Movies to See Right Now

Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT

Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT

Let’s begin with six choices from my Best Movies of 2015:

  • 45 Years with Charlotte Rampling’s enthralling Oscar-nominated performance.
  • The Revenant, an awesome and authentic survival tale that must be seen on the BIG SCREEN.  I predict that The Revenant will be the biggest winner at the Oscars.
  • Creed, the newest and entirely fresh chapter in the Rocky franchise; it’s about the internal struggle of three people, not just The Big Fight.
  • The Irish romantic drama Brooklyn is an audience-pleaser with a superb performance by Saoirse Ronan.
  • Spotlight – a riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama with some especially compelling performances.
  • The Big Short – a supremely entertaining thriller – both funny and anger-provoking.

Plus two more good choices:

  • The Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino showcase for Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but a movie that’s not for everyone.
  • Carol – a vividly told tale of forbidden love.

I’m not a fan of Joy or The Danish Girl.

My Stream of the Week is the French drama In the Name of My Daughter, which uses three characters to probe the themes of obsession and betrayal. In the Name of My Daughter is available to stream from iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

It’s a really solid week at Turner Classic Movies. February 7 brings us Days of Wine and Roses, a hard-hitting and authentic exploration of alcoholism with Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. On February 8, we can watch the Bogie and Bacall noir Key Largo with a career highlight performance by the Queen of the Bs, Claire Trevor. And on February 11, TCM presents TWO versions of the melodrama The Letter, the more famous 1940 version with Bette Davis and the rarely seen 1929 version with Jeanne Eagels, the emotions-on-her-sleeve actress who died from a heroin overdose just after filming The Letter.

Jeanne Eagels in THE LETTER

Jeanne Eagels in THE LETTER

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a movie for young people about old people

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

I know that this is utterly futile, but I wish that young people will watch 45 Years.  It’s not gonna happen because young people have little interest in movies about old people.  But there’s much in 45 Years for folks in their 20s to consider as they build lifelong relationships.

It’s easy to say, “Be completely truthful and hide nothing from your partner”.  And we’ve certainly seen enough examples (even in movies, too) about the corrosiveness of familial secrets and lies.  But what about truths that are toxic and destructive?

45 Years also illustrates that you gotta live with your partner’s feelings whether justified, rational or not.  Kate herself knows that she shouldn’t blame Geoff for something before he had met her, saying, “I can hardly be cross about something before we existed, could I?….Still…”  Then there’s the question, not of what he did, but why he didn’t tell her.  And 45 Years probes what happens when the assumptions in a relationship are rocked.

Finally, here’s some rare relationship advice from The Movie Gourmet that would have aided the characters in 45 Years: If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question.

 

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MOONWALKERS: Ron Perlman, but not much else

Ron Perlman and Rupert Grint in MOONWALKERS

Rupert Grint and in MOONWALKERS

The premise of Moonwalkers is that the US Government conspired to film a simulated moon landing so, just in case something went wrong with the 1969 Moon Landing, they could bamboozle the public with a faux success.  (This, of course, is a wry joke on the conspiracy theories claiming that the historical Moon Landing was faked.)  In Moonwalkers, a burned-out CIA agent (Ron Perlman) is tapped to get Stanley Kubrick, no less, to shoot the phony movie.  Unfortunately, he happens upon precisely the wrong drug addled hustler (Rupert Grint of Harry Potter) to put him in touch with Kubrick, and a mediocre madcap comedy ensues.

Nothing much here, but it’s all in good fun, and Ron Perlman is always a hoot. Moonwalkers is available streaming from Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Stream of the Week: IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER – obsession and betrayal

Catherine Deneuve in IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER

Catherine Deneuve in IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER

The French drama In the Name of My Daughter uses three characters to probe the themes of obsession and betrayal – and all in a “based-on-facts” story.  The ever-glorious Catherine Deneuve plays a dominant and proud casino owner, even desperately proud.  Her adult daughter (Adèle Haenel) is a handful but is now vulnerable on the rebound.  Her lawyer/fixer (Guillaume Canet) is ambitious and manipulative, and he believes that his smarts entitle him to rise above his station.   Everyone FEELS betrayed and that brings on real betrayal.

