Saturday, October 22, 2016

Nosferatu the Vampyre

This remake of Murnau's 1922 silent Bram Stoker adaptation tells the familiar, traditional Dracula story, while getting off to a surprisingly conventional start for a Werner Herzog flick before inevitably arriving at the jarring, unforgettable imagery. The film is stark, eerie, though not without a sense of humor and features a perfectly emotive, extraordinarily creepy (and surprisingly subdued) Klaus Kinski in the title role. Bruno Ganz is strong as the anemic Harker and Isabelle Adjani makes for a strong heroine, portraying Ganz's wife and Kinski's would be prey.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Black Cat

While on a Hungarian honeymoon, a young couple encounters a peculiar doctor (Bela Lugosi) who invites them to stay the night at the ominous castle of a Satan worshiping war criminal (Boris Karloff) who had confined the physician during the Great War and married his now deceased daughter. Edward G. Ulmer's The Black Cat, an in name only adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, is a low budget, exceedingly bizarre and amusing horror movie with expertly framed and stylistically drawn set pieces that feature Lugosi and Karloff in top form in the first motion picture that paired them together.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Lies Beneath

A woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) believing her strained marriage to a workaholic scientist (Harrison Ford) has been repaired begins seeing  spectral visions in their seaside cottage. Except for a finale that turns into a cliched slasher picture and doesn't know when to quit, Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath is a well paced, astutely crafted psychological thriller made in the best Hitchcockian traditions.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


After forging a bet with the devil that he can corrupt an innocent man, Mephisto seeks out an elderly scientist and tempts him with restoring his youth, beautiful women, and divine healing powers. F.W. Murnau's retelling of the famous folk tale and embodiment of German Expressionism is a dark, involving melodrama told with the use of incredible sets and lighting and a masterful command of camera tricks/techniques.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Green Room

After siphoning gas to make to it to their latest college radio interview and barely paying gig, a punk rock band is hooked up to play at an unbeknownst white supremacist compound bar where they accidentally walk in on a drug fueled murder, barricade themselves in a back room, and devise a plan to fight for dear life against the gathering of homicidal skinheads, led by their ruthless gang leader (Patrick Stewart) just outside the door. Like his forgoing Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is intense, violent, rurally set pulse pounding pulp with a singular screenplay that still manages to work in some nice touches. Anton Yelchin is strong in one of his final screen roles, the against type casting of Stewart is passable, and Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin, is quite good again, here in a supporting role as one of Stewart's lieutenants.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Look of Silence

An ophthalmologist who lost his brother during the Indonesian genocide of the mid-60s interviews surviving members of the regime while occasionally fitting them with glasses. Due to its personal approach and impact, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence surpasses The Act of Killinganother acclaimed documentary take on the same subject, while again focusing depraved, pathetic men while creating a discourse on human nature.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Broadway Danny Rose

Old comedians gathered in a deli to shoot the bull and relay old times begin to reminisce on Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a tireless manager of hapless acts who becomes mixed up with the mob when he becomes involved with his lounge singing client's mistress (Mia Farrow). Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose is light, amusing, and occasionally very funny with Woody in excellent form in front of the camera and aided by crisp Gordon Willis black and white cinematography.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Night Manager

An ex-special forces operative (Tom Hiddleston), now working as a concierge at a Cairo hotel, fails to protect a female guest from a billionaire arms dealer (Hugh Laurie) and is later recruited by an intelligence officer (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate his camp. Susanne Biers TV miniseries is presumably dumbed down from John Le Carre's novel and filmed with a delicacy and sensibility that must be completely antithetical to the source material. The usually amusing Tom Holliander is obnoxious in a supporting role, Colman and Elizabeth Debicki are atrocioius in key ones, and Hiddleston's only acting approach is to flash a smile or a chuckle while inhabiting a character with inexplicable motives. The screen really only lights up when graced by Laurie, who is fun to watch playing a charming, complicated baddie.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Terrorist

A teen-aged girl, the top member of her guerrilla combat squad, is selected to be a suicide bomber and target a top ranking government official. Santosh Sivan's modestly budgeted Indian export is incredibly well directed, making great use of closeups, symbols, derived from an insightful, poetic screenplay, and thankfully employs a restrained use of violence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 3, 2016


