Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Thin Man/After the Thin Man

Retired private eye Nick Charles (William Powell) and lively wife/assistant Nora (Myrna Loy) drink and kid in the presences of their terrier Asta while taking on the case of a friend's disappearance, almost for a lark. The sequel involves another missing person's case, this time Nora's cousin's ne'er do well husband, and a greater extortion plot involving the cousin's lover, a wealthy club owner (Jimmy Stewart). The Thin Man delighted Depression era audiences sorely in need of a lift with its playful, funny approach and the unmatched chemistry between Powell and Loy almost incredibly taking precedence to the entangled, secondary Dashiell Hammett murder plot. After the Thin Man (the sophomore effort in a series that spawned five sequels, a TV show, and a remake that has been in development for several years) follows its predecessor almost to a tee, often lamely, Nick and Nora appear less, with a lot more of Asta, who had achieved celebrity status at the time, thrown in for good measure and still retaining the same sense of lightness and fun.
The Thin Man: *** 1/2 out of ****
After the Thin Man: *** out of ****

Friday, June 24, 2016

The American Friend

An American art forger (Dennis Hopper) manipulates a purported terminally ill German picture framer (Bruno Ganz) into committing murders for a shadowy underground organization. From Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game (and remade a few decades on under the same title with John Malkovich), Wim Wenders' adaptation is a somewhat obtuse, enervating thriller given substance through great filmmaking, story elements, and and a central performance by Ganz. Hopper is a strange, though not unwelcome casting choice
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Irreversible

Told in reverse chronological order with a weaving, unsteady, and nauseating camera that gradually stabilizes as we arrive at happier times, we are shown a blissful relationship gone sour due to drug and alcohol use, then a brutal, unflinching subway tunnel rape, and the boyfriend's search through the underbelly of Paris to mete out justice to the perpetrator. Gasper Noe's Irreversible is more of an endurance test than a movie, both cruel and unrelenting, but effectively and consummately uses its narrative device (which had to have been ripped off from Memento) to lead us to a surprising meaningful resolution. Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, married at the time, are outstanding.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Finding Dory

The absentminded blue tang fish enlists the help of an unwilling Marlin and the recently located Nemo in a quest to find her parents with a major detour taking them through a marine wildlife relocation facility. Pixar's much anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo has its moments and some new characters and voice actors really hit their marks (Albert Brooks is a welcomed return also) but is confoundingly plotted with overly slick animation and another disappointing signal from an animation studio that seems to be running low on ideas and gearing its features less and less towards adults.

** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sleeper

A beatnik of little or no importance (Woody Allen) is cryogenically frozen, forgotten about, and accidentally discovered 200 years in the future where he becomes involved with a ditzy woman (Diane Keaton) while playing a major role in the resistance to the oppressive police state currently in power. Sleeper is hit or miss slapstick comedy, typical to early Allen films, that still manages to function as satire.
*** out of ****

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Jurassic World

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the genetically engineered dinosaur hunting ground and after a global corporation had opened a theme park on the same island of carnage and a destruction, a hybrid mega killer that would make Godzilla stop in his tracks escapes from his paddock. Now it is up to a cocky raptor trainer (Chris Pratt) to rescue two young visitors, kin to an uptight park staffer (Bryce Dallas Howard), and restore order to the island hopefully once and for all. The long awaited sequel to supposedly do justice to the original does succeed exceedingly well in the thrill department but is so incredibly stupid, not thought out, and too much of a facsimile of the first outing. And for a movie that cost 150 mil to make and raked in over a billion dollars worldwide, its aesthetic qualites resemble something that would play for laughs on the Syfy channel. Vincent D'onofrio is fun as a campy villain.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, June 18, 2016

She's Funny That Way

After casting a call girl (Imogeen Poots) he has frequented in his latest production, a stage director (Owen Wilson) also hires his wife (Kathryn Hahn), her lover (Rhys Ifans) while the writer (Will Forte) becomes involved with the escort's therapist (Jennifer Aniston). Peter Bogdanovich's latest Hollywood throwback has it's moments, as do Wilson and Aniston among the cast, but is too inconsistent and too bent on emulating classic farce that it loses sight of making a funny, coherent picture. Many cameos. The final one is, let's just say, strange.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, June 17, 2016

Leviathan

An ill-tempered, vodka infused mechanic lives with his new wife and child in a house on the sea that proves desirable for a local mob connected political boss. Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan, partially funded by the Federation and subsequently censured, is a critical and concerned look at small town Russian life and local corruption. It is methodical, brooding and long though decently paced, even if this sort of Job like tale seems to be overused as of late. Good acting and great scenery both contribute.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Miracle Worker

