Friday, November 17, 2017

Superman: The Movie

The story of Kal-El, exiled by his father (Marlon Brando) and sent to Earth as an infant in the face of his planet's mass destruction. Adopted and raised in rural Iowa, he grows up to be mild manner reporter Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) by day, who is continually thwarted by flighty Daily Planet colleague Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and Superman by night, a near invincible being who fights for truth, justice, and the American way and is currently combating megalomaniacal criminal mastermind Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) who plans to hatch a nuclear attack to affect a major real estate scheme. Richard Donner's Superman is the kind of movie that Hollywood isn't even capable of attempting anymore, just great, well rounded entertainment. Reeve and Kidder bring great presence and chemistry to the picture and the entire cast pulls off great comic performances from a tongue-in-cheek script which was surprisingly co-authored by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo. Hackman delivers one of the great villainous turns (some of his interactions with Ned Beatty are priceless) and the cheesy f/x (which were heralded at the time) actually enhance the likability of the picture.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream

The story of how, after meeting Elvis at a young age and later seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Tom Petty became singularly focused on rock 'n' roll, and formed the band Mudcrutch who played throughout the Gainesville, Florida circuit. Driving 3,000 miles to Hollywood, they shopped their demo, scored a record contract, changed their name to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and became a staple headliner for over 30 years of ups and downs. Peter Bogdanovich's Runnin' Down a Dream is an excessively long and rife for parody documentary, almost cheaply and lazily made by mostly editing in concert and music video footage with current interviews. It is still watchable and never boring, while continuously featuring great music and background to an inimitable singer/songwriter.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Le Deuxieme Souffle

A principled criminal (Lino Ventura) escapes from prison, returns to Paris, and reacquaints with old friends before being roped back into the life, taking part in an execution and a deadly heist while being pursued by a wily detective (Paul Meurisse). Harsh and violent, Jean-Pierre Melville's undemonstrative Le Deuxieme Souffle (Second Wind) is another of the director's takes on gangster ethics and boasting a strong performance from Ventura.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Badlands

An inscrutable, disaffected James Dean modeled young man (Martin Sheen) takes up with a naive fifteen year old girl (Sissy Spacek) and murders her father (Warren Oates) before taking several more lives on a killing spree across the American West. Based on the exploits of spree killer Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate, Terrence Malik's Badlands is beautifully shot and disconcerting with its juxtaposition of natural imagery and ostensible innocence with the horrific deeds it depicts. A laconic Sheen and an aloof Spacek provide an excellent presence in early performances, and the film is perhaps a little too distant with not enough going on or being said.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hollywood Ending

A Hollywood executive (Tea Leoni) fights for her once lauded ex-husband (Woody Allen), whose career has hit a wall due to various neuroticisms, to direct a new mid-level project only to find him going inexplicably sightless, a fact that must be kept from cast, crew, and her powerful producer husband (Treat Williams). Allen's Hollywood Ending is inconsistent though sometimes very funny, but still a one-joke movie that wears thin and plays for too long. Allen writes himself a strong lead role with a lot of good zingers and Leoni brings empathy to her character. Once more for Allen's pictures, the cinematography excellent, showing great depth.
*** out of ****

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Se7en

During the last rain-drenched week before his a retirement, a weary city detective (Morgan Freeman) takes a new unseasoned, hotheaded transfer (Brad Pitt) as an astute and diabolically convoluted serial killer begins targeting victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins. David Fincher's grisly and literate police procedural is a great puzzle movie, superbly directed with impeccable, forbidding cinematography even if the ending seems overly morbid and not as clever as the events leading up to it. Freeman is effective (if a bit typecast when looking back) but Pitt is too inconsistent especially during the infamous, crucial, and ultimately laughable finale.
*** 1/2 out of ****




Saturday, November 11, 2017

Obsession

The wife (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter of a New Orleans real estate developer (Cliff Robertson) are kidnapped the night of their 10 year anniversary and killed in the botched recovery. Sixteen years later in Florence, where the couple initially met, he discovers his wife's dead ringer (Bujold again) and delves into a state of fixation and compulsion. Well-crafted Brian De Palma film, with a melodramatic script by Paul Schrader, is still an egregious Alfred Hitchcock appropriation (Bernard Herrmann score to boot), here a Vertigo reworking with a climactic scene that laughably mimics Dial M for Murder (It would be interesting to do a shot by shot analysis of De Palma and The Master's work just to see how much is actually borrowed). Robertson is excellent as the brooding lead as is John Lithgow as his snaky partner.
*** out of ****

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hamlet

At the forbidding castle of Elsinore, The Prince of Denmark (Mel Gibson) plots revenge and ponders existential matters when his uncle (Alan Bates) murders his father the King (Paul Scofield) and marries his mother (Glenn Close). Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet is a somewhat monotone telling boasting of great production design. It's fun to watch Gibson in this sort of against type role, and he proves to be more than capable in an animated performance. Bates and Scofield (in a limited role) stand out among the cast.
*** out of ****

