Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Blues

The Blues is an seven part series presented by several accomplished filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Charles Burnett, Mike Figgis, and Clint Eastwood who document the distinct American art form from its origins in West Africa which made its way through the slave trade to the Mississippi Delta and continuing right up until the present day. Each episode takes a different approach on the same subject, which tends to grow redundant as the series progresses, but is worth watching for its wealth of performances which range from B.B. King, Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck, Dr. John, and Van Morrison in addition to the amazing archival footage. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Trouble with Harry

Several members of a scenic Vermont town stumble upon a corpse in the woods, each with different motives and suggestions for disposing of it. The Trouble with Harry is light and playful, and isn't exactly what you'd expect from an Alfred Hitchcock film. However while many of his classic offerings tap into his fears and obsessions, perhaps this work is the one most attuned to his playful, mischievous personality. It also features bucolic Vermont location shooting and fun early performances from a young Shirley MacLaine and Edmund Gwenn of Miracle on 34th Street fame. While the wrap-up is a little too neat and satisfying, there are many sincere laughs to be had throughout the rest of its duration.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Basic Instinct

Several murders in the San Francisco area follow the same pattern as the killings in the erotic novels of a  steamy blonde author (Sharon Stone) who lures a police detective (Michael Douglas) on the case who may be in way too deep for his own good. Basic Instinct is a sleek, often dumb, occasionally intelligent thriller whose many sex scenes are as often unappealing as they are provocative. Stone delivers a soundly confident performance, Douglas' is a mixed bag as he seems to struggle with the heated scenes, and every story angle or scene spotlighting Jeanne Tripplehorn is completely awful. Paul Verhoeven's film attempts to channel classic San Fran movies such as Vertigo and Bullitt, and does so successfully, and then offers a conclusion that is supposed to end things on an ambiguous note, that comes off as more idiotic than anything.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Crimes and Misdemeanors

An esteemed ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) is thrust into a crisis when his needy mistress (Anjelica Huston) threatens to expose their affair to his loving wife, an act of desperation that pushes him to his moral brink. In separate developments, a struggling documentarian (Woody Allen) takes on much needed work from his insufferable, far more successful brother-in-law (Alan Alda) who gradually steals away his editor and girl of his dreams (Mia Farrow). With Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen offers not one but two great movies, one tragic and thought provoking, the other highly comedic, which despite a partially intersecting finale, do not exist solely and stupidly for the sake of one another as in many similarly plotted modern movies. Landau has the role of a lifetime and Allen and Alda are absolutely hysterical as bitter rivals.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Red River

While dreaming of owning a booming cattle ranch with his cantankerous right hand man (Walter Brennan), a seasoned and insistent cowherder (John Wayne) takes in a young boy (played as an adult by Montgomery Clift) whose wagon party has been slaughtered by Indians. As time passes and the cowboy's dream has been fulfilled, he sees to drive his massive heard on an onerous trek through South Texas to get top dollar for his stock and finds opposition from his protege when his methods are viewed as no less than dictatorial. Howard Hawks' dark and ambitious western features excellent performances from Wayne (extremely brooding) and Clift and two extraordinary montage sequences in his study of commanding respect versus demanding it. The Joanne Dru character, who is tackily introduced to resolve the central conflict, does not hamper an otherwise superiorly made classic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


1930s L.A. private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is drawn into a routine and seemingly simple case of adultery involving the director of the water department and his steamy and fragile wife (Faye Dunaway). When the politico is found murdered, the investigatory trail takes on serpentine and overarching proportions, all leading to Dunaway's nefarious, ruthless businessman father (John Huston). Chinatown boasts one of the cinema's all-time great screenplays courtesy of Robert Towne which throws in everything but the kitchen sink and barely leaves you hanging from a thread. Roman Polanski's direction is masterful (his cameo as a knife wielding hood is memorable also), Nicholson and Dunaway are in top form, and legendary helmer Huston is potently menacing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Boyhood chronicles the coming of age life journey of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), originating with his wayfaring childhood in east and central Texas as he copes with the anguish of a broken home, splitting time between two loving but flawed parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and continuing as he burgeons into a talented though detached adult. Filmed over the course of twelve years, Richard Linklater's passion project is an always enthralling voyage whose sheer vision and scope overcomes portions of the story that should suffer from lulls and overlength, and owes a lot to the fortified performances of Arquette and Hawke and some inspired dialogue and adventitiously captured moments. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

For a documentary on his latest book release, a writer (Tom Wilkinson) recalls his 1968 visit to the titular mountainous lodge where his younger self (played now by Jude Law) interviews the mysterious owner (F. Murray Abraham) who fondly recalls his days as a bellboy under a rascally yet noble concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and their dastardly misadventures during the German invasion. The Grand Budapest Hotel marks both a maturation and a regression of sorts for Wes Anderson, containing exemplary cinematography in which his murky and expectedly overly quirky story often gets lost--a return to the style over substance form that dominated his earlier films. Fiennes turns in a commanding and engaging lead performance while some of the many character actors make memorable turns (I particularly liked Adrian Brody and Willem Dafoe as a pair of sinister brothers) while others such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson barely serve a purpose and seem like they just showed up for the catering.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

A half-Chechnyan, half-Russian immigrant washes ashore on the docks of Hamburg, Germany and is immediately taken note of by the head of an anti-terror unit (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who hopes to use this potential threat as bait to fry a bigger fish, that is if his superiors and a visiting American emissary (Robin Wright) don't get in his way. A Most Wanted Man, an adaptation of a recent John le Carre novel, is a bit of a tease for its genre, often drumming up the suspense music and offering little payoff while Anton Corbijn, a filmmaker who has offered strong work in the past (Control, The American) mostly lets the movie sit on the screen, often to the point of tedium. It features one of the final performances of Hoffman (I think the final Hunger Games pictures where we will see him partly CGI'd will be his last) and it is a commanding one though I wasn't wild about his German accent nor that of Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams and the other Americans in the cast.