Saturday, January 24, 2015

Marnie

A young woman (Tippi Hedren) routinely procures secretarial work and proceeds to rip off her employers before making off into the night. When one of her victim's clients (Sean Connery) discovers her treachery, he arranges to acquaint and marry the thief, largely in part to understand her pathology and have her confront its source. With Marnie, Alfred Hitchcock explores similar obsessive, psychological territory as he did with Vertigo and handles a bizarre story with style and flair. Hedren's character journeys to unexpected places and she offers a thorough and multifaceted performance, though Connery's character is somewhat underdone and comparatively let off the hook.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 19, 2015

American Sniper

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Texas rodeo rider with vague ambitions of being a cowboy, an ingrained sense of honor and justice, and a crack shot with a rifle learns of a series of American Embassy bombings and immediately enlists as a Navy SEAL. Upon completing the unsparing training and acquainting with the love of his life (Sienna Miller), he deploys to Fallujah for four separate tours where the horrors of war alienate him from his family and tear at his soul as he quickly becomes the most deadly sniper in all of American history. Clint Eastwood's production of Kyle's memoir is a late career rebound for the 84 year old virtuoso and a specific delineation of the terrors faced by our soldiers in the recent Middle East campaigns. While domestic scenes tend to drag, especially towards the finale (though they are not without power and substance), the battle scenes are flawlessly executed and contain a clarity that is usually not present in similar productions (the muddled action sequences of Black Hawk Down came most prominently to mind). Cooper offers a transformative performance (several times during my viewing I found myself amazed that I was watching the same actor) and Miller does her best with an underwritten part which only calls for her to worry and protest.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Oscars: Predictions, Thoughts, and Gripes

This morning's announcement of the Academy Awards nominations left me as contented as I have ever felt upon hearing of the nominees, perhaps because 2014's gaping dearth of cinematic quality made snubbed films few and far between while also allowing more than a few stinkers to snag some coveted spots. The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman led the way with nine nods apiece, and while it is good to see Wes Anderson get the unexpected recognition he deserves, I still am failing to grasp the fascination behind Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's mediocre movie. Boyhood still appears to be the favorite, American Sniper fared better than predicted, and the Academy again showed Christopher Nolan out of its favor by snubbing Interstellar in the major categories in addition to the heavy handed Selma, which only scored a Best Picture nod. Nightcrawler did not make the last second stride many thought it would, although it did snag an Original Screenplay nomination. In outlying categories, the biggest shock of the day may have came when The Lego Movie was shut out in the Animated category, I was bummed to see Steve James' Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself go by the wayside, and it was nice to see Ida procure nominations in the Foreign Language and Cinematography fields. Here are some thoughts on the major awards categories:
Best Picture
Since they've expanded the Best Picture category a few years back, this year is the fewest nominees we have seen with eight, perhaps another reflection of the sad state of the movie industry. Again Boyhood appears the favorite, and rightly so, and to my mind sees its only competition from Birdman. It was good to see nods for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash and I can't understand why excellent films like Nightcrawler, Inherent Vice, and Fury didn't make a bigger splash. I also found it odd that Bennett Miller drew a Best Directing nomination without Foxcatcher cracking this category.
Should Win: Boyhood
Will Win: Boyhood
Best Director
I don't see how Richard Linklater loses here. His magnum opus has been roundly heralded on the awards circuit and I don't expect that to change. Bennett Miller and Wes Anderson (his first) also received very deserving nods.
Should Win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Will Win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Best Actor
Michael Keaton was the sole redeeming quality of Birdman and for putting himself and his career on the line, he should be the recipient of this year's Best Actor trophy. He could see some major competition from Eddie Redmayne who did a fine job in mimicking Stephen Hawking physically but did not really create a character in The Theory of Everything. Bradley Cooper is a surprise in his third straight year on the podium (I haven't seen American Sniper yet), Benedict Cumberbatch finally gets a well deserved nod, and I appreciated Steve Carell in Foxcatcher although it was really a leading role. Finally, why didn't Ralph Fiennes, Brad Pitt, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jake Gyllenhaal receive more of a push?
Should Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Will Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Best Actress
2014 was once more a slack year for actresses. Granted I haven't seen two of the nominated performances yet (Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night and Julianne Moore in Still Alice), but very little in what I saw otherwise was praiseworthy. Of the remaining nominees Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon ranged from irritating to unspectacular and Felicity Jones was just plain forgettable. I only wish the Academy would have found room for Hillary Swank for a superb work in The Homesman.
Should Win: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night (I suppose)
Will Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor
Always the most interesting category and this year is no exception. J.K. Simmons is the favorite for powerfully honing his talents as a tyrannical jazz instructor but if pressed I would be hard torn between Ethan Hawke's imperfect though well meaning father in Boyhood and Mark Ruffalo's self-assured, tragic Olympian in Foxcatcher. I haven't seen Robert Duvall's work in The Judge and I don't understand what people found so special about Ed Norton in Birdman. As for snubs, I just want to add that the Academy (and everyone handing out awards this season) really missed the boat when it came to nominating Shia LaBeouf for his work in Fury.
Should Win: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Will Win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette and Keira Knightley were impressive in unassuming roles. Laura Dern and Emma Stone pushed the envelope of irritation in extremely grating performances and if anyone other than her majesty Meryl Streep would have played her role in Into the Woods, you could guarantee it would have not been up for an award, no matter how strong the showing. Lastly, I would have liked to see some recognition for Rene Russo in Nightcrawler.
Should Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Will Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pride & Prejudice

Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) is keen to marry off her five daughters before their estate transfers to a relative upon the death of Mr. Bennett (Donald Sutherland). Upon hearing the news of the arrival of a wealthy landowner to a neighboring property, Mrs. Bennett sends daughters Jane (Rosamund Pike) and the fiercely independent Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) to the welcoming ball in order to woo the eligible bachelor. While Jane seems to prove successful, Elizabeth finds herself being simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) the brooding, arrogant, and mysterious best friend of the host. Now, as the two encounter each other more and more in polite society and their mutual attraction becomes undeniable, they must each attempt to overcome their vanity and preconceptions. Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice is an involving and wry telling of the oft-filmed Jane Austin novel which boasts gorgeous cinematography that perfectly captures Knightley's luminescent beauty who, in turn, is astounding in her performance. Sutherland and Pike also shine in supporting roles.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 12, 2015

Damsels in Distress

A trio of co-eds, led by the spirited Violet (Greta Gerwig), who run a suicide prevention group and aim to improve the general well-being of students at their Seven Oaks College, take a new transfer student (Analeigh Tipton) under their wing. Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress feels like every other movie he has ever made (Metropolitan, BarcelonaThe Last Days of Disco) yet still is intelligent, likable, and good-natured with winning characters who occasionally annoy. Gerwig and Tipton are extremely appealing in their roles.
*** out of ****

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cinema Verite

In 1973 PBS released An American Family, a documentary series that followed the day-to-day ongoings of a middle class family which proved to be an early predecessor of reality TV. Cinema Verite tells the story of how producer Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) developed the idea for the show and convinced his friend (Diane Lane), her husband (Tim Robbins), and the rest of their family to participate in the landmark experiment and goes on to record the expected dramatic fallout that ensued. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's film tells an intriguing behind-the-scenes story which moves at too brisk a clip and does not spend enough time letting you get to know all of its players (while time spent on major characters is quite fascinating). Lane nails her highfalutin character and Gandolfini and Robbins both turn in equally strong performances.
*** out of ****

Friday, January 9, 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright

Ken Burns profiles the celebrated and world renowned architect who revolutionized the form with designs ranging from Fallingwater, his home studio Taliesin, and the Guggenheim Museum and left in his wake no shortness of controversy, tragedy, eccentricity, and unmatched genius. Frank Lloyd Wright stands amongst Burns' best work, featuring great footage, commentary, and narrative in his presentation of a brilliant, irascible, and contentious personage.
**** out of ****

