Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

A WWI vet (Paul Muni) with ambitions of being an architect yet caught in the realities of the Depression becomes an unwitting accomplice in a diner holdup and is sentenced by an unsympathetic Southern justice system to hard time at a work camp. Enduring grueling conditions, he makes a daring escape and resettles in Chicago where he makes a name for himself but finds his past continuing to haunt him. Watching "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", a pre-code film from Warner Bros, I realized just how much "Cool Hand Luke", romanticized and tame in comparison, owes to it. Muni delivers a heart rending, on-the-level performance in this bleak and visceral movie.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Night of the Hunter

After learning of a stashed $10,000 hidden by his cellmate (Peter Graves) before his execution, a self-styled preacher (Robert Mitchum) with a "special arrangement" with God places himself in the lives of the deceased's family. After marrying then killing his flighty widow (Shelley Winters), he pursues their two young children, the only bearers of the loot's location, on a terrifying downriver journey. "The Night of the Hunter" is a distinct and horrifying visual wonder that is the result of a fortuitous and unlikely collaboration: In his only directorial effort (it was late in his career and the film was a box office flop), Charles Laughton works from a script by modern film criticism forerunner James Agee in a film that features a wonderful performance from screen pioneer Lillian Gish and ultimately, a haunting and career defining one from Mitchum. It's gothic visuals, such as shown in the scene depicting Winters' fate and the shadowy, animal-laden river sequence, only add to the strange and brooding atmosphere of this unique and chilling classic. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood

Known as the Boy Wonder by his peers for his intransigent reputation, and ability to pick out scripts and adeptly tweak films, Irving Thalberg began as an office clerk at Universal under Carl Laemmle and rose rapidly through the ranks. Soon partnering up with L.B. Mayer and cofounding MGM, Thalberg would be the brains behind many early Hollywood classics ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "The Crowd", "The Good Earth") and stars (Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow), the villain against Eric von Stroheim and his masterpiece "Greed", and the inspiration for F.Scott Fitzgerald's uncompleted final work The Last Tycoon, all before his death at the age of 37. Made for Turner Classic Movies by Robert Trachtenberg, "Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood" is an informative, composite view of the life of the enormously influential mogul, told straightforwardly yet with an abundance of information.

Monday, January 28, 2013

You Only Live Twice

When an American space capsule vanishes, the Soviets are immediately suspected, and when a Soviet craft similarly vanishes, both sides are pushed to the brink of imminent disaster. Discovering a suspicious crash off the coast of Japan, MI6 sends in their most valued agent into the Land of the Rising Sun where he must not only must adapt Japanese culture, but also actually become Japanese, train as a ninja, and infiltrate Blofeld's volcanic lair to prevent the onset of WWIII! "You Only Live Twice" is a lame and exceedingly bizarre Bond installment. With a script by Roald Dahl (?!), and one of the last films to feature Connery, it is barely credible  as camp, let alone a top spy picture.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Panic in the Streets

When a murder victim's unidentified body shows signs of pneumonic plague at the New Orleans coroner's office, an Army Doctor (Richard Widmark) faces government opposition in his attempts to determine the source and inoculate all those who may have come in contact with the dead man. "Panic in the Streets" is an early noir exercise from Elia Kazan which he adeptly filmed from an Oscar winning story by the husband and wife team of Edward and Edna Anhalt. It features a fine, hard-bitten performance from Widmark, and Jack Palance and Zero Mostel (!) all but steal the show as a maniacal gangster and his bumbling lackey who came into initial contact with the carrier.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Castle in the Sky

