Friday, August 26, 2016

Oliver Twist

Roman Polanski presents a gritty, workmanlike adaptation which doesn't distinguish itself from other notable adaptations of the Dickens classic. Young Barney Clark as eponymous waif is a true find, Ben Kingsley is unrecognizable and impressive as Fagin, the boy's ignoble protector, Jamie Foreman frightening as the odious and gruffy Bill Sykes, and Mark Strong demonstrates his acting range in a brief role.
*** out of ****

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Kindergarten Teacher

A nursery school instructor develops an unhealthy fixation with one of her students upon discovering his apparently innate ability to intermittently spout profound poetry. Offbeat storytelling and an unlikable, only gradually to be revealed as deranged central character make The Kindergarten Teacher engrossing fare that leaves only complaint: why resort to attention calling camerawork and other asides when every other aspect works so well?
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sherlock

The Abominable Bride (2016)
This cheeky, self-referential holiday special wastes an opportunity to tell a classic Holmes tale set in Victorian London by proceeding in the same cheap, frenetic manner as usual and has one of the dumbest, timeworn reveals imaginable. The performances of and interplay between Cumberbatch and Freeman remain the main selling point.
** 1/2 out of ****


Series 3 (2014)
Following his supposed demise Sherlock reemerges in deep cover in the Middle East, an elaborate plot hatched with his brother Mycroft to foil a terrorist plot, and returns to Baker Street to resume his detective duties with John, cases which include a lethal blackmailer, a murder conspiracy at Watson's wedding, and another terrorist threat. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman remain the sole reasons for Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reimagining, which feature too cutesy and insipid storylines that border on stupid.
** 1/2 out of ****

Series 2 (2011)
With Moriarty hatching an even more diabolical plot, Sherlock and Watson find themselves entwined in three more mysteries, this time versions of Conan Doyle's revered classics A Scandal in Bohemia, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Reichenbach Falls. In Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's sophomore run of their retelling of the stories of the world's most famous detective, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman still remain the chief asset of the series, delivering compelling and intensely likable performances (I can't wait to see them both in "The Hobbit" later this year). However, as was my chief complaint last season, and one which has regressed even further here, these wonderful stories are given shabby and paper thin treatment. I also found Andrew Scott to be a poor choice for Moriarty. I feel odd complaining about a crime show with such rich character development, but here in a mystery series as such, storytelling must come first, and given the wealth of material given to the developers, we should be given something much more compelling.
** 1/2 out of ****

Series 1 (2010)
The most popular character in literature is supplanted to present day London where he acts as a freelance detective, only offering his unsurpassed brilliant assistance in the cases that interest him the most. Taking on a flatmate who has just been psychologically wounded in the Iraq War, he also proves to be quite resourceful in the detective's inquest, all of which seem to be the masterwork of an equally brilliant and secretive criminal mastermind. "Sherlock" is a BBC reworking of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss in a three part series, each entitled A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker, and The Great Game. The series does an excellent job capturing the spirit of the Conan Doyle novels, and compared to the blasphemous Guy Ritchie movies, it is a most welcomed excursion. As Holmes and Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are excellent at capturing the essence of their roles and Cumberbatch is a particular joy to watch as the ingenious and sociopathic detective. I did feel the episodes were marred by overlength and "The Blind Banker" segment seemed to be an unworthy entry. "Sherlock" does succeed in being escapist entertainment, an acting showcase for the stars, and a return to form for the character following the recent film mistreatments.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hamlet

Laurence Olivier is superb in his own supreme adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, one matched only by Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 ambitious treatment. Here the production is defined by its sets, lighting, acting, direction, and a clear, marvelously articulated script.

*** ½ out of ****

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

The story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon official who in 1971 at person peril leaked thousands of top secret pages to the press on the Vietnam War, a conflict which he himself had personally helped architect. Judith Ehrlich and Richard Goldsmith's documentary is not dressed up or apparently made with a lot of money, but still manages to be an engrossing, comprehensive record on a self-important whistleblower.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kes

Born in an impoverished British working class community, browbeaten by his classmates, teachers, and older brother and destined for the coal mines, a young boy finds comfort in his pet falcon which he rescues from the forest as he studiously teaches himself the art of falconry.  From Barry Hines' novel A Kestrel for a Knave, Ken Loach's early career triumph of the human spirit is a lovely, little heartbreaking film. with an innate performance from David Bradley, maybe the best youth performance ever committed to film, and insightful sociopolitical commentary not shoved in your face which could serve as a lesson to modern civic minded filmmakers. Funny, moving, beautifully done. I loved this movie!
**** out of ****