The Kray brothers, suave, ill-tempered Reggie and the mentally deranged Ron (Tom Hardy pulling double duty), rule over London's criminal underworld in the 1960s until their operation grows too large and tempers, passion, greed, and ego go unchecked. From a novice screenplay and told with unnecessary, irritating voiceover, Brian Helgeland's Legend is just one more Goodfellas knockoff to add to the pile.  It is almost worth watching for hardy's strong dual performances, though he still often seems like he is playing for laughs.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 1, 2016

She's Gotta Have It

An individualistic female feebly attempts to balance her love life consisting of three disparate, possessive suitors. Spike Lee's black and white debut feature feels free and breezy for awhile, but grows tiresome and ultimately resembles little more than an early Jarmusch knockoff. It's occasionally funny, with dialogue that leaves a lot to be desired spoken by inept though appealing performers (aside from Lee himself who would have been better off casting someone else). The film is interjected with too many stupid interludes, including a jarring color dance sequence, which indicates there wasn't enough material for a feature, and the material probably would have worked better as a short anyhow.
** 1/2 out of *****

Friday, September 30, 2016

Dazed and Confused

Following Texas High schoolers on their last day of classes in 1976, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is a spaced-out bittersweet piece of nostalgia, an American Graffiti for Generation X, The film is smartly conveived and extremely well filmed, although it grows tiresome quickly and is stocked with mostly unlikable characters, but is not without its moments.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

After an undercover Czech mission goes terribly wrong and a longstanding operative is tortured and killed, bureau chief George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is summoned from retirement to investigate a theory that a mole is present in the highest reaches of MI6. This John le Carre BBC miniseries is extremely measured, stagnant even, but worth watching for Guinness' impeccable performance.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jackie Robinson

The story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the sharecropper's son from Cairo, Georgia who became a standout athlete at UCLA and a Negro League star before being chosen to integrate the Major Leagues as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Ken Burns covered Robinson's story at length in his sweeping 1994 Baseball docuseries and thus revisits many of his same tracks in this recent four hour update while still bringing much to the table in the film's second half, which depicts the ballplayer's politically minded lesser known life after retirement. Again Burns provides a wealth of great footage and Keith David serves nicely doing narration duties, but a flood of lackluster commentators and a storytelling approach that resembles a civics lesson are major strikes on this count.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Near the turn of the 20th Century, a crackpot inventor (Woody Allen), his timid wife (Mary Steenburgen), her distinguished older cousin (Jose Ferrer), his much younger girlfriend (Mia Farrow), a hedonist doctor (Tony Roberts), and his forward thinking date (Julie Hagerty)gather for a weekend at an isolated countryside cabin where new romances bloom. Woody's riff on Smiles of a Summer Night is clunky (especially its conclusion) but still light, funny, and occasionally insightful. Roberts and Haggerty stand out in the ensemble.
*** out of ****

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rebel Without a Cause

After his latest outburst and having been uprooted and replanted by his parents in the latest suburban neighborhood, an angst ridden teen aged delinquent (James Dean) continues to drink, loiter, vandalize, and make enemies while falling in with a small clique (Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo) who experience the same feelings of alienation, the result of either aloof, over-affectionate, misunderstanding, or absent parents. It's difficult to watch Nicholas Ray's relic of a bygone era and understand the mass appeal of its time, now coming off as pretentious, phony (especially Dean), and even bizarre. Aided by some iconic sequences and its great photography.
*** out of ****

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Baby Doll

A middle aged failed cotton farmer (Karl Malden) lives in his dilapidated plantation house with his flirtatious, childlike 19-year old wife (Carroll Baker), with whom the marriage has never been consummated. When an immigrant rival (Eli Wallach) shows off his latest acquistion, a state of the art cotton gin, the wash-out sees fit to sabotage his operation leaving Baby Doll as an instrument for revenge. Eli Kazan's racy, scandalized, and very funny realization of Tennessee Williams' only original screenplay was strikingly filmed on flavorful Mississippi locations and features an atypically outlandish performance from Malden.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where the Green Ants Dream

A geologist is sent to survey a desert area in hopes of finding uranium deposits but finds his work disrupted by the aboriginal people who find even his testing procedures to be a violation of their spiritual practices. After the mining corporation's attempts to buy them off fail, the matter ends up in the hands of the local courts. Where the Green Ants Dream is peculiar and offbeat, which is expected for a movie by Werner Herzog, but lacks the mystery that surrounds his great works. It also feels cheaply made, not well thought out, hurt by an absence of a musical score, and marred by a pronounced politically correct stance.
** out of ****