What can you say about a film that is all around masterful that doesn't line up with one's own personal taste, or a director who makes consistently ambitious and imaginative films whose style you just don't dig? "Castle in the Sky" is the fourth of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki's films I've seen following "Nausicaa", "Howl's Moving Castle", and "My Neighbor Totoro", and again find myself failing to be drawn in by the material for no good reason than its not really to my liking (oddly, I did enjoy the recent "The Secret World of Arrietty which Miyazaki wrote but did not direct). Like many of his films, "Castle in the Sky" is an tells an environmentally conscious tale of lonely, young people finding inner courage, here a young girl living in an aircraft and in possession of a vital crystal who, with a friend, must ward off pirates and other devious types who seek its power. I don't wish to offend any of the many who are justifiably ardent towards Miyazaki's work and, as mentioned earlier, I just don't enjoy this brand of animation and storytelling.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rear Window

After fracturing his leg while photographing an auto race, L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) sits confined to a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment and takes to surveilling the assorted personalities inhabiting the facing complex. When the odd behavior of one of these neighbors (Raymond Burr) leads Jefferies to believe he may have murdered and disposed of his wife, he draws in his gorgeous high society girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and acerbic home care nurse (Thelma Ritter) into his ever increasing suspicions. With a movie as beloved and discussed as "Rear Window", I'm not really sure that anything can really be added to the conversation. Hitchcock's film, masterfully constructed from a Cornell Woolrich short story, slowly, then surely as any ever concocted, takes you into its grasp. Though The Master's diabolical directorial hand deserves all the credit for the success of this taut, exciting, and unsurpassed classic, I realized while watching it for the umpteenth time how crucial the performances are. In his postwar films such as "Harvey" and Hitch's "Rope", Stewart was already showing a penchant for playing darker personages, and his voyeuristic performance here is riveting. So much hinges on the women as well: Ritter first delivers some really well-written, snappy dialogue than adds credibility to the story when her intelligent character comes around to Stewart's way of thinking. And Grace Kelly, at her most radiant, is the impetus for one of the most suspenseful sequences in cinema when she volunteers to investigate the ongoings across the courtyard.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Park Row

In the gritty, bustling heyday of print news in 1880s New York, a hard-nosed newspaper man (Gene Evans) quits his job at The Star, a prestigious paper run by an unscrupulous editor (Mary Welch), to start his own publication. Made with little more than his own meager resources and industry know-how, the newsman runs The Globe with journalistic integrity while publicizing the arrival of The Statue of Liberty, the building of The Brooklyn Bridge, and fighting off his frequent and often brutal rivals. Once a correspondent himself, "Park Row" is Sam Fuller's tough, romanticized view of the prominence of the newspaper industry, which may hold special significance in this modern era of waning print journalism. The film is compacted though energetic  and highly entertaining, featuring fine performances from a largely unknown cast.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shakespeare in Love

Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is at a personal and professional impasse: his theater owner (Geoffrey Rush) is heavily indebted, his girlfriend is having an affair with his benefactor, audiences much prefer the work of his adversary Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett), and he is having the damnedest time completing his latest play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter. After casting the lead actor and discovering he is actually a beautiful and restless society girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) in disguise, he finds his true love and the inspiration for his best known work. John Madden's "Shakespeare in Love", written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard, is a delightful concoction, purported to be more fancy than fact, that nonetheless tells a sunny, intriguing, and exceedingly well made story. Fiennes delivers a finely tuned comic performance and Paltrow is enchanting in the role that garnered her an Oscar. Supporters aid the proceedings greatly, and the standouts are the obvious ones, namely Rush, Tom Wilkinson as his creditor with a secret desire to be on the stage, and Judi Dench who, though only appearing briefly as Queen Elizabeth I, also garnered an Academy Award for her performance.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Judy Garland: By Myself

Born into a vaudevillian family as Frances Gumm, Judy Garland became a beloved, tragic, and highly polarizing entertainment icon. "By Myself" chronicles her life, beginning with her time as an MGM child star, her unsurpassed success with "The Wizard of Oz" and "Meet Me in St. Louis", and some of the behind-the-scenes horrors imposed by the studio. It goes on to cover time spent with her husband and often director Vincente Minnelli, their daughter Liza, and latter successes like "A Star is Born" and her offstage singing tours, while documenting the depression and insecurity which plagued her personal life and contributed to her ultimate demise. Like most of the films in the American Masters series, this installment features a wealth of engaging interviews and footage, here telling the story of a talented and often misunderstood persona.

