“LORE” Film Review by C A Hall, Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightWhat if you wake up one day and find that your parents who you idolize, believe to be righteous and good, and whom you have obeyed your entire life, are really vicious murderers? Lore, and it’s a beautiful name for the condition the poor girl has, is the idealized picture of Nazi Youth. Young, blond, obedient and slowly but surely awakening to this truth, as she simultaneously sees her young life coming apart at the seams. She is a privileged Aryan child, shattered by German defeat.

Lore is forced to lead her siblings across Germany to her grandmothers house in the Netherlands after her parents are arrested. She is helped by a mysterious but silent young man who may be the “Jew” she has been warned of her entire life but has never met face to face. There are all those stories of herds of German children, suddenly orphaned, wandering the countryside, reduced to eating grass to survive. This is that story made real. It is a very personal up close look at how one child is reduced from her superhuman status as the child of Aryan conquerers, to a desperate status where she is forced to do what ever it takes to survive. Her arrogance after an entire life of privilege built on the backs of the Holocaust victims is the only quality she brings to the challenge.

I admire the film makers, as they have done the impossible. They made Lore real and believable and simultaneously refuse to make her sympathetic or excusable. You finish the film with understanding, not compassion, and in this case, and it is rare for me to say this, it is the highest compliment I can pay. When Lore’s Grandmother corrects her manners after she reaches safety, Lore refuses to obey and devours like a feral animal the food on her plate. It is a ferocious sign of her understanding through degradation. Her disgust and rebellion against her Grandmother’s arrogance, is the knife which finally slices her own arrogance away.

“Wings of the Dove” Film Review of another Henry James Story by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightI’m on a roll with Henry James stories that have been made into films, but I’m beginning to think Mr. James is a vampire. He places his deep and penetrating insight into rooms high and low, then watches the pulsing carotid artery of his various prey beating. They are living human morsels and he is committed to draining their blood…elegantly.

But instead of flinging himself at his victim, per more recent permutations of the blood lusting sort, or ejecting a leaping succulent tongue to ensnare and devour like a frog in a nature program with unbelievably quick reflexes, he approaches carefully, all social graces intact, intelligence bright and cold. He places his lips on his character’s necks, allows his incisors to puncture and mark. Then hangs on for an hour and a half. You can’t hear him drinking, yet so many perfectly dressed and ensconced individuals meet wily doom.

The film starts as a forbidden love affair between two lovers whose quest for a rising social status is keeping them apart. Then a third character joins them, who knows nothing of their affair, a beautiful but tragically ill heiress. It’s not social criticism that ultimately separates the lovers, but the mark of this woman whose real relationship to them both remains the mystery. Oh! Henry James, what is wrong with you? Never love, sex, passion, or real compassion, but the doppelgänger of these elements in a room full of ghosts and mirrors haunts all your stories. A story is not great, just because you write well about difficult hidden things. Yet the film is worth watching. It’s a horrible, terrible, very good, very bad film, filled with excellent performances, beautiful sets and costumes and superb direction. Perhaps its best use is as warning. Watch it and pray nothing of the sort ever happens to you.


Second Sight

I had never seen this film, but was reading Henry Miller story, upon which it is based and then stumbled upon the DVD. A cyclone of gossip erupted around Peter Bogdanovich, the Director and Cybill Shepherd, his lead: Daisy. Yet, she is perfect casting. The picture was snubbed at the time, just like Daisy Miller was snubbed in the film, but I encourage you to see it. Away from the marketing blitzkrieg of rolling out a film and the cold shoulder of those long ago who shunned it, it stands not as a great film, but a worthy film and a rare film. This is a story about a character that is usually ignored or dismissed.

Daisy Miller is an uneducated, rich, spoiled American girl who has come to Europe with her long suffering mother, expertly played by Cloris Leachman, and her obnoxious brother who has the social graces of a flea, in other words an ordinary kid. To some Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, Europe was like a finishing school for the wealthy, the hunting grounds for young women whose only occupation was to snare a husband, if lucky, a well endowed one. This is the sole plot.

However, Daisy and it seems all American woman named Daisy inspire more fantasy than is good for them e.g. (The Great Gadsby), uses her looks, fashion sense and in your face style of flirtation to basically do what ever she wants, thus causing a cascading scandal though out high society. What are her sins? She wants to see a castle and asks a gentleman to take her there without a chaperone. She refuses the help of an older society matron, who basically destroys her options with the elite as punishment. She goes at night to see the Coliseum in the moonlight with the only friend left to her, for which, if you don’t know the story, there are devastating consequences more serious than social shame.