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Inherent Vice

On the beaches of Los Angelas in the 1970s, part-time detective and full-time doper Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) receives a call from his ex (Katherine Waterston) who asks him to look into the dealings of her current tycoon boyfriend. When she goes missing shortly thereafter, Doc is hurled into a psychedelic labyrinthine underworld  featuring a kaleidoscope of layabouts, druggies, overzealous cops, menacing power players, and other L.A. types. With Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson takes a step back from the epic-scaled ambiguities of There Will Be Blood  and The Master with his no less lengthy and ambitious adaptation of Thomas Pynthon's recent novel, his first to reach the big screen, which again affirms Anderson's meticulous talents plus an affinity for comedy (and perhaps demonstrates why Pynchon's scattershot work has taken so long to be adapted theatrically). Vice is irreverent, bizarre, and often hilarious with a convoluted, drugged-out plot that plays like a mash-up of The Big Lebowski and The Long Goodbye. Phoenix demonstrates his versatility once again in a finely tuned, humorous turn and receives like support from Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Decalogue

A woman learns that the man who raised her is not her birth father. A violent psychopath is put to death. A father bestows in his son to hold science over all else and pays the ultimate price. The Decalogue is a television mini-series, ten episodes, each loosely based on one of the Commandments and revolving around residents of a Warsaw Public Housing Complex. Krzysztof Kieslowski's ambitious, genuine passion project is epic in scope, often engrossing, and features poetic imagery but is frequently impeded by obvious moralizing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Best of 2014

It has become trite to open these year-end roundups with gripes of the state of affairs in the film industry, still I think it needs to be said. Between an almost complete lack of anything substantial released in the first three quarters of the year and a surprisingly deficient awards season, 2014 made me question my commitment to film. Still, the cream rose, and without having seen everything gracing Top 10 lists and awards conversations, here are my favorite movies I saw this year:
10. Joe
Joe represented an escape from the Hollywood clutches that has sucked the life and talent out of both its director, David Gordon Green, and star, Nicolas Cage. Green, revisiting his roots, weaves an engaging backwoods crime story and Cage offers a performance that stands amongst the best of his career.
Though not without the usual whimsical trappings of any Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel cannot be overlooked due to its painstakingly gorgeous set design and cinematography and a bravura turn from Ralph Fiennes.
If anything, Damien Chazelle's second feature deserves an Oscar for Tom Cross' editing which unrelentingly drums up the tension and results in one of the most watchable films of the year. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons shine in this battle of the wills.
Although not as enamored by most reviewers placing this atop their year-end lists, I don't know if I've ever been so taken by the sheer magnitude of a film before that its caused me to forgive its flaws (I would argue overlength, pacing, and even redundancy). Filmed over 12 years and chronicling a young boy's journey into adulthood, Richard Linklater's labor of love is sure to impress both by its scope and insightful coming of age screenplay.
Following the ambiguities of The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson returns again with Joaquin Phoenix with the hazy, drug-fuelled, incoherent, and very funny adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon 1970s detective story.
Dark, funny, well-scripted, and frankly unexpected, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut was a welcomed oasis following the mindless cinematic wasteland of summer. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his reliable resume with an originally crafted sociopath and receives strong support from Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed.
Exciting and intimate look into the little known story of the cracking of the supposedly insurmountable German coding machine Enigma by the formidable British squad led by the irascible, ingenious Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers another finely honed performance and Keira Knightley brings warmth to a supporting role.
3. Fury
Leaving the streets of L.A. for the mud-caked, blood drenched battlefields of the Western Front, David Ayers turns what could have been a tired, forgettable brothers-in-arms tank story into a brutally intense and moving saga which boasts astounding performances from Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf which will sadly be overlooked this awards season.
Another incredible, little known true life story, Bennett Miller's tragic tale of Olympian grappling siblings and their unfortunate relationship with an unbalanced tycoon moves at a measured pace with striking photography and powerful performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell.
In what may seem an odd choice for picture of the year, no other film in 2014 moved me more than Tommy Lee Jones' bleak, offbeat western. Hilary Swank brings vulnerable toughness to her role and Jones offers another great turn as a rascally ne'er do well assisting spinster Swank in escorting three mentally ill women from the Nebraskan Plains to Iowa where they can receive proper treatment.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Imitation Game

