Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Visit

Two precocious adolescent siblings leave their single mother to visit their grandparents whom they've never met, and videodocument the entire encounter, although things are immediately amiss upon their arrival. M. Night Shyamalan's return to twist centered, old fashioned shocks also attempts to incorporate comedy and melodrama, and fails at all three, the scares being routine and obvious, the laughs feebly attempted and geared toward a preteen audience, and the melodrama unearned and coming out of nowhere. The young stars are obnoxious and insufferable.
* 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Vietnam War

As told through the eyes of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese who fought the war on both sides, Ken Burns documentary is an exhaustive look into the war in Vietnam, beginning with French colonization and continuing through the terrible conflict following U.S. intervention that needlessly took thousands of American lives, divided the country, and still ended with Saigon falling to the communists. I'm not sure much is added to the unfortunate, bloody, and muddled saga and its subjects aren't always as interesting you would expect. Further, it seems Burns struggles with more modern efforts, especially this and his World War II documentary, not knowing where to mount his focus. The last episode, which focuses on post-withdrawal, is very moving, and the series is obviously given the same trustworthy treatment as the director's other ventures. The music in the film is a mixed bag, sometimes used effectively other times cliched rock standards used in many a Vietnam War picture. However, there is an excellent score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
*** out of ****

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

A criminal mastermind and master of hypnosis continues to operate his terror based criminal enterprise through telekinesis from his insane asylum cell. Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr Mabuse, a sequel to a work that launched his career a decade earlier and a character he would revisit years later, is highly influential (so much can be seen from it in subsequent noirs and mysteries) and upset the recently empowered National Socialists so much with its parallels they saw fit to ban it in Germany. The film is a bizarre criminal procedural, made with breakneck pace, frenzied editing, and fantastic special effects. Otto Wernicke is fun as Inspector Lohmann, who played the role prior in Lang's M.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Body Double

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson), after losing his job and walking in on his girlfriend with a another man, is set up by a friend (Gregg Henry) in a posh apartment with a fortuitous view of a beautiful married woman, who puts on a nightly striptease routine, becomes the object of the voyeur's obsession, and soon finds herself in perilous danger. Though its supposed to be another tip of the cap to Alfred Hitchcock, Body Double seems more like pilfering with Brian De Palma attempting to merge no less than Rear Window and Vertigo into one sleazy and cheap treatment. That's not to say its without entertainment value, being occasionally fun, intense, and provocative. Wasson is weak and his character inept, and Melanie Griffith is cute in a small, key role.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 20, 2017

License to Kill

James (Timothy Dalton) and Felix (David Hedison) decide to nab a drug lord (Robert Davi) right from out of the sky before parachuting into the CIA operatives wedding. Soon, the ruthless kingpin bribes an American officer, escapes, and badly maims 007's pal leading him on a hellbent quest for vengeance. Dalton returns for his second and final Bond outing with another against the grain picture this one a harsh, violent revenge flick. The movie gets bogged down by a sloggish midsection, overlength, but the stuntwork is spectacular (including the phenomenal diesel truck finale), and the special agent meets his match in charismatic Carey Lowell and sexy Talisa Soto. Davi makes a nasty villain.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Le Doulos

A recently released low rent criminal (Serge Reggiani) shows up at a crime lord and friends resident, ostensibly to get filled in on a job, and shoots him dead in cold blooded, making out with the loot from a previous heist and stacks full of cash. He returns home and tells his live-in girlfriend and fellow con artist pal (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who may or may not be police informants. Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos is a hard-bitten, tough talking tribute to film noir made with sudden, shocking violence and intricate, convoluted plotting. Reggiani and Belmondo and perfectly cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Circus

After being mistaken for a pickpocket and pursued through a carnival, the tramp winds up front and center at the travelling circus, stealing the show and offered a job. There he romances an acrobat, the abused daughter of the circus manager, gets locked in the lion cage, and must step in to perform the tight rope act for his romantic rival when he no-shows for the gig. The Circus is a perfect little Chaplin short feature, funny and poignant, with the Hall of Mirrors scene, the automaton gallery, and the stunning finale all standing out.
**** out of ****

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The selfish, domineering, and egocentric ways of a Manhattan sculptor (Dustin Hoffman), whose career never quite took flight, continues to affect the lives of his grown children who include a successful financier (Ben Stiller), a spinster (Elizabeth Marvel) whom he failed to protect from an abuser, and a musician (Adam Sandler) who abandoned the discipline and has come to live with him following a divorce. Noah Baumbach returns with another film about family dysfunction, and although he elicits excellent performances from Sandler and Stiller, the movie never soars and feels too familiar yet incomplete and uninspired, just like you'd expect from a feature film released straight to an online platform.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mystery Train

