Friday, October 28, 2016

The Man Who Laughs

A rival of King Edward II is executed, his son permanently disfigured with his faced surgically reworked to always bear a smile. As an adult (played by Conrad Veidt), employed by a travelling circus, he finds a nonjudgmental partner in a blind girl (Mary Philbin) and finds his destiny again intertwined with the royals who butchered him and his family. Paul Leni's silent American treatment of the Victor Hugo novel offers Veidt (who served as an inspiration for The Joker) and along with a sea of many other memorable faces not to mention outstanding sets, cinematography, and editing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Babadook

A widowed mother (Essie Davis) is coping with her unreasonable and impracticable son (Noah Wiseman) whose latest spooky bedtime book has begun to take on a life of its own. The Babadook is minimalist horror fare with virtually no scares that works as a family drama until it descends into the usual stupid genre cliches Davis is effective but the young Wiseman is so insufferable, which is intended but still doesn't make the movie any easier to take.
** out of ****

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Last House on the Left

Two teenage girls leave their rural home for a night in the city. After attending a concert, they try to score drugs but wind up in the hands of a couple of sadistic fugitives who take them on a joy ride, torturing, raping, and murdering them before winding up as guests at one of the victim's home, setting the table for an appropriately savage revenge. Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, a remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring of all movies, is exploitative trash that has begotten landfills of similar muck. However with its dippy psychedelic aura, an incongruous comedic subplot, and farcical ending, the movie achieves a camp value you wouldn't expect, even if it doesn't ultimately resemble a horror flick.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Witch

Following expulsion from their Puritan community and left to fend for themselves on a forested fallow farm, demoniac and tragic occurrences plague a proud and pious family after their infant son disappears as part of an apparent ritualistic sacrifice. Robert Eggers, drawing his debut film from first person colonial accounts of the occult, presents a parable on zealotry told entirely in an Olde English tongue that, inherent as it may be, sounds forced and unnatural. Worse, the production design and acting resemble little more than a History Channel production in what is ultimately a dressed up dumb old run of the mill horror flick.
** out of ****

Monday, October 24, 2016

Cat People/The Curse of the Cat People

In the hands of director Val Lewton, Cat People is an extremely well made, atmospheric, and even scary RKO B-Picture with a plot detailing a Serbian immigrant who morphs into a cat whenever overcome with envy. The film feels dated, containing unintentionally amusing plot elements and virtually no story to speak of but still worth seeing for its tense shock sequences. It was followed up a few years later by Curse of the Cat People, a pointless, forced, and barely related sequel that still manages to maintain a strong visual sense.

Cat People: *** out of ****
Curse of the Cat People: ** out of ****

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It Follows

After making it with her new boyfriend in the parking lot of an abandoned Detroit warehouse, a young woman finds herself drugged, tied and bound to a chair inside the structure, and informed about the STD (sexually transmitted demon) that will continue to stalk her until her demise or until she passes it along to another unsuspecting victim. David Robert Mitchell's throwback to teenager slasher flicks is well-made, eerie, and intense while doing so without a lot of gore and stretching its idiotic premise about as far as it will go.

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

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Nosferatu the Vampyre

This remake of Murnau's 1922 silent Bram Stoker adaptation tells the familiar, traditional Dracula story, while getting off to a surprisingly conventional start for a Werner Herzog flick before inevitably arriving at the jarring, unforgettable imagery. The film is stark, eerie, though not without a sense of humor and features a perfectly emotive, extraordinarily creepy (and surprisingly subdued) Klaus Kinski in the title role. Bruno Ganz is strong as the anemic Harker and Isabelle Adjani makes for a strong heroine, portraying Ganz's wife and Kinski's would be prey.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Black Cat

While on a Hungarian honeymoon, a young couple encounters a peculiar doctor (Bela Lugosi) who invites them to stay the night at the ominous castle of a Satan worshiping war criminal (Boris Karloff) who had confined the physician during the Great War and married his now deceased daughter. Edward G. Ulmer's The Black Cat, an in name only adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, is a low budget, exceedingly bizarre and amusing horror movie with expertly framed and stylistically drawn set pieces that feature Lugosi and Karloff in top form in the first motion picture that paired them together.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Lies Beneath

A woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) believing her strained marriage to a workaholic scientist (Harrison Ford) has been repaired begins seeing  spectral visions in their seaside cottage. Except for a finale that turns into a cliched slasher picture and doesn't know when to quit, Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath is a well paced, astutely crafted psychological thriller made in the best Hitchcockian traditions.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


After forging a bet with the devil that he can corrupt an innocent man, Mephisto seeks out an elderly scientist and tempts him with restoring his youth, beautiful women, and divine healing powers. F.W. Murnau's retelling of the famous folk tale and embodiment of German Expressionism is a dark, involving melodrama told with the use of incredible sets and lighting and a masterful command of camera tricks/techniques.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Green Room

After siphoning gas to make to it to their latest college radio interview and barely paying gig, a punk rock band is hooked up to play at an unbeknownst white supremacist compound bar where they accidentally walk in on a drug fueled murder, barricade themselves in a back room, and devise a plan to fight for dear life against the gathering of homicidal skinheads, led by their ruthless gang leader (Patrick Stewart) just outside the door. Like his forgoing Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is intense, violent, rurally set pulse pounding pulp with a singular screenplay that still manages to work in some nice touches. Anton Yelchin is strong in one of his final screen roles, the against type casting of Stewart is passable, and Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin, is quite good again, here in a supporting role as one of Stewart's lieutenants.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Look of Silence

An ophthalmologist who lost his brother during the Indonesian genocide of the mid-60s interviews surviving members of the regime while occasionally fitting them with glasses. Due to its personal approach and impact, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence surpasses The Act of Killinganother acclaimed documentary take on the same subject, while again focusing depraved, pathetic men while creating a discourse on human nature.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Broadway Danny Rose

Old comedians gathered in a deli to shoot the bull and relay old times begin to reminisce on Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a tireless manager of hapless acts who becomes mixed up with the mob when he becomes involved with his lounge singing client's mistress (Mia Farrow). Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose is light, amusing, and occasionally very funny with Woody in excellent form in front of the camera and aided by crisp Gordon Willis black and white cinematography.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Night Manager

An ex-special forces operative (Tom Hiddleston), now working as a concierge at a Cairo hotel, fails to protect a female guest from a billionaire arms dealer (Hugh Laurie) and is later recruited by an intelligence officer (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate his camp. Susanne Biers TV miniseries is presumably dumbed down from John Le Carre's novel and filmed with a delicacy and sensibility that must be completely antithetical to the source material. The usually amusing Tom Holliander is obnoxious in a supporting role, Colman and Elizabeth Debicki are atrocioius in key ones, and Hiddleston's only acting approach is to flash a smile or a chuckle while inhabiting a character with inexplicable motives. The screen really only lights up when graced by Laurie, who is fun to watch playing a charming, complicated baddie.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Terrorist

A teen-aged girl, the top member of her guerrilla combat squad, is selected to be a suicide bomber and target a top ranking government official. Santosh Sivan's modestly budgeted Indian export is incredibly well directed, making great use of closeups, symbols, derived from an insightful, poetic screenplay, and thankfully employs a restrained use of violence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 3, 2016


The Kray brothers, suave, ill-tempered Reggie and the mentally deranged Ron (Tom Hardy pulling double duty), rule over London's criminal underworld in the 1960s until their operation grows too large and tempers, passion, greed, and ego go unchecked. From a novice screenplay and told with unnecessary, irritating voiceover, Brian Helgeland's Legend is just one more Goodfellas knockoff to add to the pile.  It is almost worth watching for hardy's strong dual performances, though he still often seems like he is playing for laughs.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 1, 2016

She's Gotta Have It

An individualistic female feebly attempts to balance her love life consisting of three disparate, possessive suitors. Spike Lee's black and white debut feature feels free and breezy for awhile, but grows tiresome and ultimately resembles little more than an early Jarmusch knockoff. It's occasionally funny, with dialogue that leaves a lot to be desired spoken by inept though appealing performers (aside from Lee himself who would have been better off casting someone else). The film is interjected with too many stupid interludes, including a jarring color dance sequence, which indicates there wasn't enough material for a feature, and the material probably would have worked better as a short anyhow.
** 1/2 out of *****