What Bogdanovich caught so well was the blatant, blathering, innocence of youth in the face of the gaping maw which is social law, an unspoken, unwritten hierarchy of influence which Daisy’s mere presence destroys. I suddenly thought of the young women in countries, whose most courageous act might be the scandal of driving a car, going to school, not marrying a man chosen for them, or something truly disreputable, like either to wear or not to wear, a veil over their entire face. All horrifying choices for women TODAY in societies attempting to engage the dreams of young girls though repression, guilt and even murder. Let us place Daisy Miller amongst her sisters. She just wants to do what she wishes and its against all the rules. One way or another there are those who want her removed or destroyed.

The narrator of the story, a man Daisy actually has some real feeling for, is caught in the same snare of social doom she is, but he colludes, to his ultimate regret. For that sin, he suffers a human pain which runs deeper than the poisoned arrows of social scorn. He too could have broken the rules,  for even the most careful obedience carries an inherent punishment.  They who live by the rules of shifting social allegiances and ultimate devaluation of their own individuality, also die by those same rules.

‘THE NASTY GIRL’ Film Review by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightThere are two films that should be seen back to back as examples of the Wise Fool. One is THE NASTY GIRL, the other; EUROPA (ZENTROPA, English title).  Both take on collusion by the german people during and after World War II. Both are Miramax, Weinstein brothers films. THE NASTY GIRL is based on a true story.

The film illuminates an ordinary small German town. A very idealistic, intelligent, agreeable “good German girl” wins a school essay award. Acknowledged by family, teacher and the powerful, she tries to win another, but this time the topic is ’what did your German town do during the 1939-1945 time period’? Dutifully, intelligently, without a single shred of awareness, she begins to dig into the myths of freedom fighters and the good German people in the town she loves. But as any archeologist will tell you, don’t dig if you’re not ready to find the dead bodies. The myths are all lies. Instead she’s uncovering how those in power in government and the church, colluded for money, power, property and status against their Jewish and Communist neighbors. She even reveals her own and her families collusions and myths as ‘good people’.

Step by step, this great study of collusion, shows how the voice of history is silenced, even by “winning.” The most powerful image occurs when investigating and writing about these “nasty” elements surrounding her, she sees she is falling into a Joan of Arc role about to be burned at the stake, for which the religious element in her town will get their jollies. Even worse is the Victor role, where she vanquishes the lies and wins, only to be embalmed in the glamour of the powerful giving her another award, if it will only force her to shut up. Surprise ending, Does she fall for either of these scenarios? See it. See collusion the silent killer, dissected under a very powerful microscope. Then look around you with the tools you’ve been given.

“Bird People” Flies away with you! Film Review by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightA new kind of film, sleek, uber-modern, innocent, using an old form; Magical Realism. It delights you. It begins with our two characters going to a French hotel. He’s a business executive on the verge of changing his whole life, she’s a maid cleaning up his and everyone else’s mess. Both feel devalued in their lives but in such a similar way, that all categories of race, class, and sex just don’t matter. But wait, it isn’t a desperate affair, it’s their humanity on the line. Then… one of them changes species.

The magic of the film is so light, playful and filled with the rush rush to get somewhere, that doesn’t really matter. The camera just takes in all our foibles and makes fun of us, yes us, the moderns. The business meeting where all look to the grand Pooba to fix our mistake. The video break up of a marriage that goes on till both characters, caught in a lifestyle that looks like a cross between Vogue and House Beautiful, have to admit it’s a war zone underneath a pretty pastel veneer.  Just standing at the curb waiting, for what? Humans waiting for the next thing to happen, as you feel their souls change houses, in a glance.

I cannot reveal the metamorphosis. It’s too wondrous and sacred. Do not see this film if you have no imagination or have never wanted to run (or fly) away to the circus, or what ever your idea of escaping a false life would entail for you. Otherwise attend the party.

‘BULLHEAD’ Film Review by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightWhat is the purpose of testosterone? That courageous question is the dangerous epicenter of this dramatic film. Jackie, a grown man, who lost his ability to create this hormone as a boy, (in one of the most unbelievable scenes ever recorded on film) struggles his whole life to answer that question. His answer, when it comes quietly in the middle of all the film’s violence is heartbreaking.

