Monday, March 27, 2017

Seven Beauties

A self-styled playboy gangster (Giancarlo Giannini) with his own code of honor accidentally kills his sister’s pimp and finds himself captured by the Germans and interned in a concentration camp where he is put to the test of human extremes, whether it is sacrificing a friend, selecting men to die in his stead, or seducing the sadistic bullish prison warden. Lina Wertmuller’s acclaimed Seven Beauties is a bawdy and broad European style comedy and harrowing war picture that changes tones often but succeeds  thanks to great direction (Wertmuller became the first woman is Oscar history nomintated for Best Director) and Giannini's confident, emotive performance.

*** ½ out of ****

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reversal of Fortune

The ghostly voice of millionaire debutante Sunny Von Bulow (Glenn Close) informs of her two overdoses, spaced a year apart, the second resulting in a permanent vegetative state as the result of an insulin injection and her crafty, urbane husband Claus (Jeremy) being convicted of attempted murder and seeking that conviction overturned by brilliant legal mind Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) and his team of student attorneys. Irons is the whole show in a sly, virtuoso performance and Close provides a fine supporting turn and excellent narration in what could have been a gimmicky implementation. The legal scenes however, though thorough and informative, are not nearly as riveting.
*** out of ****

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sense and Sensibility

Three sisters of the Dashwood family, introverted Elinor (Emma Thompson), outward and outspoken Marianne (Kate Winslet), and the precocious juvenile Margaret, along with their mother are dispossessed of their family's estate when it passes to their brother upon their father's death, but not before the eldest falls for her charming and reserved brother-in-law. Taken in by obnoxious landlords, Marianne falls for a dashing, disingenuous gentleman and the women acquaint a compassionate, mysterious colonel (Alan Rickman). Ang Lee's Jane Austen adaptation stands with the best period pieces of its like, with its brilliantly lit cinematography and an exceptional cast, especially Thompson who also won an Oscar for writing the screenplay.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tower

Shown mostly through animation and some stock footage, witnesses recount that blistering August day in 1966 when Charles Whitman, after killing his mom and wife, rode the elevator to the top of the University of Texas Tower with a considerate arsenal and held the campus hostage during 96 minutes of terror where he murdered 16 people with a high powered rifle and was finally thwarted through the actions of brave police officers and civilians. Keith Maitland's documentary is intense. frightening, and overall well mounted but seems like it could have gone further, with the animation being overdone and not nearly enough use made of actual footage.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rocco and His Brothers

An impoverished, stereotypical Italian mother moves her four sons from the country to Milan both to be near her eldest boy and to seek a better life. There, the two eldest (a cherubic Alain Delon and a debased Renato Salvatori) find success in the boxing ring and their lives torn to shreds over a stunningly gorgeous, reformed ex-prostitute (Annie Girardot). Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers is a sweeping, powerful, tonally shifting late period neorealism with great performances all around two second act unforgettable violent sequences involving Salvatori and Girardot.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Live and Let Die

Three MI6 agents are killed simultaneously in New York, New Orleans, and a voodoo island nation putting Bond on the tail of a highly coordinated black market organization seeking to corner the world heroin market and their well mannered leader (Yaphet Kotto) also posing as a Harlem kingpin/pimp while enslaving a high priestess fortune teller (Jane Seymour). Moore's first showing as 007, who is astonishingly even more nonchalant and coy than Sean Connery, is an amusing but totally forgettable and ponderous blaxploitation exercise with villains and set pieces that leave a lot to be desired, Seymour a beautiful Bond girl, and Paul and Linda McCartney's great theme song put to good use.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mephisto

As he moves from Hamburg to Berlin, an actor's star rises alongside Hitler's as he becomes an unapologetic pawn and a puppet for the National Socialists and sees his theater taken over, wife emigrate, friends persecuted, and mixed race mistress deported. From a book by Klaus Mann (Thomas' son), Ivan Szabo's film is characterized by a virtuoso performance from Klaus Maria Brandauer in what is otherwise a captivating but often incohesive production.
*** out of ****
note: I couldn't find an original language version of the film and was forced to resort to an American dubbed treatment which may have sullied my view of the picture.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Snowden

At a Hong Kong mall in 2013, as Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets with media contacts in an attempt to pass classified documents gained from a Hawaii based NSA outpost, his professional career is looked backed upon beginning with an Army stint followed by a CIA run and some contract work that led to a continuing disillusionment at how the U.S. government cataloged its own citizens. Snowden has some of your typical Oliver Stone paranoia, sermonizing, and alternate history, which is all well and good for the iconoclast director, but the movie is way too pat, reverential and largely non-screenworthy and after more than two decades of not being able to craft a worthwhile film, it almost seems like Stone has plumb forgotten how. As for the acting, JGL falls into that trap of resting entirely on impersonation while the rest of the cast is limp and uninspiring except for Nicolas Cage who shines in an all too small walk on role.
** out of ****