Monday, January 21, 2013


A family of sharecroppers in the backwoods of Depression-era Louisiana faces even more dire times when their proud patriarch (Paul Winfield) steals a roast and is sentenced to hard time on the chain gang. With their mother (Cicely Tyson) looking after the farm, the eldest son (Kevin Hooks) sets out on a trek by foot to discover the surreptitious location of the work camp where his father is being held, and falls in with a kindhearted teacher at a private school along the way. From William H. Armstrong's novel, "Sounder" is a genuine and heartfelt social movie, with indelible period settings, and a set of fine performances, from its remarkable leads to the flavorful supporters. It was made by Martin Ritt, a director who made varying types of films ("Hud", "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"), but always packed a wallop by focusing on their human elements, which is exactly the case here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thin Ice

An debt riddled insurance man (Greg Kinnear) plan relieve a witless old man (Alan Arkin) of his prized violin, the extreme value of which he has no idea, but is caught in the act by the codger's security system installer (Billy Crudup) who takes the scheme to a whole new and twisty blood ridden level. Jill Sprecher's "Thin Ice" has a great small crime feel, which probably borders a little too closely to "Fargo," but is fun nonetheless. Kinnear and especially Crudup deliver nice performances and all moves along fairly well until the unsatisfying denouement, which takes way too long to explain the many twists and turns. This project was taken out of the director's hands and shortened by a considerable length (about 20 minutes) and it is hard to determine if this reduction helped or hindered the film. I felt it actually begin to wear at a meager 93 minutes, but that could also be contributed to poor reconstruction.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois

"Abe Lincoln in Illinois" tells of the Old Rail-Splitter's adult, pre-presidential life, from his days as a backwoods Kentucky bumpkin, to his law practice in Illinois and his run for Senate in 1858 against Stephen Douglas (Gene Lockhart) followed up by the presidential election. We also see glimpses of his relationship with Ann Rutledge (Mary Howard), his supposed true love, and the more contentious society girl Mary Todd (Ruth Gordon). Along with Henry Fonda just before him and Daniel Day-Lewis now, Raymond Massey deserves to stand among the great cinematic portrayers of our 16th President, although his is the hokiest take of the three. John Cromwell's (father of actor James) film adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's play covers an impressive amount of ground, and as a highlight, features moving and what I believe are word-for-word recitations of Lincoln's "A House Divided" and "This Too Shall Pass" speeches.

Friday, January 18, 2013


A young boy is the victim of an unthinkable act of bullying and spends his days as a grown man (Matthias Schoenaerts) injecting himself with steroids and intimidating those around him as he runs his family's cattle farm. His life is thrown into tumult when he embarks on a relationship with the sister of his tormentor and enters into an ill-timed deal with a black market beef trader. "Bullhead", a foreign film Oscar nominee out of Belgium from last year, contains an emotionally devastating central story and a fine performance from its lead character, which loses much by way of its unnecessary mafia subplot.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Men in Black 3

Boris the Animal, a particularly iniquitous creature, escapes from space jail and travels back in time to 1969 to eradicate his mortal enemy, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones now, Josh Brolin then). When Agent J (Will Smith), learns of this dubious plot, he himself time travels to save his irascible partner, although both find themselves drawn into the heathen's larger scheme of world destruction set to hatch at the launching of Apollo 11 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. I went to see "Men In Black 3" at the dollar theater for the sole purpose of seeing Josh Brolin's Tommy Lee Jones impersonation and for that singular reason, I must say that it was worth the price of admission. At least at the dollar theater.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Search