At the outset of World War II, the British government set out to assemble the finest cryptographic young minds in the country in a top secret effort to crack the purportedly unbreakable Nazi coding machine Enigma. Joining the squad, and summarily taking over its leadership while alienating all fellow members and commanding officers, is Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), an ingenious, irascible, and almost sociopathic mathematics professor who, with much opposition, begins the costly construction of a primitive computer that will hopefully be the key to decryption and thus turning the tide of war. From Andrew Hodge's book and Graham Moore's screenplay, Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game brings an extraordinary, little known story to the forefront with an informative, exciting, well paced and crafted presentation that only steps wrong its final moments with some misguided plotting that seeks to skew the aim of the film. Cumberbatch is absolutely superb in a tailor made role and Keira Knightley  is delightful as a brilliant woman who helps bring Turing out of his shell.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet's update of Charles Dicken's classic holiday standard doesn't exactly do justice to particular elements of the well-worn story (although Michael Caine makes a serviceable Scrooge and I suspect an even better one in a more reverent rendition) but works best with the imaginative infusion of Jim Henson's beloved creatures (Henson died not too long before the films release and his son Brian is credited as director). Major characters are grossly underused, notably Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife, and Fozzie Bear as Mr. Fezziwig (or Fozziwig for our purposes) and the original songs are mostly forgettable but the minor characters supply a share of hearty laughs and Gonzo steals the show playing the Dickens as he clumsily narrates the festive proceedings.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Foxcatcher

Despite the fact of both being gold medal winning wrestlers at the 1984 L.A. Olympics, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) has always lived under the shadow of his older brother and father figure Dave (Mark Ruffalo). When he is contacted by John Du Pont (Steve Carell), the mentally unstable heir to the colossal chemical company's fortune, to lead a group of grapplers at the '88 games in Seoul and train at Du Pont's pastoral Valley Forge neighboring estate, it seems like a prime opportunity for Mark to branch out on his own. However, when relations between him and Du Pont sour and it becomes all to clear that it was Dave all along who had been targeted to lead the troops, it spurs Mark into a downward spiral and leads all involved into unforeseeable and unspeakable tragedy. Bennett Miller, a director who is particular about his projects but is slowly but surely building one of the finest resumes in film (Capote, Moneyball), offers a dark, involving, and deliberately paced character study featuring foreboding landscapes which harken back to his work on Capote as well as a shocking, unsettling finale. Tatum and Ruffalo deliver phenomenal performances, both emotionally and physically, making it clear as to what must have been months of grueling preparation. Carell appears almost subhuman in both manner and appearance, but proves entirely eerie and effective.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wild

In an effort to battle her demons and cleanse her soul following the death of her mother (Laura Dern) which predicated her foray into hard drug use and indiscriminate sexual liaisons, unseasoned hiker Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) embarked by foot on the 2,500 plus mile Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses the West Coast from Mexico to Canada. Wild, Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to Dallas Buyers Club with a screenplay by Nick Hornby from Strayed's bestselling memoir, features picturesque photography, a great soundtrack, and an earnest, though overdone performance from Witherspoon. The film is maimed however both by a cloying performance from Dern and an irritating flashback structure that exists to mask the fact of just how little is going on in this personal drama.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Annie