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hell or High Water

Two brothers, a sullen drunk late on child support payments (Chris Pine) and a hair-triggered parolee (Ben Foster), take to robbing branches of the Texas Midlands Bank which plans to imminently foreclose on their recently deceased mother's ranch while a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges), in a bid to forestall retirement, takes a heightened interest in the case. There's nothing new under the Texas sky in David Mackenzie's tonally erratic, message conscious, cliche driven bank robbery saga, but strong performances from a winning cast, excellent open plains photography, and a character driven approach keeps Hell or High Water in the loot.
*** out of ****

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Interiors

Delusional that her husband (E.G. Marshall) of many years is returning after a trial separation, an elderly well-bred woman (Geraldine Page) begins to unravel, her three similarly troubled daughters (Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith, Mary Beth Hurt) attempt to provide support while also trying to process the shocking news. Woody Allen's Bergmanesque exercise, a solemn take on family dynamics and the misery of the human experience, and first foray into pure drama is given weight by gloomy Gordon Willis photography and exhibits the roots of what would become some of the auteur's 1980s masterworks.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fitzcarraldo

An entrepreneur (Klaus Kinski) with wild dreams of bringing opera to the jungle, searches the Andes for already depleted supplies of rubber during the early 20th Century boom. When it is reported that untapped acres of the plant exist on an navigable river, a river which is separated from the main waterway by only a few hundred meters at one point, the off-kiltered businessman hires scores of natives, devises a lever and pulley system, and determines to pull his ship over hill from one stream to the other. Notoriously filmed on location and unsimulated, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo is a mesmerizing and arresting vision of madness with wide-eyed Kinski in one of his best collaborations with the director.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Johnny Guitar

A Wild West saloon owner (Joan Crawford) finds herself at odds with the locals, and when the arrival of her outlaw ex-boyfriend (Sterling Hayden) coincides with a robbery that caused the death of their leader's brother, it leads to a fiery standoff at her place of business. Though simple seeming and modestly budgeted, Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar is bizarre and sexually charged. with a wide eyed Crawford and a repressed Mercedes McCambridge both looking possessed, that features memorable and famed sequences. Outstanding direction and use of technicolor.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, August 15, 2016

Triumph of the Will

Leni Riefenstahl's party commissioned film of the 1934 Nazi rally in Nuremberg has been called the most influential propaganda piece in history and shares a heritage with D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, of an undeniably authoritative film advocating a loathsome agenda. Its technical qualities are consummate with a barely ceasing camera capturing, in minutely staged shots, Hitler, top party members, and hundreds of thousands of minions in all the pomp and circumstance and frightening fervor.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Birdman of Alcatraz

Convicted murderer and career criminal Robert Straud (Burt Lancaster), all but given up on life, continually broods clashes with the rigid warden (Karl Malden) from his cell at Leavenworth Penitentiary until the day he rescues a downed sparrow from the yard thus beginning an unimaginable and unmatched career in studying birds. In spite of some expected cliches, John Frankenheimer's prison expertly shot prison success story biopic is surprisingly offbeat, but unravels in the finale with an unsatisfying emotional and action culmination. Lancaster offers a typically noble, stoic, and powerful though not always convincing performance and the film is marred by unnecessary, godawful narration.
*** out of ****

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tangerines

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the civil unrest reaches the front steps of an elderly Georgian tangerine farmer (Lembit Ulfsak) who finds himself caring for two soldiers on opposite sides of the conflict. Zara Urushadze's film is obvious and oversimplifies the issue but, even when film starts to resemble an I Love Lucy episode, there is still something appealing in the nobility of the approach and the stoic performance of Ulfsak.
*** out of ****

Friday, August 12, 2016

Anthropoid

In 1942, along with a team of paratroopers, two members of the Czech resistance (Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan) land in wooded area outside Prague and make their way to the occupied city to carry out their orders from London: the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the ruthless Nazi General and head of security, second only to Himmler and responsible for countless acts of savagery and murder. With Anthropoid (the code name of the operation), Sean Ellis takes one of the most intriguing stories of courage and daring to come out of the war and, while appearing to treat the material faithfully, drenches it in cliches, bad acting, and an overall drabness.
* 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Welles' Bard Trilogy (Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight)

During a decades spanning period of self-imposed Hollywood exile that only saw his return to film Touch of Evil, Orson Welles crafted three Shakespearean adaptations. Having garnered a reputation, producers were often hesitant to work with him, and money was often scant. Filming on the fly over what sometimes amounted to years, these films would often suffer from sound or continuity but are as stylish and dramatically satisfying as anything the maverick director ever created.