So don’t miss it, amidst the cops and robbers, slaughter and better living through chemistry for both animals and humans. You’re on a wild ride though the harshest of all Flemish countrysides.  Jackie is in the ‘meat business’. He’s spent his entire life working with animals. Yet he insists on his humanity. ‘I’m not an animal’ he says, though he growls like a caged creature when he tells us his understanding of what he’s missing. The feeling and purpose of testosterone he enunciates as a natural force going down to its root: to protect. Women, children, the life force itself, he knows this first hand from his work raising cattle and butchering. He translates all of his experience into a feeling for protecting a woman, the one who was the first to evoke his sexual awareness before the ‘accident’. Its like watching Brando say, ‘I could have been a contender’.

Jackie longs for his own nature, in a modernity where masculinity has become only an image of violence and bravado and where true earthly pleasure is divorced from the care taking responsibility which is its source. He craves a feeling of that beauty which he cannot produce naturally. So we watch him driven mad to chemically create its possibility amidst loss. All the incredible Writing, Directing, Acting, and Camerawork serve this tragedy, making it an expertly created film, but one of the hardest films to watch. Yet it’s worth seeing. You’ll think a long time about what we’re doing to nature, animals and ourselves.

“IN THE HOUSE” Film Review by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightThis film is a Chinese box. Reality inside fiction. Fiction inside fantasy. Fantasy inside wish. A story nested inside many others, all “In the House”. A boy writes for his frustrated teacher about his real life… supposedly. The teacher makes the boy a protege, but critiques his story, which is the boy’s real life… maybe.

Soon the teacher, his wife, and the audience are caught up. Are we voyeurs to the boys real life, stalking real people, or just watching fictionalized people in a story? What happens when the watchers become characters in the story? When we see a scene with the boy’s real father, is it true? Or just a manipulation?

What I love is that I don’t believe the boy is a real stalker, or voyeur, not really. He’s a Houdini escape artist, using art and the mind to escape his real world, and create another. Its just it may… be very dangerous how he’s doing it, because he’s using his fantasy and the fantasies of others, to escape his own reality and using real lives to do so… sort of. So he’s dangerous, but in your heart can you forgive him? Or are you being duped? He’s a very clever kid.

In a way he makes the lives of others more real to themselves, for which there are consequences. A middle class mother Esther, who the boy inappropriately woos, falls right back in using a child to escape her boring life. Her son might kill himself, or just get in touch with his sexual identity, who knows. The teacher’s wife Jeanne escapes her unreal life when the boy tells her a secret… maybe. The people in real lives that his fiction illuminates are changed forever.

As an artist he needs to be able to describe his own real life. But he’s too young for that, he needs his imagination to escape first. Then later, he can return… to somewhere, a home ‘inside the house’ where he is respected, cared for, wanted. First you have to imagine it possible. Reality is a burden if you can’t escape it.

What I really respect about this film, is that the boy sees the people in the lives he wants, more clearly than they see themselves. They feel his clarity as an invasion, or criticism. But really it is a begrudging acceptance that no matter how stupid or vacuous their concerns, their lives hold the key to his escape.

DANIEL AUTEUIL’S “FANNY” Film Review by C A HALL Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightWe owe Daniel Auteuil a great debt for Adapting, Directing and Acting in this little gem of a film. The story is simple. Two kids come of age in a fishing village in France, they play at love and marriage, mistaking it for a game. Then the boy leaves to follow his dream of adventure at sea, not knowing he is abandoning FANNY, pregnant with their child.

Thus ensues a series of events which include: uproar in the families and the lives of friends of families, honor, duty, the foolishness of youth, the heavy wisdom of age, and customs now long gone. But these issues are still so much with us. When I go to the gym, I’m forced to glance at “Murray” the American talk show, where a bunch of screaming me-me’s deal with the exact same issues: love lost and fathers found. But never with the beauty, gracefulness, depth and humanity involved in Auteuil’s film.

The grief of abandoned love, a child without a father or a name, the histories of they who came before who struggled with the same issues, all are revealed. The film is so full of the dreams and hopes of parents and children, that when Eros comes to take his arrows back, no one has won at the game of love at all. Only a giving remains. Auteuil took his time to tell this story, so we feel every move like the ocean of the heart. I thank him.