Thursday, November 9, 2017

GoldenEye

A former, thought to be dead MI-6 agent (Sean Bean) plots with an onerous Russian General (Gottfried John) and a viperous, thigh crushing female operative (Famke Janssen) to steal the title weapon, a nuclear space device with mass destruction implications setting 007 (Pierce Brosnan) on the case with a beautiful computer analyst (Izabella Scorupco) in tow. Brosnan in his Bond debut is in the same mould as predecessor Timothy Dalton: nononsense, humorless, but really showing aptitude in the action sequences. The movie has one of the better (though still typical) Bond storylines, strong villains in Bean, Janseen, and John, a fine Bond girl in Scorupco, and great stuntwork, but like many of the other entries it just goes on way longer than it should.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pale Flower

Just released from prison for murder, a Yakuza hitman escorts a beautiful, thrill seeking femme fatale through underground gambling parlors before tragically falling back into the life. Masahiro Shinoda's noirish Pale Flower seems directly inspired by the French New Wave with its quick cutting and cool, jazzy aura. Either way, with severe under-plotting, this is an unmistakable exercise in style over substance, although the ending is impactful.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

During his ongoing war with the humans, Cesar finds members of his clan loyal to the rogue Koba aligning with the enemy. When his wife and son are slain, he seeks out the barbaric colonel (Woody Harrelson) responsible yet finds himself captive in a prison camp where hundreds of apes are being treated as slaves under pitiable conditions. Ponderous, minimally plotted, overlong and dull prequel sequel, with more than few nods to Apocalypse Now. Harrelson, the only principal human character in the movie, isn't believable as a sadistic, bloodthirsty officer while the CGI and work of Andy Serkis continues to be remarkable.
** out of ****

Monday, November 6, 2017

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

A photographer retreats from the hustle and bustle of 1960s New York to Boston where she discovers her calling: taking natural photographs in her home studio on a rented, oversized 20x24 Polaroid camera. Uninspired Errol Morris documentary, one of his worse, where he curiously opts to forgo the use of his Interrotron, a device which has helped maintain the fascination level in his movies. As for the subject, though Dorfman seems wise and affable, this is essentially a profile of a family portrait photographer who just happened to be friends with Allen Ginsberg and snap a couple pictures of Bob Dylan.
** out of ****

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Senso

A torrid, tragic love affair develops between a vain, independent minded Italian countess (Alida Valli) and an arrogant and cowardly Austrian officer (Farley Granger) during a war between the two countries in 1860s occupied Venice. Overwrought Visconti melodrama with underwhelming romance and acting features drab Technicolor and production design (although it is touted for its opulent sets). The ending, however, is potent.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Red Beard

A doctor (Yuzo Kayama), having just graduated medical school in Tokyo, honing the latest in 19th Century medicine, and hoping for a prestigious post, is mortified when he receives an assignment in an impoverished Tokyo district's public clinic run by a gruff but compassionate doctor (Toshiro Mifune) known as Red Beard. Humanist, measured, and episodic Kurosawa work features characteristically beautiful and shadowy cinematography and the last collaboration between Mifune and the director, the actor portraying a very different sort of role but still embodying a powerful presence. Kayama is excellent as the young doctor and Terumi Niki is heartrending as one of his troubled young patients.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

A successful, nebbish insurance investigator (Woody Allen) can't stand the new secretary (Helen Hunt) hired to rearrange the office, and the feeling is mutual. When the two are hypnotized at a nightclub as part of a work outing, they fall hopelessly in love when under the spell, and are soon being called upon by the hypnotist to clean out their clients. Dismissed, Double Indemnity inspired Allen film has great, evocative period flavor, sumptuous cinematography,  many funny one-liners and great back and forth, even if the premise starts to wear a little thin and the film goes on a little too long. Woody is in fine form, Hunt is a good foil, and David Ogden Stiers is an effective presence as The Great Zoltan.
*** out of ****

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

A bookish knockout (Emma Watson), an outcast in her picaresque French countryside village, finds herself the unwanted object of affection from a boorish lunkhead (Luke Evans) then prisoner to a cursed, crude beast (Dan Evans), whose enchanted castle reeks with personality and whose charms she gradually succumbs to. While this and the other CGI'd remakes to Disney's cherished 1991 animated feature are largely unnecessary, the endearing, magical elements are retained while new story directions, lyrics, and songs are added, mostly beneficial and without doing damage. The cast is particularly strong, especially Evans, Kevin Kline as Belle's absent-minded father, and most notably Watson who I was surprised to learn did her own singing.
*** out of ****