Friday, September 30, 2016

Dazed and Confused

Following Texas High schoolers on their last day of classes in 1976, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is a spaced-out bittersweet piece of nostalgia, an American Graffiti for Generation X, The film is smartly conveived and extremely well filmed, although it grows tiresome quickly and is stocked with mostly unlikable characters, but is not without its moments.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

After an undercover Czech mission goes terribly wrong and a longstanding operative is tortured and killed, bureau chief George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is summoned from retirement to investigate a theory that a mole is present in the highest reaches of MI6. This John le Carre BBC miniseries is extremely measured, stagnant even, but worth watching for Guinness' impeccable performance.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jackie Robinson

The story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the sharecropper's son from Cairo, Georgia who became a standout athlete at UCLA and a Negro League star before being chosen to integrate the Major Leagues as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Ken Burns covered Robinson's story at length in his sweeping 1994 Baseball docuseries and thus revisits many of his same tracks in this recent four hour update while still bringing much to the table in the film's second half, which depicts the ballplayer's politically minded lesser known life after retirement. Again Burns provides a wealth of great footage and Keith David serves nicely doing narration duties, but a flood of lackluster commentators and a storytelling approach that resembles a civics lesson are major strikes on this count.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Near the turn of the 20th Century, a crackpot inventor (Woody Allen), his timid wife (Mary Steenburgen), her distinguished older cousin (Jose Ferrer), his much younger girlfriend (Mia Farrow), a hedonist doctor (Tony Roberts), and his forward thinking date (Julie Hagerty)gather for a weekend at an isolated countryside cabin where new romances bloom. Woody's riff on Smiles of a Summer Night is clunky (especially its conclusion) but still light, funny, and occasionally insightful. Roberts and Haggerty stand out in the ensemble.
*** out of ****

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rebel Without a Cause

After his latest outburst and having been uprooted and replanted by his parents in the latest suburban neighborhood, an angst ridden teen aged delinquent (James Dean) continues to drink, loiter, vandalize, and make enemies while falling in with a small clique (Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo) who experience the same feelings of alienation, the result of either aloof, over-affectionate, misunderstanding, or absent parents. It's difficult to watch Nicholas Ray's relic of a bygone era and understand the mass appeal of its time, now coming off as pretentious, phony (especially Dean), and even bizarre. Aided by some iconic sequences and its great photography.
*** out of ****

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Baby Doll

A middle aged failed cotton farmer (Karl Malden) lives in his dilapidated plantation house with his flirtatious, childlike 19-year old wife (Carroll Baker), with whom the marriage has never been consummated. When an immigrant rival (Eli Wallach) shows off his latest acquistion, a state of the art cotton gin, the wash-out sees fit to sabotage his operation leaving Baby Doll as an instrument for revenge. Eli Kazan's racy, scandalized, and very funny realization of Tennessee Williams' only original screenplay was strikingly filmed on flavorful Mississippi locations and features an atypically outlandish performance from Malden.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where the Green Ants Dream

A geologist is sent to survey a desert area in hopes of finding uranium deposits but finds his work disrupted by the aboriginal people who find even his testing procedures to be a violation of their spiritual practices. After the mining corporation's attempts to buy them off fail, the matter ends up in the hands of the local courts. Where the Green Ants Dream is peculiar and offbeat, which is expected for a movie by Werner Herzog, but lacks the mystery that surrounds his great works. It also feels cheaply made, not well thought out, hurt by an absence of a musical score, and marred by a pronounced politically correct stance.
** out of ****

Friday, September 23, 2016

Late Spring/Early Summer

Before the poignant and sorrowful Tokyo Story, Ozu's first two entries a series of family centered dramas dubbed the Noriko trilogy (in reference to the same named though separate characters portrayed by Setsuko Hara) take a strikingly similar set-up viewed from a different angle:

Late Spring tells of father's sometimes duplicitous efforts to marry off his doting near 30 year old daughter (Hara) against her wishes, and is told in the beloved director's usual contemplative, subtle manner while featuring fine performances and an incredible, low key ending. Many subtle reference depicting the westernization of Japanese culture are fascinating

In Early Summer, Hara again finds her family playing matchmaker, but instead goes out a stubborn, independent limb by favoring a recently reacquainted childhood sweetheart who does not match up to the family's standards of marriage. Filmed in beautiful greyscale, the film is sweet natured, observant, and extremely measured

Late Spring: *** 1/2 out of ****
Early Summer: *** out of ****