Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cop Car

While taking a stroll down a desolate country lane and into a wooded area, two adolescent friends stumble upon a deserted police cruiser, and after overcoming the initial fear and wonder, decide to take it for a joy ride, little knowing the cunning and sadistic nature of its operator nor the contents of the trunk. Cop Car is competently made,with Kevin Bacon as both an effective and menacing villain, but the script is painfully poor and cheesy, with a finale that is too clean and not nearly satisfying.
** out of ****

Friday, May 27, 2016

Kings of the Road

A travelling movie projector repairman takes into his company a despondent wanderer who just underwent a divorce. While going from job to job just west of the East German border, the duo listens to American records while reflecting on women amongst the desolation that surrounds them. Wim Wenders' Kings of the Roads is intelligent, thought provoking fare, brilliantly directed, with two fine lead performances from Rudiger Vogler and Hanns Zischler, and filmed in pristine almost unfathomable black and white. The film is long, bordering on overlong, with a fantastic penultimate, American G.I. bunker set scene followed by a pompous finale.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hidden Fortress

Two bumbling peasants shepherd a couple across enemy lines, not knowing that their companions are none other than the princess and her top general, seeking to reclaim the throne. The Hidden Fortress, a prime influence on George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise, is not much by way of plot, occasionally preachy and obvious, with welcomed humor that eventually wears thin but, even being light Kurosawa, this is among the best looking of his films that at least I've seen. The lighting is impeccable, many of the sequences are memorable. and it once again contains another tremendous performance from Toshiro Mifune.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Salt of the Earth

Famed German New Wave filmmaker Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth is a beautiful documentary assemblage of the life's work of Sebastiao Salgado, a globetrotting, Brazillian photographer who immersed himself with the overlooked poor to capture his spectacular imagery. Cowritten with the director by his son Juliano, the film gains added poignancy from the artist's haunting narration.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

In Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, I found something shameless and exploitative with bringing a camera into a man's home who has just received an Alzheimer's diagnosis and then placing him on stage against his better judgement, coercing him to go on an international tour,  and watching him deteriorate on stage and off, even if the filmmakers and the family argue differently that it aids his stability. James Keach's documentary could have been infinitely more interesting if he focused on Campbell's career or the disease itself rather than interviewing a bunch of celebs and family members just to have them say how brave he is. The ending, featuring a new single, is superb however.
** out of ****

Monday, May 23, 2016

Good Kill

A former fighter pilot (Ethan Hawke) now navigates drone strikes from the safety of a Vegas air base. Longing for his former job, procedural changes at work and conflict at home makes him start to unravel. The often reliable Andrew Niccol, again reteaming with Hawke (in a off but not not valueless performance), delivers a preachy, overambitious, ostentatious screenplay made with uninspired direction. Worth watching for the intensity of several of the drone sequences.
** out of ****

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Last Picture Show

In a 1950s depressed, desolate small Texas town, a high school senior (Timothy Bottoms) cares for his impaired younger brother (Sam Bottoms) and romances the football coach's lonely wife (Cloris Leachman) while his best friend (Jeff Bridges) slowly realizes his days of courting the town's high class beauty queen (Cybill Sepherd) are quickly coming to a close. Their time is spent is spent either in the establishments of the weathered, principled and beloved Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), which include a diner, pool hall, and the soon to be closed single screen movie theater playing the latest Howard Hawks Western. Peter Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel, brilliantly directed in grainy black and white, is a perceptive, sage film made with frank honesty and featuring either tender or harsh, though all excellent performances from actors at the beginning, middle, and ends of their careers.
**** out of ****

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Throne of Blood

A retelling of Macbeth, set in feudal Japan, as phantom visions overtake a samurai warrior (Toshiro Mifune), instructing him that he will soon be king of Spider Web's Castle, while igniting his wife's (Isuzu Yamada) ruthless ambition. Superb visuals (the spectral forest scene is a highlight) and the exceptionally controlled madness of Mifune (including his phenomenal, balletic unhingement during the dinner scene) dominate this superb Kurosawa adaptation. Yamada also bears a striking power in her performance and the finale is nothing short of breathtaking.
**** out of ****

Friday, May 20, 2016

Santa Sangre

A seriously disturbed young man takes refuge in a tree on the grounds of mental institution and refuses to descend. Flashbacks depicting how he ended up in his current state, including how his philandering knife throwing father relieved his acrobat mother of her arms following their circus act, prove not to be nearly as strange, nor tragic, as events to come. Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre is an audacious, colorful, complete and consistent original psychadelic-horror vision, although this doesn't always necessarily translate to compelling viewing. Replete in production values, the finale is a knockout.
*** out of ****