“MALENA” Film Review by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightWhat ending would you choose for this film? Should the audience stone to death Sicilian women? Filled with jealousy, religious hypocrisy, demonology, and the original scapegoating myth institutionalized, these women are ready to kill life and beauty to protect themselves from the truth. And what is the truth they so abhor? Puberty! The shocking moment made by everyone, when they discover the universe exploding between their thighs! Alas! Not a single adult in this mythical town in Sicily appears to recall the full force of this primal condition.

Instead they suffer the conformity, denial, rejection, or substitution of this astonishing discovery. They make leaders, wars, schools, religions, cultures and of course children. They entrench insidious traditions and dangerous rituals. All of which floats by Amoruso Renato, our puberty struck hero, like an aria from a great opera, out the window, above the ornate stone buildings, across romantic plazas, over the endless azure Mediterranean and into the ever golden Sicilian sky. No one is spared his scrutiny, not the cowardly men with their machismo, nor the vicious women with their “virtue”. Why? This boy is watching and he is awake.

It seems the only memory of puberty still living in his Sicilian town, circa 1940, as World War II erupts, is the perfume of a lovely woman: “Malena”. Malena, a mystery woman walks through town, not only awakening the desire of our young Romeo, but also that of his entire group of friends, who agree to include him in a very special “men’s club” dedicated to their lust and her adoration, even though he is only twelve years old and still wearing short pants.

But Renato’s awakening is filled with consternation and loss. Malena is the object of all the unmet desires, fantasies, lusts and jealousies of his entire town. What can he do? She’s the epicenter of gossip. She incites the memory of the original discovery and embodies the danger of all its possibilities. Her existence calls into question the dead ends chosen by most of the populace. No one but Renato seems concerned that no man will hire her as she’s a danger to his wife, nor any woman sell her food in the market, because she’s a persona non grata.

All insist her virtue is compromised. She’s forced to go to court to protect herself, then becomes the mark of her lawyer, who wants his payment in more than a pound of flesh. Malena is not the first woman to consider marrying a buffoon, hoping it will protect her, but even that is denied. The lawyer is under the control of his mother who refuses the object of her son’s rape, the protection of his name in marriage. All doors close upon her. The war progresses. Finally she falls to the degradation projected upon her. She sells her flesh for food. Then falls further…

This is not a coming of age story, nor a memory film, filled with longing and regret which smacks of the great fish story, about the one which got away. Nor is it a morality play about Sicily, full of life and beauty but suffering from a blood curse long before the fascist period descends. Malena flies above and beyond these genres to scenes which reveal the human soul. Who is brave enough to look their own desire in the face? Where is the dignity allowed a person desecrated by scapegoating? Who is courageous enough to remember their own lack of courage? There is a triple surprise ending, not to be revealed, which proves it is a true tragedy/ comedy. No matter. See it. Re-see it. It is great film!

“A Perfect Stranger” falls into the Abyss Reviewed by C A Hall Spellbreaker Studios

Second SightThe Perfect Stranger falls into a small town Abyss *** This review may contain spoilers *** This is a sneaky film, it sneaks up on you slowly, decisively and then drops you into an abyss. A small Spanish town, all but abandoned, is filled with dangerous potholes that swallow up wandering tourists. Suddenly there is a new visitor. Each towns person projects all of their hopes, dreams, needs and fears on him, even though he can’t speak Spanish, which is the cause of many a humorous exchange. Maybe he’ll reopen the long abandoned store he’s living in and fulfill everyone’s needs. The towns people make a list. A neighbor youth, oppressed by his family, escapes to paint the newbies abode. His good Christian mother, projects on the visitor a sex “perp” identity, trying to enchain her son in his role as a useless child who must suffer forever her cruel and continuous “protection”. A young woman trying to escape her father’s descent into prostitution and drink, constantly criticizes the visitor, but as he can’t understand her language, only her desperate straits, he offers her a safe place to sleep and food, thereby upsetting her world through simple kindness. The town gossip comes filled with information he cannot understand, but uses his listening to plot her next move in her quest to become with child, using indiscriminately the only men left willing or able for such high jinks in a small dying town. All of these stories finally intersect revealing why the visitor has come and why he never leaves. Without giving anything further away, all that remains is the truth that children may be used as a form of continuance by any town anywhere, but more importantly their survival as a realized human beings depends on real fathering, decided not by blood ties or genetics, but by heart.