Astonishingly, In the Name of My Daughter is based on a notorious true story.  The end of the story becomes a courtroom procedural.

There’s plenty of eye candy in In the Name of My Daughter, particularly a thrilling motorcycle ride through gorgeous countryside and the casino town set on the Riviera.

The leads are very good, and so is the supporting cast, especially Mercier Guerin and Mauro Conte.  There are sex scenes, but the sexiest moment is a fully clothed African dance performed by Haenel.  And there’s a wonderful French version of Under the Boardwalk.

In the Name of My Daughter is available to stream from iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Sundance 2016 and why we follow it

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

The Sundance Film Festival happened this past week and it happened without The Movie Gourmet traveling to Park City, Utah.  Nevertheless, I followed Sundance on a daily basis and here’s why – the buzz from Sundance adds a bunch of movies to my “Must Find and See” list for the coming year.

Last year’s Sundance Film Festival produced six films for my Best Movies of 2015:  #2 Wild Tales, #5 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, #4 Brooklyn, and honorable mentions I’ll See You in My Dreams, The End of the Tour and ’71.  In addition, Sundance featured several of the year’s most notable films:  The Tribe, It Follows, Tangerine, Diary of a Teenage Girl, I Smile Back and 99 Homes.

The films on the top of my 2016 Sundance Must See list are Manchester By the Sea and The Birth of a NationManchester By the Sea is from Kenneth Lonergan, who also wrote and directed the brilliant You Can Count on Me and MargaretManchester By the Sea features a reputedly searing performance by Casey Affleck; Kyle Chandler also stars.

The Birth of a Nation, which won the top prize at the fest, is the story of the slave rebellion chronicled in The Confessions of Nat Turner, written and directed by and starring the actor Nate Parker.   Believe it or not, both movies are ALREADY generating 2016 Oscar buzz.

This year, Amazon and Netflix, to the consternation of the movie studios, aggressively shopped for Sundance indies.  Amazon bought Manchester By the Sea and, although The Birth of a Nation was bought by Fox Searchlight, Netflix drove up the price.

Sundance is also usually especially rich with documentaries.  Last year’s haul included Listen to Me Marlon, What Happened Miss Simone?, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Welcome to Leith, The Hunting Ground, Prophet’s Prey, Going Clear: The Prison of Belief, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Finders Keepers, Hot Girls Wanted and Cartel Land.  In other words, Amy, The Look of Silence and Hitchcock/Truffaut were the only major 2015 documentaries that did NOT play Sundance.

This year’s top doc at Sundance was Weiner, an inside look at the Anthony Weiner mayoral campaign that collapsed on his bafflingly gross tweets and sexts.  Mrs. Weiner is Huma Abedin, a longtime top aide to another Famously Wronged Woman, Hillary Clinton. Prepare to cringe.

Nate Parker (center) in THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Nate Parker (center) in THE BIRTH OF A NATION

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Movies to See Right Now

Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

This weekend  45 Years becomes the final film on my Best Movies of 2015 to have been released in the Bay Area. Don’t miss Charlotte Rampling’s enthralling Oscar-nominated performance.  And five more from my 2015 list:

  • The Revenant, an awesome and authentic survival tale that must be seen on the BIG SCREEN.
  • Creed, the newest and entirely fresh chapter in the Rocky franchise; it’s about the internal struggle of three people, not just The Big Fight.
  • The Irish romantic drama Brooklyn is an audience-pleaser with a superb performance by Saoirse Ronan.
  • Spotlight – a riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama with some especially compelling performances.
  • The Big Short – a supremely entertaining thriller – both funny and anger-provoking.

Plus two more good choices:

  • The Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino showcase for Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but a movie that’s not for everyone.
  • Carol – a vividly told tale of forbidden love.

I’m not a fan of Joy or The Danish Girl.

