Sunday, November 27, 2016

Loving

A white bricklayer and amateur drag racer (Joel Edgerton) builds a home in segregated rural Virginia and travels to Washington, D.C. to wed his black wife (Ruth Negga). Soon they find themselves dragged from their home, jailed, and charged under an anti-miscegenation law, a case that would eventually get picked up by the ACLU and lead to a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision. In telling the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Jeff Nichols curiously opts for a leisurely approach, forgoing drama, characterization, and narrative drive resulting in a bland, disappointing outing. Edgerton and Negga give it an admirable go but simply are just not given enough to work with.
** out of ****

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Short Cuts

A man and his fishing buddies refuse to let a dead body ruin their weekend expedition, the revelation leaving his wife not knowing how to respond; a baker harasses a couple remiss in picking up a cake for their son, not knowing that the boy was just involved in a serious car accident; a phone sex operator's line of work secretly frustrates her husband; a philandering cop's extracurricular activities only amuse his knowing wife while he attempts to rid himself of the yelping family dog and carries on with a miserable single mother being targeted by her jealous ex. These are just of few of the stories that comprise Robert Altman's ambitious intersecting LA set anthology drawn from a sampling of Raymond Carver's short stories. While not all the threads are woven into a satisfying patchwork, the ending feels somewhat cheap, and the changes to the Carver stories aren't always an improvement, it is such an impressive, observant assemblage featuring a sprawling, talented cast and the kind of picture that puts today's "interconnected/hyperlinked" movies to shame.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Purple Rose of Cairo

A bored waitress, trapped in a loveless marriage to a no good drunken lout (Danny Aiello) in Depression era Brooklyn, seeks daily escape at her local cinema when one day the star (Jeff Daniels) of the latest trivial adventure romance walks right off the screen to sweep her off her feet while throwing the studios, the media, and her personal life into complete chaos. Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo is charming, whimsical, creative, and modestly funny. Farrow is lovely, Daniels excellent in dual role (also playing the actor trying to track down his rogue character), and Aiello is strong in support.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Address

A year in the life of severely learning disabled students at the specialized Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont who are required to recite The Gettysburg Address verbatim at the end of the term. I feel like a heel digging into this documentary, and yes the students and staff seem genuine, but this resembles the kind of amateurish pap meant to "inspire" first year college students in a teaching program. As for Ken Burns, while sneaking in Civil War photos and giving a haphazard summation of that campaign, this kind of project seems beneath him. To be fair, the final speeches and a field trip to the battleground were impressive.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Leolo

Jean-Claude Lauzon's imaginative film grows on you, is even moving in segments, but is told in a pretentious, philosophical tone with a depraved, scatological, international sense of humor that feels like a mashup of Salo and a Roberto Benigni movie. Leolo raises a question in how far brownie points should go in terms of originality and creativity for receiving a movie and I imagine that some will find it more endearing than others.
** 1/2 out of ****


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nanook of the North

In 1914, explorer Robert J Flaherty decided to document an Inuit family he had befriended along the Hudson Bay area in Canada and, in doing so, essentially pioneered a brand new form of nonfiction filmmaking. His silent documentary features memorable scene after memorable scene and remarkable footage of an enchanting sept. Impressive for its time or any time for that matter and its influence is incalculable.
**** out of ****

Monday, October 31, 2016

What We Do in the Shadows

A centuries old clan of vampires deal with the day to day rigors of urban life in modern New Zealand while preparing to attend the annual monster's society ball, always a smash social event. Matters are however complicated when an intended, uncouth victim is unintentionally turned into one of their own and an archenemy is unexpectedly chosen as master of ceremonies for the masquerade. Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords's Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows is a brilliantly conceived and, from costumes to staging to approach, supremely executed mockumentary that ranges from amusing to often hilarious.
**** out of ****

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tales of Terror/The Raven

Tales of Terror and The Raven were two in a succession of early 60s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman, both of which featured Vincent Price (which was par for the course for most of these other collaborations). Tales of Terror is a well-crafted, generally excellent, and often very funny presentation of three short stories (Morella, The Black Cat, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar) as concocted by Richard Matheson. Peter Lorre is hilarious, Basil Rathbone is very effective, and Price is great in all three shorts. The Raven is a goofy fabrication presented as straightforward comedy and using the famed poem only really as a springboard. The picture runs out of steam, but still is rather riotous with Boris Karloff and again Lorre and Price all a hoot.

Tales of Terror: *** 1/2 out of ****
The Raven: *** out of ****

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Frailty

A shaken and disturbed man (Matthew McConnaughey) relays a harrow tale to a fascinated FBI agent (Powers Boothe) of how, during his childhood, his working class father (Bill Paxton) became possessed with religious fervor and set off on a series of divinely inspired pick-axe executions, including both him and his kid brother in the grisly affair. Frailty is bother well-crafted and excellently acted by director Paxton, with an alternately harrowing and ludicrous take on zealotry and mental illness that goes exactly where you expect it to go before taking several wild and confusing turns. A tasteful approach to the onscreen violence is appreciated.

** ½ out of ****

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

Faust

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

Legend

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 ****