In Germany following WWII, U.N. relief workers labor tirelessly to feed and house the scores of child refugees produced by the war. From one of these lots, a confused and traumatized young boy, who holds no command of any language, attempts to escape by way of a nearby river and is feared drowned. Spotted soon after on land by an Army engineer (Montgomery Clift), the young man takes the boy in and teaches him to read, as he determines the best way to handle the situation. Fred Zinneman's "The Search" was filmed on location amidst a decimated postwar Germany, which lends an air of authenticity to this noble minded film which faces the issue head on, but often comes off as a shrill and grating feature length United Way infomercial. The highlight of the film is Montgomery Clift's performance in what was his film debut, and his rapport with the young actor Ivan Jandl, which does contain genuine, heartfelt sincerity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

......One of Our Aircraft Is Missing

After an RAF bomber is shot down over Nazi occupied Holland, a team of six fighter pilots relies on the charity of the Dutch freedom fighting underground as they make their way to the North Sea for their escape back to Britain. "......One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" is one of the early of films of the lengthy collaboration between Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers, and one of several they made to assist the Allied war effort during WWII. The film is wonderfully written, with much patriotic verve, and painstakingly made, but it does feel somewhat rushed, as surely it must have been to serve its purpose at the time. The mumbled Britspeak is also very difficult to understand. Of its cast, you can glimpse a young Peter Ustinov as a priest and Googie Withers delivers an excellent speech as a Dutch resistance member. A better example of a similar film can be seen in "49th Parallel," the Archers' previous work which details a band of marooned Nazis who are also confronted by the goodness and resilience of the people they encounter as they maraud their way through Canada to a then neutral United States. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Casa de mi Padre

The inept son (Will Ferrell) of a Mexican rancher becomes entangled with a local crime lord (Gael Garcia Bernal) when his ne'er do well brother (Diego Luna) enters into the barbarous man's debt. What may have seemed like an amusing idea in conception, having Ferrell genuinely injected into a Spanish language, quasi low budget film, results in a paper thin, one-joke 4 minute SNL sketch, laughless at that, stretched out to feature length. This film along with "The Campaign", his other feature release from last year, finally made me jump on the bandwagon and admit that I've grown tired of Ferrell's antics (though he, along with Kristin Wiig, was a sole moment of comic relief at the Globes last night). Although "Casa de mi padre" is not a good example of his overdone film persona, it is an instance of him running an idea into the ground, no matter how confounded and unfunny it may be.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

God Bless America

Dealing with a recent divorce, an ungrateful child, a miserable job. ignorant neighbors and coworkers, and the bane of American inanity in general, a middle aged office worker (Joel Murray) goes on a cross country crime spree with an equally alienated teenaged accomplice (Tara Lynne Barr) he happens upon. Their target and representation of all that is wrong with the country: the American Idol-like singing competition. Like his prior outing "World's Greatest Dad", Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America" is a scattershot and over-the-top exercise. While occasionally hitting its mark,  the film is really just a disorganized excuse to lambaste the ills of society,  all of which comes off as a disingenuous, low form of satire.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's only published novel telling of pristinely handsome, consummately mannered, and inwardly devoid young man whose portrait reflects his true, hideous nature received an excellent film treatment in this first talking era onscreen outing. Albert Lewin's film is shot in crisp black and white, although the sequences reveal the grotesque picture in all its shocking color. Hurd Hatfield is appropriately cast as the vapid title character, George Sanders is excellent as the amoral lord who serves as an impetus to young Dorian's corruption, and Angela Lansbury received her second Oscar nomination for what is her third screen portrayal, here playing a victim of the young cad's cruelty.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

As he drives an idyllic coastal road in Cape Town, a record store owner tells the story of Rodriguez, an American folk artist who was a complete flop in his home country yet took South Africa by storm ("bigger than Elvis") before taking his own life in a bizarre onstage act of self immolation. Thus begins the title quest (Sugar Man being his signature hit) into the myths, origins, and the ultimately fantastical true story of the mystifying musician. "Searching for Sugar Man" is an adeptly composed documentary from Malik Bendjelloul that creatively presents its investigatory narrative and also features something perhaps not always associated with nonfiction films: a sumptuous film stock, here a grainy, saturated 1970s style pallette. I also featuring many of the fine and inexplicably under the radar songs of its subject. I don't want to give away too much of the film but I will say that it bears several similarities to "Resurrect Dead", another documentary inquiry with a humanizing and highly satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Oscars: Predictions, Thoughts, and Gripes