The Last Metro

During the German occupation of France, a stage actress and co-proprietor (Catherine Deneuve) of a Paris theater hides her Jewish husband/co-owner/director in the cellar during the course of their latest production while she balances the precarious books and feels a romantic attraction to her new leading man (Gerard Depardieu), himself an active member of the Resistance. Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro is presented on a beautiful color palette with superb cinematography by Nestor Almendros but the lack of a palpable, immediate Nazi presence/threat makes the film less thrilling and complete than it should be. Deneuve is lovely and as beautiful as ever while Depardieu, though charismatic as always, is barely believable as a Resistance agent nor is their romance particularly nspired. The ending is clever but slight.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Death of Louis XIV

After basking in his gardens at Versailles, the Sun King (Jean-Pierre Leaud of Truffuat/Antoine Doinel fame) develops a misdiagnosed case of gangrene. and is attended to by servants. advisers, clergy, weeping women, and a team of doctors as he bids farewell to his young heir and settles in to join the ranks of the dead. Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV makes use of sustained shots and employs an extremely measured pace yielding a sometimes compelling but mostly dull and surprisingly drab looking (especially for a period piece) result.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Shining

Along with his skittish wife (Shelley Duvall) and clairvoyant son, an out of work alcoholic writer (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a position which has inspired madness and murder in its not too recent history. Stanley Kubrick's ice cold adaptation of Stephen King's novel is one of the most chilling  ever and it is doubtful, especially in this day and age, that there will ever be a more exacting horror movie ever made. Jack is way way over the top but Duvall is highly effective and Scatman Crothers is excellent in support.
**** out of ****

Monday, October 30, 2017

Cloverfield/10 Cloverfield Lane

Cloverfield
A scaly, Godzilla-like creature strikes Manhattan during a going away party held by twenty-somethings, and as a group of them attempts to escape the carnage, they catch fading glimpses of the monster on their hand held camera. Though the characters are extremely unlikable and the queasycam approach wears thin quickly, Cloverfield has its moments of shock and stretches where it soars.
** 1/2 out of ****
10 Cloverfield Lane
(spoilers)
In a barely related plot and a totally different kind of thriller, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is run off the road by a paranoid (John Goodman) who takes her into his custody in a self-sufficient bunker with claims of nuclear war ongoing outside as signs point to the fact that he is more crazy and calculating than initially let on. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a solid thriller, with a surprisingly talented cast that goes over the top in its still competent finale with a killer that won't die scenario and even more outlandish occurrences. 
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Descent

A year after one of their own lost her whole family in a traffic accident, an all female group of thrill seeking friends reunite to tackle an unexplored cave in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. With resentments abounding, they find themselves lost and targeted by the cavern's demonic primordial inhabitants. A few effective scenes aside, The Descent is beset by second rate acting and a third rate script with cheap scares that devolves into total idiocy once the narrative leaves the realm of believability. The production also has that same cheap early digital feel that plagued 28 Days Later.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Wicker Man

A upright, conservative police inspector (Edward Woodward) travels to a remote British Island to investigate the disappearance of an adolescent girl. There in addition to the nonchalant and hostile attitudes of the residents, he finds them fully immersed in paganism and led by a charismatic despot (Christopher Lee) as he gradually realizes he is in way over his head. From a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, The Wicker Man is creepy, unsettling, and thrilling, a horror movie that imprints itself on the memory because it is made with meaning and a deeper purpose. Lee dominates the screen, Woodward is a strong and pitiable presence, and that ending is chilling and unforgettable.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 27, 2017

Pan's Labyrinth

In the early days of Frano's Spain, an adolescent girl, lost in a fantasy world of books (and indeed seeming to be actually living out her own fable) relocates with her mother to a wooded compound where her new sadistic army captain step-father is rooting out the few bands of remaining rebels. Meanwhile, she is visited by a mysterious faun and given three tasks to complete, tasks which will have tragic and otherworldly repercussions. Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is dumbly written and realized, clumsily welding together fairy tale and violent realism elements, and not nearly as imaginative as many give it credit for.
** out of ****

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Les Vampires

Beginning with the discovery of a severed head belonging to a prominent official, a star reporter launches an investigation into Les Vampires, a secretive, malevolent cult known with ever changing leadership and a vampish femme fatale pulling all the strings behind the scenes, and finds himself, and his sidekick, a coworker and former member, as perpetual targets. Louis Feuillade early, popular French silent serials are corny, cliched, and silly as you would expect but are also marked by shocking, unexpected moments of outlandishness. grimness, great characters, and exciting storylines.
**** out of ****

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Shallows

Still grieving the death of her mother, a med school dropout (Blake Lively) body surfs a secluded Mexican beach and finds herself trapped by a great white only a few hundred yards off shore with only a handful of buoys as her only point of refuge. The Shallows is effective in parts, containing some good scares, but the singular plot wears thin and grows tiresome quickly with the lovely Lively unable to carry the picture.
** 1/2 out of ****