receptiveness of the audience more so than the prowess of the artist.

1. Acting

Star Wars ain’t Shakespeare. Some actors will flail about. I don’t usually excuse actors I know to be talented from struggling with flat roles they seem uninterested in but it does happen. The fact of the matter is, I can ignore sub-par acting if I like the story enough. It will detract from it sure but rarely does it single-handedly ruin a film. Furthermore, as implied above, the saga might not embolden every actor. Sure, Harrison Ford did great things as Han, however, it’s right in his wheelhouse and his range is not the most vast to be honest. When dialogue has always been functional (I think we all know the story of the argument Ford and Lucas had on the set of the original about writing and saying things) and some actors can’t find themselves as well in that world, suddenly in the fourth film you’re going to pile on to a kid? I’m not going to say Jake Lloyd was the greatest thing since sliced bread but he did become the whipping boy for all that ailed The Phantom Menace in the eyes of many. Even I, who marginally liked the film, can pick many issues with that one and Lloyd is nowhere to be found on my list.

Essentially, due to fan outrage about the concept of the prequels existing and their dissatisfaction with the end result a child’s life was ruined, and yes I will go so far as to say potential was thwarted. You can’t tell me that Portman and Christiansen were always on point or that it ranks amongst Sam Jackson’s best works. As much as I’d like him you’d rattle off a bunch of Ewen MacGregor films before getting to the prequels. And if nothing else convinces you to absolve Jake Lloyd maybe this will: Did you like The Sixth Sense? I am assuming that you are a human being reading this and the answer is yes. Well, Haley Joel Osment is just one of those who auditioned for the role of Anakin but was not selected. So you can thank Jake Lloyd for The Sixth Sense if nothing else. Then feel free to troll on elsewhere, if you so please.

Review- Midnight in Paris

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

I always feel it a necessity to state my general stance on Woody Allen prior to getting into a review of any of his works. I feel this is appropriate so you know where I am coming from and thus so you can take my review with a grain of salt should you need to. Fans of Woody Allen seem to come in two camps: First, those who believe he’s slipping and hasn’t done anything really worthwhile in the past 15 to 20 years and blind followers, while I skew more towards the latter I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I believe Allen has peaks and valleys like many prolific filmmakers but I have really enjoyed his recent works.

Lately, Allen has been globetrotting a bit and he writes and shoots frequently enough such that there are threads of philosophy and narrative choices that run through many of his films but conversely he has periods akin to painters. His break from being tethered to New York City in and of itself has breathed some new life into his recent works.

As you familiarize yourself with a filmmaker you expect certain things, with Allen it had been New York, art deco, Jazz (or another genre whose heyday is past), plain title cards, longing of some kind, etc. When minor changes to the formula are applied to the same voice it can be rather interesting.

What is perhaps most interesting in Midnight in Paris is that Allen attacks head on an issue which many of his detractors (at least of his recent work) cite him for, which is his nostalgic love affair with the past. Rather than having it be an idiosyncrasy of a character (or group of them) that we must either accept or reject it becomes central to the protagonist’s, Gil (Owen Wilson), struggle and part of why he is not understood.

By openly addressing this and applying it to a younger character one of Allen’s motifs is revitalized because he can’t be cited as someone whose “lost touch” with modernity. He’s found here a new way to funnel his voice into a modern setting. Another one of the frequent attacks on Allen’s work is that his scripts are in lieu of therapy. Truth be told it is for a lot of people and it’s more identifiable with him because he’s a personality and is more known. He’s always been a personal filmmaker and this may be his best and most coherent addressing of any hang-up he’s covered.

While I don’t think it’s on par with things like Manhattan or Annie Hall this film does have the inventiveness and flair from that era of his career. A majority of the reason why is that in this film he embraces Magical Realism and allows for facile time travel and creates time-space paradoxes and is not concerned about factual truths but emotional ones which affect his characters.

In a film where a slew of historical figures, who we all have preconceived notions about, appear the casting has to be spot on and it’s nailed on the head repeatedly whether it be Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali and so on. Even funnier are how Allen writes these personalities and how they perform the parts.

It’s without question one of his best concepts in quite some time. Though not running any longer than most of his films the episodes in the past do get a tad lengthy and there is a bit of drag in the second act but not enough that it hurts the film greatly.

It’s also, clearly as the concept implies, one of Allen’s more visual recent ventures. The dialogue is strong while not being audaciously witty. The conclusion is expected but earned and sweet.

You can say what you will about Allen’s recent track record but I have nothing but admiration for an artist who continuously pushes himself to new horizons regardless of their results. However, Midnight in Paris is an unqualified success and a bold new step for this auteur and is therefore highly recommended.

9/10

Review- You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

This film will be released on video tomorrow.

Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics)

I, unlike many, will attest to the fact that reports of Woody Allen’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While last year’s reviews for Whatever Works were greatly mixed it does not seem like the kind of film that you can use to illustrate that someone had “lost it.”

In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger you can see why people would say that, however, the way I see it is that you get in the film a pastiche of what’s both great and not so great about Allen. At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical fan who likes the “early, funny movies” it must be stated for the record that this film is a drama before all else.

Moreover, it examines some similar questions as both Whatever Works and Vicky Cristina Barcelona examined. It’s principally about life and love but to paraphrase Allen’s idol Ingmar Bergman “What else is there?” Where the film is somewhat lacking is that it could dig deeper.

What really holds the film back is that fears that were caused by the trailer are realized and it’s the voice over. It is perhaps the worst-delivered most poorly-acted voice over narration that I’ve been privy to listen to. Zak Orth’s delivery could not be be drier if he tried. The only thing that helps this film overcome it is the fact that there’s not a whole lot of it and he’s speaking Allen’s words. Sadly, it also unnecessarily spoon-feeds a relatively simple film and by speaking the film’s conclusion to its hypothesis this renders it more banal than it otherwise would’ve been.

The Bergman reference above is not totally misplaced as this is another examination by Allen of a subject that obsessed Bergman: death. Through these intertwining tales Allen not only examines how we deal with mortality but conversely, of course, with life and what the point to all of it is.

Barring the aforementioned narration the acting is good across the board. The characters are actually a bit less neurotic than Allen’s usual dramatis personnae and feel more like well-rounded, less erudite types. While these characters can come across as more flat it is a tribute to the actors in this film that they breathed life into them.

Another problem the film battled was the edit. The film is a bit too methodical. It never quite gets slow but it could quicken its step through the second and into the third act. True there are four interconnected storylines to resolve but they all end up more or less where we expect them to when we expect them to such that not as much time need be devoted to each to make the point that each segment is trying to make.
While the valid point that sometimes “delusion works better than medicine” is well-made and ties up the film nicely albeit heavy-handedly there is a surprise that develops towards the end that is never really resolved. Now while we can surmise what will happen and the dilemma the character in question is left with it would still have been nice to add a little more closure to that chapter than we get.

Although not a great work and not a minor work, Woody Allen’s films are still vital because he is not overly-concerned with genre or the trappings therein. He through his writing and his cinema is still one of the few American auteurs who is willing to ask real and serious questions with every film he takes on and for that reason his audience should spring eternal and not age with the great cineaste.

6/10