The spunky lovable redhead, popularized in a comic strip, musical, and movie returns for an urbanized update where the orphan (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives under the care of her cruel and often  inebriated stepmother (Cameron Diaz) but never loses hope of returning to her birth parents. Soon she crosses paths with an aloof cell phone tycoon (Jamie Foxx) who takes in the ragamuffin as a publicity stunt to aid his faltering mayoral campaign. Will Gluck's Annie, backed by producers Will Smith and Jay-Z, initially captures the old fashioned, plucky spirit of the matter but soon stumbles due to the introduction of lame new songs, the infusion of hip-hop into the old standards, an overabundance of modernity into this old-timey material, and a disturbing embrace of materialism. Wallis shines and brings the requisite energy to the part, and the rest of the cast is serviceable expiating Diaz who makes a poor substitute for Carol Burnett.
** out of ****

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Theory of Everything

The life of renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, beginning with his days as a student at Cambridge where he met his future wife Jane, who would stand by his side as he battled ALS, which left him paralyzed and took his ability to speak, and developed his groundbreaking scientific theories. With The Theory of Everything, director James Marsh, who has done his best work in documentaries (Man on Wire, Project Nim) but has also contributed some respectable features (Red Riding: 1980, Shadow Dancer), offers a refined but staid and ultimately underdeveloped look into one of the greatest minds of the last half-century. Redmayne succeeds in physically capturing Hawking's appearance but never quite lets you in to who he is, what made him so brilliant, or why he clicked so well for so long with his wife. I thought Jones was strong, but had similar gripes leading me to wonder if the issues didn't stem from Anthony McCarten's screenplay, who adapted Jane Hawking's book. One of the biggest disappointments, however, is the criminally underused supporting cast which includes such stalwarts as David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Christian McKay, and Charlie Cox.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Whiplash

An overly ambitious jazz drummer (Miles Teller), currently enrolled in the top conservatory in the country and with visions of becoming one of the greats at his craft, is quickly taken under the wing of his esteemed, tyrannical instructor (J.K. Simmons) who treats his classroom like a barracks and submits his new student to unrelenting psychological torment. Whiplash, is an impressive little feature from writer/director Damien Chazelle whose turns are not always in the realm of believability and whose unyieldingly intense plot, much like its lead character, gets constantly pushed to the limit. The music scenes are impeccably edited and the movie features a strong turn from Teller and a career performance from Simmons.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Homesman

A homely, self-sufficient frontierswoman (Hilary Swank), personally seeing over her claim in Nebraska Territory and becoming increasingly distressed at her bleak prospects at landing a husband, agrees to accompany three women who have lost control of their faculties to Iowa where they can receive a ride back east to receive the proper psychiatric treatment. When she rescues a scoundrelous squatter (Tommy Lee Jones) from imperative doom, he makes an unwilling partner for the journey and an even less likely candidate for matrimony. The Homesman, directed by Jones from Glendon Swarthout's novel, is an alternately desolate and humorous Western, which keeps with the traditions of the genre while at the same time remaining consistently offbeat and entertaining. Swank is given another tailor made role and is more than up to the task while Jones delivers a centerpiece performance for his more than formidable career.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Birdman

A has been movie mega-star (Michael Keaton), haunted by the spirit of his onscreen superhero alter ego, is mounting a comeback in the form of a theatrical presentation of a Raymond Carver short story which he is ambitiously adapting, directing and starring in. In addition to the burdens these tasks carry, he must also contend with his critical daughter/assistant (Emma Stone), a wound tight stage manager and best friend (Zach Galifianakis), an insecure star (Naomi Watts), a needy girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), a concerned ex-wife (Amy Ryan), a Times journalist bent on trashing him, and a highly regarded, egotistical, last minute acting replacement (Ed Norton) who holds the ex-matinee idol in low esteem. Birdman is an acute change of pace for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu from the weighty, multi-plot converging films for which he's become known (Babel, Amores Perros) and features a bravura, self-deprecating performance from Keaton. Unfortunately, the rest of the production comes off as unfunny and sanctimonious with competent actors putting their best foot forward with an inept and unworthy script (by Inarritu and three others). Additionally, the fantasy sequences offer little, wither proving ineffective or strange for strange's sake and Emmanuel Lubezki's camerawork, which is designed to make over 95% of the movie seem like one continuous take, sadly comes off as little more than a gimmick.
** out of ****