Three stories involving foreigners, their stay on the same night at a rundown, fleabag Memphis hotel, and the presence of Elvis Presley who seems to hover over the proceedings. Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train is a little to sparse in its storytelling but is passively engaging with are strange and amiable characters.
*** out of ****

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Living Daylights

As Double-0 agents are being targeted for assassination, Bond (Timothy Dalton) exists in the extrication of a duplicitous KGB agent (Jeroen Krabbe) claiming to have damning information on a highly respected Russian General, leaving 007 and the agent's victimized girlfriend (Maryam d'Abo) on a hazardous tour of Prague, Tangiers, and Afghanistan. The Living Daylights introduced Timothy Dalton in his short run as a more serious minded, humorless Bond, these attributes being mostly in his favor. The plotting is more realistic (at least comparatively) and the stuntwork is exciting, especially the opening (incidentally, the film bears my favorite title in the series. The only thing lacking is strong villain (or any centralized villain at all really).
*** out of ****

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Hills Have Eyes

On a trip to California, an Ohio family's car breaks down in the desolate Nevada desert where they must wait out the night as prey to the cannibalistic savages who inhabit the surrounding mountains. Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes starts out as suspenseful and atmospheric before quickly sacrificing tension for camp. Still, it is entertaining nonetheless. alternating between callous and amusing. bears many similarities to The Last House on the Left, and is probably the superior horror movie.
*** out of ****

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Only Son

A widowed woman in a rural town works in a textile mill and sacrifices so her son can attend school. Years later, she visits him in Tokyo and learns that he is married with an infant child although he is embarrassed he hasn't gone anywhere with his education and is only a lowly night school teacher. The Only Son, Ozu's first talking picture, is poignant with the sensitive craftsman-like director's piercing and perfectly placed camera perfectly evoking the somber mood of the film. Choko Iida amd Shinichi Himori are both wonderful playing mother and son.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Awful Truth

After suspicion infects the marriage, a couple (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne) divorces and begins to sabotage their ex's newfound relationships. Leo McCarey won a Best Director Oscar for directing this hilarious screwball comedy, an accolade which is almost never bestowed today on the genre, with Grant in light, playful form and Dunne absolutely delightful. Asta the dog, best known for the Thin Man series, is a memorable standout here.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lost in Translation

Two lonely and depressed people, an aging movie star (Bill Murray) and the young wife (Scarlett Johansson) of a busy photographer (Giovanni Ribisi), meet and connect in Tokyo, finding themselves platonic companions in the strange city for a few fleeting days. Light, observed, and well-made, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is. in turns, amusing, melancholic and poignant (though I'm not sure its as transcendent as its reputation) with Murray ideal for the role and Johansson tremendous and just as affecting.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 9, 2017

Viridiana

Before making her vows, a would be nun (Silvia Pinal) visits her rich, old uncle (Fernando Rey) who takes his own life after she refuses his advances. Leaving the convent entirely after inheriting her estate, she transforms it into a commune for vagrants for eventually run amok. Luis Bunuel's return home to his native land is confounding, challenging, cynical, and shocking like most of the director's work, while made with vivid imagery and memorable performances from Pinal and Rey.
*** out of ****

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

A newer, legal model cyborg (Ryan Gosling), working as a Blade Runner for the LAPD, continues hunting and "retiring" older models and, after dispatching his latest target, discovers the remains of a female replicant with signs she gave birth some thirty years prior. Charged with eradicating the child, his quest leads him on an existential journey and into the path of an old, retired member of his profession (Harrison Ford) who had some connection to the case. While it is difficult for a sequel to tell a compelling story in its own right. Blade Runner 2049 not only does that, but resonates emotionally even more so than the original and made with the kinds of stunning visuals (courtesy of Roger Deakins) and incredible sound that have come to typify director Denis Villeneuve's work, even if the story remains somewhat baffling and impenetrable. Gosling is well cast in his role, Ford feels right at home, and Jared Leto has a great bit part as the megalomaniacal chairman of the new replicant production company.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Small Time Crooks