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Year of the Quiet Sun

In a ravaged Polish village shortly after World War II, a morose American soldier (Scott Wilson) approaching middle age falls deeply in love with a dispossed widow (Maja Komorowska) and plans to take her back home. Plans are complicated when after it becomes apparent only one ticket will be available and she refuses to leave her sickly and elderly mother. Krszusztof Zanussi A Year of the Quiet Sun is tender, tragic, and movingly sentimental, filmed beautifully and without cynicism, and with fine performances from its leads.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Love & Mercy

Brian Wilson, the brilliant, imbalanced leader of the Beach Boys at two stages of his life: as a young man (played by Paul Dano) orchestrating the groundbreaking Pet Sounds, in-fighting with the band, and being controlled by an abusive father/manager and in middle age (John Cusack) subdued and weathered, romancing a tender, independent saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) and again finding his life taken over, now by a wily, hot-tempered psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti). Love & Mercy is an original, unorthodox and ultimately moving musical biopic that sidesteps the trappings of its genre. The film showcases Cusack in a career performance, offers a nice role for the ever-screeching Dano, and depicts Giamatti in a frankly frightening light.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Elevator to the Gallows

An ex-special forces operative involved with his current boss's wife hatches a perfect murder plot to eliminate the cold, ruthless entrepreneur. After performing the dirty deed, he realizes incriminating evidence has been left at the scene of the crime, and returns to find himself trapped in the company elevator overnight while unknowingly leaving his car in the hands of a callous hood. Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows, his debut as a director, is a taught, intelligent, jazzy little thrilller filmed in crisp black and while. It's well plotted, with a great ending, and coincidental without being stupid.
**** out of ****

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pierrot le Fou

A middle class Parisian (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs out on his life and heads for the Mediterranean with his babysitter/mistress (Anna Karina) who, in turn, is the target of gangsters. Though influential in its time and innovative in its approach and style, Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou is pretentious, beatnik garble, typical to its director.
** out of ****

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Money Monster

A punk-sore degenerate (Jack O'Connell) storms the set of a popular weekly finance show, taking its flamboyant and arrogant host hostage (George Clooney) on air while demanding answers for the bad stock tip that relieved him of his savings. Money Monster is a preachy, dumb, cliched mess that feels like every "live on TV hostage situation" thriller ever produced meshed with the latest blame Wall Street tripe that has been in demand lately, all served up on a feckless platter with a confused denouement for desert. Jodie Foster is probably the wrong person to direct this material, Julia Roberts, playing the show's director, is her usual insufferable, know-it-all self, and Clooney does what he can with more subpar "socially conscious" material which he again opted to produce with work partner Grant Heslov. O'Connell quickly wears out his welcome and (final gripe) why does Hollywood continually cast Brits to play distinctly American roles, especially when they aren't up to the task.
* 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Land of Silence and Darkness

A look into the life of Fini Straubinger, an elderly deaf and blind woman who dedicated her life to advocating for those met with similar conditions. Werner Herzog's Land of Silence and Darkness is a captivating documentary with educational value that bears great camera footage that lengthily, and with what seems to be immense fascination on the behalf of its director, tracks the, at often times, enchanting behavior of its subjects.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Long Day Closes

A lonely boy lives with his mother in their stark, sterile flat, deals with the bullies and instructors at his strict Catholic school, and finds his only solace in the local movie theater. Terence Davies' semi-autobiographical film is a narrative-less elegy, a melancholy remembrance of a lonely childhood in 1950s Liverpool, told on beautifully filmed sets that are revealed in what resembles the disarray of memory.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pickpocket

Pickpocket tells the story of a young intellectual who, judging from his ragged suits and barren and modest Paris apartment, hones his skills at petty thievery simply for the thrill. Through his own narration and journal entries, we learn how he gets in with a gang of pickpockets and his eventual downfall, during which he neglects his dying mother and the woman he loves. The film is lovingly and carefully crafted by Robert Bresson, one of the most patient and virtued of directors and a primary influence on The French New Wave. Take the opening scene, for example, with the lead character at a racetrack. Filmed with precision, we see him study his mark, a female onlooker, and take his place behind her as she watches the race. In an extended shot that seems out of place, we wait alongside him for the perfect moment to pop the button on her purse, reach inside, and relieve it of its contents. Other scenes, such as this, allow Bresson to demonstrate his considerable skill as a director, often making sublime use of close-up and minimalism. The movie, in addition to being carefully directed, takes a basic plot while adding existential elements to it, and has often been cited as resembling Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Again, it has been extremely influential to subsequent filmmakers and the final and penultimate scenes are unforgettable.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Spirited Away