The Oscars were announced this morning with a few surprises, all major, and almost none of them good which left me with the larger question of why I even bothered to get out of bed. You can find the entire list of nominees at this link: Here is my take on the nominations:
Best Picture
There wasn't really a problem of omission this year (although I thought that "Moonrise Kingdom" would get the recognition it deserves) but due to the added slots, which have been present for a few years now, we again see several undeserving nominees, this year's being "Les Miserables", which has minions of fans who aren't even considering its film quality, and "Beasts of the Southern Wild.", a gorgeous yet seriously misguided and pretentious art house film. Without having seen it, I was still pleased that "Amour" was nominated and the rest ("Argo", "Django Unchained", "Life of Pi", "Lincoln", "Silver Linings Playbook", and "Zero Dark Thirty") were expected and worthy of their distinction. I would say this is a hard category to handicap, especially due to the surprises in the directing category. "Lincoln" is the best film of the lot but I could see the Academy voting for "Pi", which was also excellent.
Will Win: "Life of Pi"
Should Win: "Lincoln"
Michael Haneke
Best Director
Although I didn't find "Argo" to be quite the masterwork that many had deemed, and was somewhat pleased to see the wind knocked out of its sails when Ben Affleck was passed over, this directing category is  a veritable mess. No one is making movies on the same level as Quentin Tarantino yet he is missing as is Wes Anderson and Kathryn Bigelow. I guess the Academy felt they had done their social duty after her historical win the last time around. Instead we have the biggest shocker of the day in Benh Zeitlin scoring an undeserved nod for "Beasts", which again was beautiful but bullshit. David O. Russell also joins the party, whose "Playbooks" was great but not nearly as ambitious as some of the ones who are sitting out. It was nice to see Michael Haneke join the ranks for "Amour", which I see as a tribute to someone who has consistently made challenging and excellent films throughout a lengthy career. I still think this boils down to a race between "Lincoln" and "Pi" and again find it almost impossible to pick a winner.
Will Win: Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Should Win: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Best Actor
This is Daniel Day-Lewis' category. I don't even think there's a discussion about that and rightfully so. That being said, we're seeing nominations for Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, and Bradley Cooper, all turning in what I deem as their career best work and then we have Hugh Jackman. Don't even get me started before I go into a Dr. Cox-like rant and pop a blood vessel. John Hawkes was robbed.
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Best Actress
The women did not show up this year. There I said it. Meryl Streep takes a year off from serious filmmaking and the category feels like a vast wasteland. I was not impressed by anyone in this category. I found Jennifer Lawrence insufferable, and the only sore spot of "Silver Linings", Naomi Watts was grating in "The Impossible" and Jessica Chastain, the frontrunner, even struggled during parts of "Zero Dark Thirty" (to be fair she had many excellent moments). Again, I haven't seen "Amour" and I expect Emmanuelle Riva  to be great, but at 85, her nomination makes her the oldest in Academy history and allows them to nominate the youngest ever in 9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis for "Beasts." I have never liked the inclusion of child actors at the Oscars. Wallis had spunk but I would like to see this spot go to someone who actually practices the craft. 
Will Win: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Should Win: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Best Supporting Actor
Still the most interesting and stalwart of all the categories. Five previous winners vie for the award. I believe that's never happened before. They did the right thing and nominated Christoph Waltz over Leo for "Django." Robert De Niro reasserted himself in an incredible performance and Tommy Lee Jones was as great as always. I didn't really care for Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance in "The Master" which was just his typical brand of yelling and I would have nominated someone else over Alan Arkin, either William H. Macy for "The Sessions" or Bruce Willis for "Moonrise Kingdom" or "Looper", but that wasn't going to happen.
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Should Win: (push) Tommy Lee Jones, Robert De Niro, Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress
The least deserving will win the Oscar. Anne Hathaway was over-the-top in "Les Miz" but the other four women who will be smiling politely when she accepts her award were all very good. Amy Adams seemed like she was on the sidelines when her "Master" costars were reaping acclaim for their performances earlier in the year. It's nice to see her recognized. Sally Field delivered an unexpectedly volatile performance as  the headstrong and unstable Mary Lincoln, Helen Hunt was brave as a sex surrogate in "The Sessions", and Jacki Weaver was so good serving as the glue for a house full of loonies. 
Will Win: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Should Win: Sally Field, "Lincoln"