Macbeth (1948)
Welles's 1936 stage adaptation of the Scottish play with an all black cast gained mass acclaim. Here, while sublimely starring in the lead role he creates a haunting, atmospheric aura on austere sets.
*** 1/2 out of ****


Othello (1952)
Othello is roughly cobbled together and even after a 1992 restoration, it looks very rugged. Still the camerawork is impeccable and the treatment is extremely powerful, again especially in Welles' performance
*** 1/2 out of ****


Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Chimes at Midnight is probably the best regarded of these works, and one that existed in obscurity until only recently. Depicting the friendship between Falstaff and Henry IV, the film is bold, bawdy, dramatic, laugh out loud funny, and affecting as it demonstrates Welles in full force as actor and director.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Targets

A washed up movie star (Boris Karloff) questions his lot in the days leading up to his final B-picture premier at a local drive-in. Meanwhile, a recently returned and seemingly wel-adjusted Vietnam vet secretly begins planning a Charles Whitman-like shooting spree. Peter Bogdonavich's impactful debut, which he was not only able to talk Roger Corman into letting him direct but also able to procure Karloff's services who owed time, is one of those two unrelated storyline films arriving at the same destination, which quickly becomes apparent. Its commentary on gun violence, here pitted against an outmatched horror movie monster, feels rushed and pretentious. but the picture is competently made, the finale is extremely well edited, and Karloff is quite good.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Experimenter

Beginning with his controversial obedience tests in the early 60s, which tested the limit on how far a subject would inflict pain upon their victims under orders, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) conducted a series of radical social experiments that hoped to provide insight into human nature. Experimenter's narrative is lazily constructed and some of the scenes had me scratching my head, but the film is very well-paced, completely watchable and fascinating even, and Sarsgaard is in fine form, well cast as a smarmy bore.
*** out of ****

Monday, August 8, 2016

Luther

Season 4 (2015)
Laying low on a leave of absence on the British countryside, John is implored to return to duty when a psychopathic killer of cannibalistic proportions begins to terrorize London. The plotline of Luther's fourth and supposed final season is stupid, staid TV crime stuff, and a mysterious subplot is dubious at best, but Elba still retains his appeal and the remaining cast is fun to watch.
*** out of ****

Season 3 (2013)
With both a fetishist and a revenge killer on the rampage, you would think John has enough on his plate. In addition, the dogged Chief Inspector must also grapple with a bogus Internal Affairs investigation which has roped in both his girl and his best mate, and also with the return of a certain wily psychopathic ally. After a considerable decline in quality for its second season and after noticing that its third season had been slashed to a four measly one-hour long episode outing, I was ready to write Luther off as just another tiresome, spent police procedural. Then, after deciding against my better judgement and breezing through an admittedly exciting and thoroughly ridiculous series, I realized how grateful I was for a program that doesn't overstay its welcome as many have a tendency to do. Although most developments this season were absolutely ludicrous and most of the acting continued to be embarrassingly exaggerated, I was nonetheless taken once more by Idris Elba's still commanding performance, the show's high energy, involving storyline, and its merciful brevity.
*** out of ****


Season 2 (2011)
The fallout from the events surrounding Zoe's death have left everyone reeling, except for John who remains too valuable to the force. Now under the command of DCI Schenk, Luther must contend with a former suspects wayward daughter while dealing with several incomprehensible psychopaths, first an ingenious, historically minded killer and then a pair of identical twins playing their own fathomed game of mayhem. The second season of "Luther" isn't quite as compelling of the first largely due to the absence of Ruth Wilson (who appears briefly). The storyline which replaces hers, Luther's guardianship of a 13 year old prostitute played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards, isn't nearly as intriguing. Still, Idris Elba towers over the material and continues to make the series worthwhile.
*** out of ****