My Stream of the Week is the riveting German psychodrama Phoenix with its WOWZER ending. Phoenix is one of my Best Movies of 2015. It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

This Sunday, January 31, Turner Classic Movies presents the ultra-suspenseful Diabolique from “the French Hitchcock” Henri-Georges Clouzot and the American film noir Phantom Lady, with Elisha Cook, Jr.’s orgasmic drumming scene – how did they get THAT by the censors?

Also this week on TCM: Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting, The Third Man, Cool Hand Luke, East of Eden, The Dirty Dozen.

Elisha Cook, Jr. and a nice of gams in PHANTOM LADY

Elisha Cook, Jr. and some nice gams in PHANTOM LADY

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45 YEARS: you can’t unring the bell

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

Tom Courtneay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

Here’s a movie on my Best Movies of 2015 list with an enthralling Oscar-nominated performance by Charlotte Rampling. In the quietly engrossing drama 45 Years, we meet the married couple Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Rampling), a well-suited pair who share each others’ values sensibilities and senses of humor.  They are planning a party to mark their 45th anniversary when Geoff learns that the body of his previous girlfriend (killed in a mountain climbing accident 47 years ago ) has been found preserved in ice.  He is knocked for a loop, and then slides into complete shock.  He becomes brooding, even obsessed about his old flame and his youth.

Kate tries to settle Geoff and be supportive.  But she learns one thing about his old flame, and then a second, and suddenly she’s the one who become the most troubled.  She says, “I can hardly be cross about something before we existed, could I?….Still…”  She asks him a question that she shouldn’t have.   Her feelings may or may not be justified or rational, but they are her feelings, and they become the facts on the ground.

Geoff is usually the one who gets to burst out with his feelings, and Kate cleans up after.  But Kate’s feelings are so much more complicated than Geoff’s.

45 Years meditates on the power and durability of memories and then shifts into a study of relationships.  We see intimacy without the sharing of all truths, and see how the truth can be toxic and destructive.  We live based on assumptions, and when those are revealed to be not fully correct, well, you can’t unring the bell.  Camera Cinema Club Director Tim Sika overheard a critic colleague describe 45 Years thus, “It’s about nothing until you realize that’s it’s about everything”.

Writer-director Andrew Haigh is a brilliant storyteller.  He lets the audience connect the dots.  Our involvement in 45 Years intensifies as we piece together the back story and as the characters learn about new developments.  There’s a wonderful undercoating of early 60s pop, a great soundtrack that avoids seeming like a jukebox.

Charlotte Rampling is marvelous and gives one of the greatest performances of the year in cinema.   Rampling is most searing in Kate’s unspoken moments, in which we see her anguish, amusement, unease, radiance and heartbreak.  It’s remarkable that such emotional turbulence can be portrayed without a hint of melodrama.

Before you see 45 Years, I’d suggest a careful reading of the lyrics to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Can not be denied

They, said some day you’ll find
All who love are blind
When you heart’s on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes

So I chaffed them, and I gaily laughed
To think they would doubt our love
And yet today, my love has gone away
I am without my love

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

[SPOILER ALERT – I think that the tipping point in their relationship occurs when Kate says, “Open your eyes”.]

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Stream of the week: PHOENIX – riveting psychodrama, wowzer ending

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX

In the German psychological drama Phoenix, Nina Hoss plays Nelly, an Auschwitz survivor whose face has been destroyed by a Nazi gunshot; her sister has arranged for plastic surgery to reconstruct her face. When Nelly gets her new face, we accompany her on an intense quest.

Writer-director Christian Petzhold is an economical story-teller, respectful of the audience’s intelligence. Watching a border guard’s reaction to her disfigurement and hearing snippets from the sister and the plastic surgeon, we gradually piece together her back story. The doctor asks what seems like a very good question – Why would a Jewish woman successfully rooted in London return to Germany in 1938? The answer to that question involves a Woman Loving Too Much.

The sister plans to re-settle both of them in Israel, but Nelly is obsessed with finding her husband. She does find her husband, who firmly believes that Nelly is dead. But he notes that the post-surgery Nelly resembles his pre-war wife, and he has a reason to have her impersonate the real Nelly. So he has the real Nelly (who he doesn’t think IS the real Nelly) pretending to be herself. It’s kind of a reverse version of The Return of Martin Guerre.