Friday, September 23, 2016

Late Spring/Early Summer

Before the poignant and sorrowful Tokyo Story, Ozu's first two entries a series of family centered dramas dubbed the Noriko trilogy (in reference to the same named though separate characters portrayed by Setsuko Hara) take a strikingly similar set-up viewed from a different angle:

Late Spring tells of father's sometimes duplicitous efforts to marry off his doting near 30 year old daughter (Hara) against her wishes, and is told in the beloved director's usual contemplative, subtle manner while featuring fine performances and an incredible, low key ending. Many subtle reference depicting the westernization of Japanese culture are fascinating

In Early Summer, Hara again finds her family playing matchmaker, but instead goes out a stubborn, independent limb by favoring a recently reacquainted childhood sweetheart who does not match up to the family's standards of marriage. Filmed in beautiful greyscale, the film is sweet natured, observant, and extremely measured

Late Spring: *** 1/2 out of ****
Early Summer: *** out of ****

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Blue Angel

After finding lewd photos of a local showgirl (Marlene Dietrich) in the possession of his students, a high school professor (Emil Jannings) travels to her cabaret with intentions of reprimanding her but instead falls victim to her deadly charms. Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel starts on a hysterically funny path that follows its course to a seedy, tragic, and even horrifying destination while depicting Dietrich at her sexiest and most devious while featuring Jannings in a humiliating, impressively mannered performance.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Claude Lanzmann’s lionized nine plus hour Holocaust documentary, famously crafted without a frame of historical stock footage, is haunting and powerful in select moments, though more numbing than anything overall and ultimately exhausting and repetitious. It also serves as a show of self-aggrandizement for its filmmaker who interjects himself often, whether he's prodding a survivor to reveal a painfully suppressed memory, bickering with party functionaries over semantics, cajoling a group of Poles to admit to anti-Semitism, or casting blame and attempting to induce guilt on anyone and everyone for the horrors that took place at Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor among other sites of unparalleled barbarism which are revisited with mesmerizing tracking shots.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

James White

After burying his estranged father , an educated, angry and aimless young man (Christopher Abbott), with desultory plans at a writing career, parties with his best friend (Scott Mescudi) while seeing his mother (Cynthia Nixon) through cancer’s final stages. James White is made with sincerity, which makes me hesitant to knock it, but director Josh Mond’s screenplay is so scant and the acting so amateurish at times the enterprise winds up feeling like a film school dissertation. There is an excellent scene near the end featuring Ron Livingston.

** ½ out of ****

Monday, September 19, 2016


An average schlub (Luke Wilson) is selected by the Pentagon to participate in a yearlong cryogenic freezing experiment where he is forgotten of course and awakened half a millennia later to fight himself the most intelligent being among a population of dimwits. Mike Judge's Idiocracy, which has seen a revival during this election season, is a half-assed, barely thought out, rudimentary satire that is not without its laugh out loud moments.
** out of ****

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Murder of a President

After unexpectedly winning a tight 1880 presidential campaign, James A. Garfield showed much promise in the job before being gunned down by an itinerant paranoiac just four months into his first term. Eventually succumbing to his injuries, The President may have pulled through if not for blind loyalty his doctor, an old friend, who insisted on outmoded medical practices to treat his wound. From a historical novel by Candice Millard, Murder of a President is informative, but hurt by tacky recreations, an unneeded Ken Burns imitated approach, and an extremely narrow focus of Garfield's life, career, and presidency.
*** out of ****

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Early winter, 1942, in a snowy, idyllic mountainside manor in Wanssee just outside of Berlin, the top Nazi brass, representing the major bureaus of the party, gather for a top secret summit to discuss the Fuehrer's latest dictate: the Final Solution and how it will be practically carried out and streamlined. Hosted by a meticulous Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) and presided over by the suave and cunning Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), the men casually drink, jest, smoke, and eat while laying the groundwork for the deportation and extermination of the Jews from Greater Germany. Drawn from the only known copy of the meeting's minutes, Frank Pierson's Conspiracy, which plays like a perverse adaptation of 12 Angry Men, is a brilliant, chilling, and intelligent imagining of the odious gathering and gives striking insight into the personalities that colluded to found such unthinkable atrocities. The cast is top shelf, with Branagh, Tucci, and Colin Firth (playing an attorney concerned with the legalities involved) standing out.
**** out of ****