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sherlock

Season 4 (2017)
John faces a tragedy following a shocking revelation while Sherlock deals with a psychotic breakdown due to drug use coupled with the arrival of an undisclosed criminally insane relative who has somehow aligned with the detective's deceased nemesis. The overcooked fourth season of Sherlock is so cheeky and contemporary with obnoxious side characters and Cumberbatch and Freeman barely keeping the tremulous series afloat and these extravagant frenetic tales seeming antithetical to its source material.
** out of ****

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 ****

Saturday, March 18, 2017

RoboCop

In a near-futuristic version of a crime infested, urban decayed Detroit (which only seems marginally better than the real city) a cop killer (Kurtwood Smith) runs rampant and police threaten to strike as the corporation that controls the police union implements its latest weapon, a recently eradicated officer (Peter Weller) regenerated into the form of an indomitable, metallic, law enforcing agent who doesn't fully lose his human components and seeks revenge on those who bumped him off. Crude, sleazy, and ultraviolent, Paul Verhoeven's Robocop isn't even a fun kind of camp with the entertainment value quickly wearing off.
** out of ****

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ordinary People

Following the accidental death of his brother and a stay in the hospital following a suicide attempt and at the urging of his caring, somewhat aloof father (Donald Sutherland), an intelligent teenager (Timothy Hutton) in a wealthy Chicago suburb sees a kindly, unorthodox shrink (Judd Hirsch) to reconnect to his life and reconcile his feelings, chiefly concerning his cold, unloving mother (Mary Tyler Moore). Robert Redford's insightful and moving take on Judith Guest's gloomy book is minutely filmed and daresay captivating with wonderful performances (especially Hutton, an Oscar winner though this is really a leading role) across the board.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Within Our Gates

After her engagement is sabotaged by a jealous rival, a young woman returns to the South in order to save an impoverished rural school while her family's harrowing history of lynching is told in flashback. Within Our Gates has the distinction of being the oldest surviving movie directed by a black person but this tag really undercuts the fact that Oscar Micheaux's film is just a solidly crafted work able to stand alongside other great silent dramas. Edgy, relevant, and assuredly filmed with great use of intercutting in the finale.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

L.A. Confidential

Three detectives, a no nonsense enforcer (Russell Crowe),  a hated, career driven straight arrow (Guy Pearce), and a devil may care playboy (Kevin Spacey), in the early 1950s, ethically laxed Los Angeles Police Department are thrown into a seemingly disconnected maze involving crooked cops, heroin, rape, mass murder, blackmail, deep seated department corruption and a beautiful high end hooker (Kim Basinger) who falls for but may be playing the Crowe character. L.A. Confidential is one the few rewatchable great films that leaves chills up you're spine whether its for a piece of quotable dialogue, the performance, or the sheer craft. Brian Helgeland drafted one of the premier, labyrinthine screenplays (that miraculously somehow manages to make sense unlike Chinatown, the gold standard for L.A. detective movies) from James Ellroy's novel and director Curtis Hanson stages the picture beautifully with a distinct 50s noir atmosphere and a supreme cast (the three leads doing their best work in my own humble opinion) from top to bottom.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Prisoner of Zenda

While vacationing in an unnamed Eastern European country readying to celebrate the coronation of its new king, an Englishman (Ronald Colman) realizes he bears a striking resemblance to the royal (Colman again) and, wouldn't you know it, stumbles upon him and hits it off immediately during a hunting expedition. Invited to his castle, he is soon forced to play his double when an assassination plot involving the king's slighted older brother (Raymond Massey) unfolds and spring into action when his new friend is kidnapped and placed in imminent danger. This often remade actioneer is exciting and entertaining adventure yarn with Colman tremendous in dual roles and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stands out as a smarmy, nasty, edgy hand to the prince.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sidenote: it is surprisingly how great Colman was in so many these old films and how his name has seemed to have faded from the public movie lover's consciousness.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Manhattan Murder Mystery

A sweet older couple bump into their unacquainted neighbors (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) on the elevator one evening and invite them up to their apartment for tea and desert. When the wife is carted out the following morning after conceding to a coronary and the husband seems to offer no outward emotions regarding his recent loss, their recent guest becomes excessively suspicious and proactive, much to the annoyance of her husband. Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery goes on longer than it should but works in his oeuvre and, as the prolific artist reveals another talent, as a detective story. The film also contains some very funny one liners.
*** out of ****