When their car reaches an impasse, a couple relocating to the burbs along with their young daughter who's none too happy about it decides to explore the nearby, creepy ghost town. Soon, the girl finds he parents possessed by this other world and herself drawn in to an alternate reality where she meets a new cadre of friends and enemies and must demonstrate courage and discipline to conquer. I've always felt held at arms length by Myzaki's roundly praised films and their uniquely branded characters and unconventional plotting. The same held true here yet I was overtaken by the majesty of the wondrous, breathtaking, imaginative, and intense visuals.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Never Let Me Go

10/9/2010 Never Let Me Go is based on an acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose book The Remains of the Day was also adapted into a film in 1993. Though both films are miles apart in terms of plot, they share the same themes of people living prescribed lifestyles being led to believe that their lives have some sort of greater purpose while sacrificing their own hopes and desires. They are two of the saddest films I have seen. This film opens at a British boarding school in an alternate 1978 which seems like any other boarding school might. We soon realize that this is far from the truth, and that the students are being groomed to be vital organ donors. Most will make three donations and die by the time they are in their early 30s. Of these students, we follow Kathy (Carey Mulligan) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) who both vie for the affections of Tommy (Andrew Garfield). The story follows these three as they gradually move towards that dreaded and inevitable third donation. The film is directed by Mark Romanek and beautifully shot in pastels of the British countryside. Mulligan, who shined in An Education, brings depth and humanity to her role and the always lovely Knightley plays her rival and pulls off what is a difficult role. Newcomer Andrew Garfield, who starred in no less than three great films this year, finds the right notes as the naive and awkward Tommy. The filmmakers and actors draw us into these characters lives as they inevitably travel towards their predestined ends. This is one of the year's best films.
**** out of ****

5/10/16 I rewatched Mark Romanek's film having read Ishiguro's novel since and surprisingly it's effect hasn't diminished, having still found it a somber, moving, beautifully filmed, and powerfully acted piece. Rachel Portman's score adds much and Alex Garland's screenplay sublimely underscores the subtleties and nuances of the book.
**** out of ****

Monday, May 9, 2016

Working

A parking attendant, secretary, fireman, telephone operator, millworker, housewife, truck driver truck driver, and more lend insights to the intricacies and monotonies of their individual occupations. From a flopped Stephen Schwartz Broadway musical and adapted from the Studs Terkel book, Working is a studio made for television adaptation which looses something in that approach. Some of the vignettes are brilliant, others are blah, and most of the songs are disposable, with the exception of the poignant "Millworker". Worth watching for a great sequence with Charles Durning and memorable spots by Scatman Crothers, Eileen Brennan, and James Taylor, who contributed a few songs to the production.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Victim

A closeted, successful London barrister (Dick Bogarde) decides to fight back against the blackmail ring terrorizing local gays. Victim had to have been incredibly daring for its time, but is so much more than an issues movie and, at its core, simply a remarkably well crafted thriller. Bogarde's performance is controlled and impressive and even when the picture veers into melodrama, it veers effectively so.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, May 6, 2016

Predestination

An government agent (Ethan Hawke) restrictively travels through time in efforts to stop a serial bomber. The plot thickens when, working undercover as a bartender, he meets a dejected, androgynous reporter with a bizarre and wretched backstory. From a Robert A. Heinlein short story, Predestination is convoluted, lacks tension and offers a screenplay that seems like it wasn't given a whole lotta thought. However, it is not entirely unwatchable thanks in large measure to Hawke's presence.
** out of ****

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Amarcord

A series of comic vignettes on life under fascism in a small Italian villa in the 1930s. Among the best include a party parade gone awry, hi-jinx among the local hooligans at school, a mentally disturbed man who refuses to come down from a tree, and an unforgettably filmed convoy of villagers rowing out to catch the massive American bound liner and wish its passengers bon voyage. Federico Fellini's postcard to his youth and hometown is funny, nostalgic, extremely ribald, expertly crafted, and deliberately incohesive.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The War

Due to the sheer magnitude of the greatest and bloodiest conflict in history, Ken Burns decided to focus his series documenting World War II on four disparate American cities (Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; Sacremento, California; Waterbury Connecticut) and the impact the War to End All Wars had on the men who served and on those who contributed on the homefront. Fascinating footage and harrowing stories meshed with a less than desirable approach to the material sadly result in a mixed bag, with Burns being more concerned about the home effort and the war's effect on loved ones and focusing less on causes, battles, maneuverings, etc.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ugetsu

Two men venture into the city seeking wealth and glory while neglecting their wives, leaving them to terrible fates. From short stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Mapassant, Kenjji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu presents simple, tragic moral fables in a stark, ethereal, and poetic manner. Sakae Ozawa is outsanding as the potter.
*** 1/2 out of ****