Stay tuned for my Oscar contest to be posted shortly...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Impossible

In 2004, A British couple (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) and their three young sons take their Christmas holiday at a Thai resort (talk about timing!) and, while basking poolside in the splendid sun, are swept away by a monstrous tidal wave. Battling the catastrophic elements and chaotic conditions, the family struggles to survive and find their way back to each other. The 2004 tsunami was the largest on record, claiming the lives of over 230,000 people in the region, and leaving approximately 18,000 dead, injured, and missing in Thailand alone. According to "The Impossible", a film by director Juan Antonio Bayona and based on a story by Maria Belon, one of its survivors, those hit hardest and almost exclusively were a handful of vacationing white tourists (Belon and her family are Spanish by the way). Bayona's film contains some excellent storm footage and a harrowing first person account of facing a deluge head-on, but the effect is quickly worn thin due by indelicacies,  heavy handedness and a detracting need by the director to constantly show overhead shots of the destruction (I'm serious, there's about ten of these shots in the movie). Naomi Watts will probably score an Oscar nomination tomorrow, but all she really does is writhe in complete pain and agony for the duration. Ewan McGregor delivers another boring and uninspired performances while the child actors are completely insufferable. Whenever movie loses me for whatever reason, something I like to do is make up alternate titles in my head to help make it through the ordeal. Here I came up with " My Big Fat 2004 Thai Holiday Excursion", "How Not to Use the Buddy System", and "Rich White People: The Only Ones who Matter in the Face of a Natural Disaster."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Following the cataclysmic attacks on September 11, 2001, a covert CIA team operating out of undisclosed locations across the globe uses torture tactics in an attempt to attain the location of Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda members. A young female agent (Jessica Chastain), described as "a killer" by her CIA station chief (Kyle Chandler, excellent), bears witness to the brutal tactics employed by her agency and also an often harsh brand of chauvinism from her contemporaries. Through sheer tenacity, over a duration of nearly ten years, and during lulls where his extinguishment was not prioritized, she played a vital role in the ultimate demise of bin Laden. Following her unpredictable and unprecedented success with "The Hurt Locker", Kathryn Bigelow returns with screenwriter Mark Boal and presents another painstaking, methodical, and suspenseful effort. Though I sometimes found her too mousy for the role, Chastain nonetheless delivers admirably and serves as perhaps an autobiographical conduit for her director. The supporting cast is mostly well picked including James Gandolfini as CIA director Leon Panetti and Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, and Frank Grillo as a few of the members of the SEAL team. However, I did not care for the performance of Jason Clarke, who plays a brutal interrogator early in the film, and whose trajectory later on doesn't make a whole lot of sense, a choice which seems to have been done for effect. Though they both work extraordinarily on their own terms, the investigation and the climactic early morning raid (which plays out in what feels like real time) don't really complement each other, or serve as a satisfying conclusion to Chastain's story, which may or may not be a statement on the perpetual War on Terror.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Hour

Season 2
Freddie returns from his lengthy sabbatical with a Parisian bride in tow, much to Bel's consternation, while a false accusation and wrongful arrest of Hector leads to a multilayered corruption probe used as fodder for their nightly news program. The followup series of "The Hour" is an artificial, self-important bit of faux artistry compounded by the fact that it is an absolute and dreadful bore. After slogging my way through what is a relatively short but inexplicably interminable season, I have no intention of tuning in for the next series of broadcasts.
0 Stars