A bunch of bungling crooks led by a career criminal (Woody Allen) devise the perfect crime by leasing a storefront and tunneling into the bank vault next door. However, when their cookie business front becomes a massive success and the bank job falls through, they become rich beyond their wildest dreams and Allen's uncultured wife (Tracey Ullman) hires a suave but disingenuous cad (Hugh Grant) as a Henry Higgins-like instructor. Made at a time when Woody was beginning to go out of fashion and entering a so called slump, Small Time Crooks is as funny and diverting as any of his light comedies and contains a hysterical Ullman performance who is given some of the movie's funniest lines.
*** out of ****

Friday, October 6, 2017

Le Silence de la Mer

During the German Occupation of France in a quiet village, a German officer (Howard Vernon) boards with an elderly man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stephane) whose only form of resistance is utter silence in the face of their unwanted houseguest who responds with unrelenting courtesy, tales from back home and of love for his assumed country, and horror in response to Nazi atrocities. From Vercors inspirational Resistance short story, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Silence de la Mer is unique and almost daring/high concept (which must have seemed extremely tedious on paper) with great cinematography and moments of tension and insight. Vernon's performance is delicate and wonderful.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Certain Women

The story of three barely connected women inhabiting small-town Livingston, Montana: a lawyer (Laura Dern) and her relationship with an unhinging client (Jared Harris); a sullen woman (Michelle Woman) on an errand in the country which reveals her troubled marriage; a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) making a slight friendship with a farmhand (Lily Gladstone) at a night class she's teaching. Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, based on the writings of Maile Meloy, is essentially three self-contained shorts, touching, melancholic, and minutely observed and made with great actresses and beautiful Western landscape photography.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pink Floyd: The Wall

Set to music from Roger Waters' hugely popular classic rock album and featuring grotesque and unforgettable animation by Gerald Scarfe, The Wall tells the story of a rockstar in the midst of an overdose who looks back over his troubled life, including losing his father in the World War II, being browbeaten by his mother and an oppressive school system, and the fascistic sway he holds over his fans. Alan Parker's depressing and sensory overloading rendition of the material amounts to a powerful feature length music video.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A View to a Kill

007 (Roger Moore) is sent on the trail of psychotic billionaire and horse race cheat (Christopher Walken) who seeks to corner the microchip market by causing massive earthquakes to destroy Silicon Valley. Moore's last appearance, although he settled into the role over time, is one of the weakest entries in the series in spite of some good action sequences some good action sequences. Walken is a surprisingly bland villain, Tanya Roberts a feeble bond girl, and Grace Jones is just bizarre as the femme fatale.
** out of ****

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mon oncle d'Amérique

The lives of three disparate people, an uppercrust raised public news director (Roger Pierre), a middle class socialist actress (Nicole Garcia), and a farmboy turned factory manager (Gerard Depardieu) lives intertwine at moments of crisis, and all to demonstrate the social theories of scientist Henri Laborit (who also appears as himself. Alain Resnais My American Uncle is supremely directed, acted, and edited. very unique and sometimes fascinating while employing clips from nature, laboratory mice, and old French movies featuring Jean Marais, Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Hairdresser's Husband

A young boy is enraptured by the carnality of his local hairdresser and vows to marry one when he grows up, and does just that, engaging in a torrid, fairy-tale but doomed love affair with another hair stylist. Made with a particular Euro sense of humor and sensibility, though heralded by some, Patrice Leconte's film is so slight as to barely fill a short film but made with wonderful set design, camerawork, and the amiable set of actors.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Make Way for Tomorrow

An elderly couple lose their home to foreclosure and are forced to live separately with their grown children who are either too busy, selfish, or put upon to deal with the inconvenience. Leo McCarey, a versatile director who crafted films ranging from romantic tragedies to Marx Brothers movies, devised this poignant, near devastating, and hard hitting tear jerker that, while somewhat dated and measured, has many fine moments.

*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, September 29, 2017

Never Say Never Again

After the "Double-0" program is suspended, James (Sean Connery) is recalled from a health spa when two nuclear missiles are hijacked by charismatic oil tycoon Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), whose unwitting mistress (Kim Basinger) is sister to the pawn used to retrieve the weapons of mass destruction. Connery's final appearance as Bond, after a 12 year hiatus, is a welcomed return and the film, an unofficial, non-Eon Studios production remake of Thunderball is a nice change of pace from the formulaic series if it is a little overlong and just as tacky. Brandauer is a great, colorful and humanized villain, Barbara Carrera a sizzling femme fatale, and Basinger ideal as a Bond girl.
*** out of ****