The Keller family, totally unequipped to handle their increasingly frustrated deaf/blind daughter Helen (Patty Duke), calls on a noted New England school for the blind. In response, they receive Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), a resolute former student whose unorthodox and uncompromising methods help to break the communication barrier and ultimately bring drastic changes to those in Helen's condition. Directed by Arthur Penn, from a screenplay by William Gibson adapted from his own play, is not opened up particularly well for the screen, feeling more like an episode of American Playhouse, although some interesting ideas are attempted to ease the translation of the action. Worthwhile to see the great, unusual, offbeat physical acting from Bancroft and Duke, who also starred on Broadway in Gibson's play.
*** 1/2 out ****

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Koch

Shortly before his passing in 2013 at age 88 and while still seeming to be very active in politics, film criticism, and Manhattan daily life, former three termed NYC mayor Ed Koch takes us through his storied and colorful reign that oversaw a transformation of the crumbling megacity. Neil Barsky's profile is informative, stirring at points, and aims to be fairly told even though it doesn't quite know how to wrap.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

After 16 years on the run James "Whitey" Bulger, notorious Boston gang leader, FBI informant, and inspiration to Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed, was finally brought to justice, having been charged with 19 counts of murder and forced to stand trial in federal court. This portrait reveals the revolting depths of law enforcement corruption as told through court documents and shows the grief caused to Bulger's victim's families, one a witness who is found dead during the proceedings. Joe Berlinger's documentary on the trial of the popularized longtime head of the Winter Hill Gang and fugitive contains the kind of solid first person accounting the director is known for (Paradise Lost) in addition to good background details, although the film does tend to go in circles.
*** out of ****

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Dry White Season

When his gardener's son is beaten by police and imprisoned, followed by the gardener himself mysteriously disappearing, a school teacher (Donald Sutherland) can no longer turn a blind eye to the prejudicial legal system in Apartheid governed South Africa. Topical in its time, message movie drawn from Andre Brink's novel really lays it on thick while indelicately drives home its point. Sutherland is unconvincing as an incensed South African and Susan Sarandon is underused playing his wife. Worth watching for Marlon Brando's minor role as an irascible but impassioned attorney.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

New York: A Documentary Film

From its start as a Dutch trading post through the immigrant experience up until present day, covering formative politicians including Boss Tweed, Al Smith, and Fiorello Laguardia, and other visionaries that shaped its mindset and the physicality such as Walt Whitman, Frederick Law Olmstead, and Robert Moses, New York: A Documentary Film is a lengthy, comprehensive, informative history of the incomparable metropolis by Ric Burns, told with the same rigor and craft associated with the works of his brother Ken. There are many passages of note and a great use of footage though I somehow wished the film had time to slow down to focus on smaller stories instead of on the hustle and bustle and constant progress and forces shaping the city. The documentary is also hurt by chest thumping New Yorkers, historians and celebrities alike, constantly harping on the vast greatness of the city while adding little to the experience. Lastly, following the 9/11 attacks, a final episode was tacked on detailing the monotonous history of the World Trade Center buildings, which was mostly overlook during the first run.
*** out of ****

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pixote

Abandoned and forgotten children embark down a bleak and irrevocable life of crime, which includes everything from drugs and prostitution to murder, on the streets of Sao Paolo. With Pixote, Hector Babenco takes a neorealist, documentary impersonate approach while immersing his film in the hopeless, variant sociocircles of his young, Brazilian inner city cast, many of whom were plucked right from those very streets, in a work that has the feel of subsequent, acclaimed slum movies (Kids, City of God) which were likely inspirations.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh's sumptuously staged adaptation of the familiar folk tale is really just another harmless and well paced Disney retread with a likable Lily James in the starring role and a delicious performance from Cate Blanchett playing the evil stepmother.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Nice Guys

After a flame engulfed car carrying the unclad body of an expiring porn star comes barreling through a home in the Hollywood Hills, it sets off a chain of events uniting an alcoholic P.I. (Ryan Gosling) and a gruff enforcer (Russell Crowe) in an ever complicating case involving a missing girl that ultimately reveals a top level government cover-up. The jokes miss more than they hit, the plot is overly convoluted with the point ultimately not really being about the plot (in line with many Hollywood detective yarns), and the film doesn't really need to be so violent just to fill a Shane Black mold but, in addition to its well filmed 1970s L.A. locales, it is a welcomed sight to see a modern day movie held up by the charisma of its two stars. An imperfect, perfectly enjoyable film outing.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Out of the Past

A man with a mysterious past living anonymously in a rural setting is drawn back into his old life after being recognized by an ex-associate and hired to track down a ruthless gangster's moll. Jacques Tourneur's formative film noir is somewhat dumbly plotted and uninvolving to a point while offering absolutely tremendous dialogue, a quintessential Robert Mitchum performance, and a sly, villainous turn from Kirk Douglas. Great usage black and white.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, June 6, 2016