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dawn Patrol

At a rural flight outpost during the First Great War, a pilot becomes everything he hates after being promoted to commander and is forced to send young, hard drinking pilots to their deaths, even including his closest friend. Howard Hawks' The Dawn Patrol, adapted from a short story by John Mark Saunders entitled Flight Commander (the title which it sometimes alternately bears) was remade only eight years later with Errol Flynn in an also acclaimed and likewise famously cliched version. Hawks' outing contains a rousing finale in addition to many great moments and individual shots even if it remains a little static and dated.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Handmaiden

With the aid of a supplanted maid, a conman schemes to marry a timid heiress living under guard of her depraved book dealing uncle. Approached from different angles and perceptions in a plot that keeps gently twisting, Chan-wook Park's The Handmaiden is sumptuous, explicit, and involving with an excellent cast, great production design, and a completely unique and sometimes overkill approach.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dog Day Afternoon

At the close of business on a bristling hot Brooklyn summer day, two bank robbers (Al Pacino and John Cazale) seeking to procure a sex change operation for the former's boyfriend (Chris Sarandan) inadvertently find themselves the center of a hostage situation and media sideshow. Satirically stinging and drawn from a real life incident, Sidney Lumet's realization of Frank Pierson's flavorful, funny script is crisp and empathetic with a brilliant, complicated Pacino performance supported by fine work from Cazale and Charles Durning as a stressed out, genuinely concerned negotiator.
**** out of ****

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Deepwater Horizon

An old oil drilling hand (Kurt Russell) and an electrician (Mark Wahlberg) aboard the ill-fated title rig censure the avaricious brass at BP (composited in the form of an evil Cajun accented John Malkovich) for cutting corners just before going up in towering blazes in the noted and historic disaster of 2010. Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon goes to great and probably unnecessary technical lengths before exploding into catastrophe and even greater confusion but still very well done in an old fashioned manner with a game cast and seems a world apart from big disaster oriented blockbusters of the same ilk.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rescue Dawn

A German born American Navy pilot (Christian Bale), who has dreamed of nothing but flying since witnessing the Allied bombings of his hometown as a child, is shot down during a secret bombing mission in Laos, captured, and immediately plots an escape plan with his sickly fellow inmates. After profiling Dengler's remarkable exploits in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Werner Herzog dramatized his story in this effective, offbeat POW tale that starts to drag in the last act with an out of place ending. Bale's aloof performance is likable and Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies are strong in support.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Husbands and Wives

A happily married couple (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) happily announces their mutually arrived at amicable separation to close friends (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) which shatters their perceptions and causes them to entertain never before thought possible infidelities. Husbands and Wives has a great cast (Pollack and Davis are excellent) committing some intense scenes and drawing from an intelligent, more vulgar than usual Allen screenplay though there are a few lulls and film's trajectory quickly becomes apparent. It is also a strange decision (and I'm not sure its the correct one either) to film in a cinema verite style.
*** out of ****

Monday, March 6, 2017

Vengeance Is Mine

Drawn from a true crime case out of Japan, a serial killer is brought in after a months-long manhunt which is recounted (with no help from the collected sociopath) in detail, including the brutal murders, con games spent fleecing mothers of criminals of their bail money, and a relationship with a brothel owner which may or may not show feeling but has only one inevitable destination. Shôhei Imamura's unique, disjointed procedural is cold, lengthy, and ultimately mostly unavailing.
*** out of ****

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Last Wave

A Sydney lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) is drawn to an Aborigine tribal murder of which he gets no assistance, not only from his colleagues but also from the tight-lipped men he is defending. Meanwhile, apocalyptic visions draw him closer and closer to the ancient people. Early Peter Weir effort is eerie and completely unique but perhaps too cryptic and underplotted. Chamberlain is effective and entirely believable in his feverish performance.
*** out of ****

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Pink Panther Strikes Again

Recovered from his homicidal delusions and about to be cleared for a release from a mental institution, Chief Inspector Dreyfuss' (Herbet Lom) madness is unhinged once more when Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers), the root cause of all his complications, makes an unexpected and most unfortunate surprise visit causing the senior official to escape, kidnap a physicist, and commandeer a nuclear weapon providing Clouseau with his biggest case yet! The Pink Panther Strikes Again is longish but contains some excellent sight gags and is one of the funniest in the series.
*** out of ****

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

A documentary on the world wide web, touching on but not limited to its founding, current lifestyles, addictions, bullying, radiation, artificial intelligence, space travel, self-cognizance, and the future. Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold contains some interesting tidbits but is way too disjointed and abstract and it left me saying something I almost never say in that this probably would have worked a whole lot better in an expanded form. Also, as much of a benefit as Herzog himself has been to his nonfiction features, his interviews often seem stagey and fake which is definately the case here.
** out of ****