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Interstellar

As a modern day Dust Bowl threatens to starve and suffocate the human race, an ex-fighter pilot, first-rate engineer, and discontented farmer (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon and is swiftly commissioned to lead a deadly, top secret NASA mission that aims to journey through a wormhole in search of a new home for the species. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar plays as intriguing science fiction and a palpable family drama for roughly half its running time before succumbing to constant and inane scientific conjecture, egregiously overt references to 2001, and its sheer length which could have easily been pared down. McConaughey is strong, Anne Hathaway is mercifully dialed down, and several late arriving big named cameos serve merely as distractions.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Ruling Class

Following the unfortunate role-playing related death of a prominent British Lord, his considerate estate is passed to his mentally disturbed progeny (Peter O'Toole) who thinks himself the second coming of Jesus Christ, all to the chagrin of his stodgy family who schemes to see his inheritance reappropriated. From Peter Barnes play, The Ruling Class is bizarre, outlandish fun to a point, boasting a virtuoso O'Toole performance, but is overlong, stagy, and even obnoxious as it eventually outstays its welcome.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fury

A rough-hewn tank crew, together since the beginning of World War II and now in its final days, loses their spotter in battle and reigns in his greenhorn replacement (Logan Lerman) who is soon taken under the wing of their stoic commander (Brad Pitt) and eventually by the rest of the tight-kit lot. When their vehicle breaks down with a German brigade steadily bearing down upon them, the brothers-in-arms face the ultimate scenario of fight or flight. Fury is intense and brutal filmmaking from David Ayer, who departs his familiar streets of Los Angeles for the blood soaked and mud caked battlefields of the European front and crafts an intelligent, powerful war film from material which could easily have come off as hackneyed and timeworn. Pitt, save for a few scenes that strain for effect be it for drama or shock value, delivers a visceral performance, one of his finestand the rest of the actors comprising his tank crew range from entertaining (Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena) to surprisingly commanding (Shia LaBeouf, Lerman).
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nightcrawler

A creepy, business minded sociopath (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon the scene of an accident on the L.A. freeway, is taken by the freelance "nightcrawlers" who sell their filmed bloody wares to the local TV news station, and decides to try his hand at the trade, quickly finding success as he tampers with the various crime scenes and develops a relationship with an ex-news anchor (Rene Russo) currently overseeing the city's lowest rated news program. Dan Gilroy's directorial debut is a wry, darkly disturbing, and unique film sporting an odd and finely tuned performance from Gyllenhaal. It's also nice to see Russo back in a distinctly commanding turn with both actors receiving fine support from Bill Paxton, as one of Jake's slimy rivals and Riz Ahmed as his reluctant assistant.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Phantom of the Opera

The deed to the illustrious Paris Opera House has just changed hands with a key piece of knowledge going undisclosed: the menacing presence of the titular character (Lon Chaney), who resides in the building's catacombs where he once was tortured and disfigured and patronizes the career of his beloved understudy (Mary Philbin) from his reserved and undisturbed balcony seat. For me, Carl Laemmle's presentation of Victor Hugo's often recycled novel is all about the Phantom's unmasking, both the protracted tension leading up to the moment and the moment itself, an abrupt, jarring closeup of Chaney's hideous, contorted, and heavily made up visage. Chaney's performing highlights the film, especially during a floridly colored ballroom scene followed by a rooftop sequence where he watches over his adored and her ineffectual lover. The Phantom of the Opera isn't necessarily chilling or scary but it provides a nice throwback alternative to those only familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular musical interpretation. 
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fog

A century after the founders of a coastal fishing village thwarted a harbor bound ship, plunging all of its leprosy plagued shipmates to their demise, a dense haze carrying the ghosts of the victims envelops the village, seeking a bloody retribution on all of the guilty's remaining descendants. John Carpenter's The Fog is a relentlessly stupid ghost story, but well made and with some genuine scares that help offset other cheesed-out elements of the production.
** 1/2 out of ****