Last Tango in Paris

While apartment hunting, a middle aged American expat (Marlon Brando) overcome by his wife's suicide meets a young Parisian girl (Maria Schneider) engaged to a witless dolt (Jean-Pierre Leaud), and the two agree to meet again and make a fleeting arrangement based on anonymous, demeaning, and ultimately revealing sex. Bertolucci's controversial and regarded Last Tango in Paris is on one hand an exercise in pretentiousness and crudity while on another a masterfully filmed, complex character study containing what may be the finest, most personal performance of Brando's career.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Finding massive success after leaving his rap group comprised of his more gifted childhood friends and going solo, a hip-hop mega-star's (Andy Samberg) career faces oblivion when his sophomore album tanks following a catastrophic marketing decision and the addition of a psychotic, prank happy rapper to his tour. Popstar, a music industry mockumentary written, directed and starring members of The Lonely Island, takes aim at easy targets and is the kind of stupid, diverting comedy you watch with a bemused smile on your face while hoping it would somehow be just a little bit funnier. It feels long for a short movie, loses focus after awhile, doesn't know when to leave good enough alone, and isn't always served by its endless celebrity role call. Sporadically funny with several hysterical sequences. Will Arnett and Bill Hader stand out in cameo spots. Tim Meadows is pretty great too playing Samberg's manager.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, June 3, 2016

El Norte

Guatemalan siblings (Zaide Silvia Guttierez and David Villalpando) evacuate their homeland and head north to the promised land after their unionizing, coffee picking father is murdered and made an example of. After finally succeeding crossing the border after several horrific attempts, it only sets the stage for the final tragedy as the sibs are manipulated and used by people of all walks. Even when preachy, mannered, or guilt inducing, Gregory Nava and Ana Thomas's El Norte is breathless, vivid, mystical, and at times heart pumping filmmaking that will either spark or reignite your passion for film. The lead actors are lovely, poignant, and heartbreaking.
**** out of ****

Thursday, June 2, 2016

He Got Game

A prisoner (Denzel Washington) currently serving out a manslaughter rap for the accidental death of his wife is given a proposal from the warden: during a week's furlough, convince his estranged son (Ray Allen), the nation's top recruiting hoops prospect, to sign with the governor's favorite college and earn himself an early parole. He Got Game is overlong, obvious, and made with the same explicit racism that mars many of Spike Lee's films. The movie tries to cover too much thematically without conveying much of anything, Allen, at the time a sensation with the Milwaukee Bucks, is an impossibly bad actor, and the ending is anticlimactic. In its defense, the picture is well filmed with several powerful scenes and the Aaron Copland soundtrack is a really nice touch.  Also, it contains what I personally found to be one of the truly fine and nuanced performances from Washington's career.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wild Tales

Six shorts involving people cast into extreme situations: passengers on a plane realize they all have one thing in common; a waitress serves the gangster who killed her family and is tempted to murder; a case of road rage between two bullheaded motorists on a desolate stretch of highway continues to escalate; a demolitions expert goes to war with the parking bureau; an entrepreneur tries to pay off his housekeeper to take the wrap for his son's deadly hit skip; a bride learns she has been betrayed on her wedding night. From Argentina, Damian Szifron's Wild Tales is  darkly funny, undemanding, and competently made but is little more in terms of continuity than a well assembled shorts program, and one that is fashioned in a manner catering to twist frenzied audiences. The best entries appear early on in the picture.
*** out ****

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Battle of Algiers

As the FLN led Algerian fight for independence against the occupying French continues to escalate, both sides take drastic measures on the very different battleground of urban warfare. Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers is an exquisitely shot documentary mimicking film, superbly edited, and scarily relevant to this day. The leftist film is somewhat distressing considering the bias in favor of the revolutionaries and its future influence on those seeking to employ similar guerrilla tactics and, to be fair, on those trying to combat them.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Big Red One

After serving for the 1st Infantry Unit in World War I and killing (not murdering) a Kraut after the war had expired, unbeknownst to him, the grizzled veteran (Lee Marvin) returns to command the same outfit during WWII and sees action all across the Western Theater, from North Africa to Normandy to Western Germany. Despite some brothers-in-arms movie cliches, a few wrought scenes, and one unfortunate sequences involving mentally disabled residents joining in on a monastery gunfight, Samuel Fuller's battle experience drawn film sets itself apart from other war movies with its varied stories, and a unique take on war and the call to serve. Great hardened though sympathetic performance from Marvin.
*** 1/2 out of ****