Season 1
During the midst of the Suez Crisis, an irascible young reporter (Ben Whishaw) investigates the curious suicide of a childhood chum, while his friend and colleague (Romola Garai) makes the preparations for her new news program, which features a charming cad (Dominic West) who comes up short when it comes to investigative journalistic ability. "The Hour" is a remarkably photographed historical drama created by Abi Morgan, which is clearly inspired by "Mad Men" and that series' historically particular sensibilities. Garai contributes fine work as the balancing point between two very different men: West who is excellent, and Whishaw who is mostly excellent, but can be hard to stomach at points. Despite the fine elements the series has to offer, it feels awfully slight in terms of plot, and you often get the feeling the creators believe they are providing a much more intriguing chronicle than they actually are.
** 1/2

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bergman Island

Early in the 1960s, art house master Ingmar Bergman discovered the island of Faro off the Swedish coast where he would film several of his classics ("Through a Glass Darkly", "Persona", "Scenes from a Marriage") and live in relative seclusion until his death in 2007. In 2004 he granted a series of exclusive interviews to filmmaker Marie Nyrerod at his home which were made into three separate films, which were whittled down into this feature length version I viewed. Bergman details his childhood, personal life, distinguished career, and day to day living habits, often in brutal detail and clarity, which is par for the course with his most cherished films.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Get Yer Ya Ya's Out

Recorded in late 1969 as part of the Let It Bleed tour, The Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya Ya's Out has gone on to be heralded as one of the great live albums. Filmed by the Maysles brothers along with material that would become the pivotal documentary "Gimme Shelter", this short film was assembled by Albert Maysles (David died in 1987), Brad Kaplan, and Ian Markiewicz for the 40th year re-release. Though not even thirty minutes long, it features rare and brilliant footage of the Stones performing at Madison Square Garden, some post concert album editing, the cover shoot with a mule on a blocked off NYC highway bridge, and some offstage appearances from Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mirror Mirror

"Mirror Mirror" is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm Snow White fairy tale, as told from the The Queen's perspective, which piqued my interest only for the involvement of its director. With his great visual sensibility, Tarsem Singh, who has even himself griped about the inane fare being thrown his way, once more (following "Immortals") elevates an overblown, innocuous Hollywood project.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

A police convoy led by a prosecuting attorney and carrying a murder suspect travels on a dark and ominous night in search of a victim killed in a drunken rage and buried in the indistinguishable Turkish countryside. This frustrating, nightlong inquest will shed light not no much on the crime in question, but on the personal problems which have plagued its lead investigator. "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" is a hypnotic movie from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan whose acclaimed "Climates" I found to be an exercise in tedium but here crafts another measured film, this one never releasing from its grip. Ceylon creates a murky, indelible setting which is gorgeously lit and populates it with actors who deliver their point no so much with words, as with their time-worn faces. The film also contains an incredible conclusion that comes out of nowhere and subtly but surely knocks the wind out of you. With more than a few feature films in current release with lengthy running times causing audiences to fidget with their mobile devices and make early retreats to the restroom, here's one of similar length and largely devoid of action which is nonetheless relentlessly consuming.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

Mark and Jeremy (Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly) are two middle-aged brothers with a wounded relationship stemming from an Olympic style 25 event contest they created and participated in as teenagers. Brought together for a gathering at their childhood home, the siblings again take part in the epic challenge to determine once and for all who is the greatest brother. "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" is another ultra low-budget (at least it feels that way) and keenly observant film from Mark and Jay Duplass who take a break from working with big name stars and again film with a relatively unknown cast. The film is small but not slight, capturing the essence of brotherhood and making many smart and funny observations during its duration. I watched this movie with a smile on my face, as I do during most of The Duplass' films, and actually pictured my own brothers behind the camera waiting for filming to stop and eager to take up the latest fight to the death table tennis match.