Season 1 (2010)
Detective Chief Inspector John Luther is the most brilliant minds on the London police force, making wild yet flawless deductions that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. He is also an unstable ticking time bomb, dealing with marital problems with his wife, a psychological examination and internal affairs inquest following the death of a suspect, and the advances of a like-minded and beautiful murder suspect he was unable put away. Like "Prime Suspect", another series about a British DCI, "Luther" is a splash in the face compared to banal American cop programs. Idris Elba ("The Wire") is outstanding as the troubled inspector, projecting sadness and inner turmoil as well as being engaging as a detective. There are many implausible developments on the show, not the least being Elba's relationship with serial murder suspect Ruth Wilson (who is good here), but I don't really think it matters because the show plays like good theater. "Luther" is an intelligently written series that like most good cop shows founded on a great lead performance.
*** 1/2 out of ****

On Dangerous Ground

After his latest questionable incident involving excessive force, a hardened detective (Robert Ryan) is reassigned to a manhunt in an upstate murder case where he is joined by the victim's inconsolable father (Ward Bond), wholly intent on shooting the perpetrator, with the search ultimately leading the reluctant pair to the home the target's blind, empathetic sister (Ida Lupino). Nicholas Ray's skillfully filmed On Dangerous Ground takes tired elements, and moves them in an interesting direction while resting the picture on Ryan's reliable shoulders. The Lupino performance, likely inspired by the success of Johnny Belinda, seems hackneyed and stiff and the uninspired wrap-up seems completely out of place in a noir thriller.
*** out of ****

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Winter on Fire captures the aggressively suppressed student protests that took place in Kiev in late 2013, early 2014  that backed the ouster of Putin backed President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of Ukraine's entry into the EU. Resembling the documentary The Square, which similarly captured the Egyption Revolution, Evgeny Afineevsky's film bears the same assets, which include intimate, even remarkable first person filming capturing often shocking brutality and drawbacks such as a lack of narrative structure and redundancy.

*** out of ****

Friday, August 5, 2016

Muriel's Wedding

A social outcast (Toni Collette) living a seaside Australian port finds herself booted from her clique of popular friends after caught wearing a shoplifted bridesmaid's dress at the wedding of one of its members. Bailed out by her pitiable, barely connected political father, and stifled by a stultifying home life, she makes for the big city, is given a confidence boost by a new friendship with a paraplegic (Rachel Griffiths), and winds up a bride in a sham marriage to a foreign swimmer hoping to legitimize his Olympic bid. P.J. Hogan's Muriel's Wedding pushes the envelope for strange and offbeat, and seems a complete anomaly for its genre, but is clever and consistently unique. Collette's performance is just as strange, though completely endearing, and Griffiths is extraordinary in support.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sabotage

A London movie theater owner leads a double life, alternating as a bomber for an eastern terrorist organization, arousing the suspicion of his wife and a local detective. Playfully adapted from the Joseph Conrad novel Secret Agent, Sabotage is an amusing, well-crafted Hitchcock picture made all the more suspenseful through tremendous editing. A concurrent Disney film plays splendidly into the finale.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Chi-Raq

After another child is killed by a stray bullet in the onslaught of gun violence in Chicago, a local women's group encourages females the city over to withhold sex from their counterparts until the gang warfare has subsided. A modern updating of Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata, Spike Lee's Chi-Raq is all over the map and wrought in the worst ways, approaching so bad its good territory which is made all the more insufferable by its good intentions and unrealistic aims. Angela Bassett and John Cusack are strong in support.
* 1/2 out of ****

Monday, August 1, 2016

Woyzeck

A low level German soldier (Klaus Kinski) begins to lose his grip on reality after subjecting himself to bizarre scientific experiments, and flies off the handle after learning his sweetheart (Eva Mattes) has taken another lover. Shot jut a week after filming wrapped on Nosferatu, and on the same locations with the same crew in just over half a month's time, Woyzeck feels rushed and a little stagy but is worth seeing for another crazed Kinski performance and a haunting, gracefully shot killing sequence towards the conclusion.
*** out of ****

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Duke of Burgundy

A professor (Sidse Babett Knudsen) in butterfly studies is an engaged in a dominant/submissive relationship with one of her students (Chiara D'Anna) and gradually sees their roles starting to reverse. In an age of stale, lifeless digital filmmaking, The Duke of Burgundy is a marvel in that regard with a sumptuous and absorbing color palette while channeling female-centric fever dream drams of the 1970s (Persona and  3 Women come to mind) with a minimal plot where every scene is layered and revisited with new meaning. Although Peter Strickland's film is involving for a time, and boasts fine lead performances for such offbeat, racy material, its wheels do begin to spin as it arrives towards its destination.
*** out of ****