It’s the ultimate masquerade. How would you feel while listening to your spouse describe you in detail to a stranger?

Nina Hoss is an uncommonly gifted actress. Here she acts with her face fully bandaged for the first third of the film. We ache for her Nelly’s obsessive need for her husband – and when she finally finds him, but she still doesn’t really have him.

As the husband, Ronald Zehfeld shows us the magnetism that attracts Nina, along with the brusque purposefulness that he thinks he needs to survive and flourish in the post-war Germany.

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborated on the recent film Barbara (he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for his work). About Barbara, I wrote

“Given that’s it difficult to imagine how anyone else could have improved Barbara, I’ll be looking for Petzold’s next movie.”

Well, here it is, and it’s gripping.

The ending of the film is both surprising and satisfying. Several people in my audience let out an audible “Wow!” at the same time.

Phoenix is one of my Best Movies of 2015.  It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

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Movies to See Right Now

Walton Goggins in THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Walton Goggins in THE HATEFUL EIGHT

You can see five movies from my final list of Best Movies of 2015 in theaters this week.  This is a list of the very best 21 of the 155 2015 movies that I’ve seen.

  • The Revenant, an awesome and authentic survival tale that must be seen on the BIG SCREEN.
  • Creed, the newest and entirely fresh chapter in the Rocky franchise; it’s about the internal struggle of three people, not just The Big Fight.
  • The Irish romantic drama Brooklyn is an audience-pleaser with a superb performance by Saoirse Ronan.
  • Spotlight – a riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama with some especially compelling performances.
  • The Big Short – a supremely entertaining thriller – both funny and anger-provoking.
  • (a sixth top film, 45 Years, will be released in the Bay Area next week.)

Two more choices:

  • The Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino showcase for Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but a movie that’s not for everyone.
  • Carol – a vividly told tale of forbidden love.

I’m not a fan of Joy or The Danish Girl.

My DVD/Stream of the week is the space adventure The Martian – with all the best that a Hollywood movie can offer.  You can rent The Martian on DVD from Netflix now and from Redbox on February 9.  You can stream it on Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On January 26, Turner Classic Movies screens Spike Lee’s debut feature She’s Gotta Have It. Watch for Spike himself supplying the comic relief as the unforgettable Mars Blackmon. I still remember going to the theater in 1986 on the recommendation of Siskel & Ebert and feeling so excited about discovering a talented new auteur.

Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee in SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT

Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee in SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT

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DVD/Stream of the Week: THE MARTIAN – an entertaining Must See

Matt Damon in THE MARTIAN

Matt Damon in THE MARTIAN

The space adventure The Martian delivers what the best big Hollywood movies can offer – a great looking movie that convincingly takes us to a place we’ve never been, inhabited by our favorite movie stars at their most appealing.

In The Martian, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a member of a scientific expedition to Mars who is (understandingly) left for dead when his team must make an emergency escape from the Red Planet. The next manned mission to Mars is scheduled to land four years later 1000 miles away and he only has a four months supply of food, so his chances don’t look promising. But Mark Watney is a character of irrepressible resilience, with a wicked sense of humor, and he immediately embarks on solving the many individual problems that stand between him and survival. NASA leadership (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean and more) and his team en route back to Earth (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena) all try to help.

Directed masterfully by Ridley Scott, The Martian pops along and there’s never a dull moment. It helps that the character of Watney is very funny.

I’m not highly scientifically literate, but the science in The Martian seemed to be at least internally consistent. I do think that – in real life – the NASA team would have immediately come to the solution thought up in the movie by the geek in the Jet Propulsion Lab.

The awesomely desolate Marscapes are fantastic. It’s all CGI, but you can’t tell – it looks like it is shot on location.

Here’s why The Martian isn’t a great movie:

  • Other than Damon’s Mark Watney, the other characters are types, getting all of their authentic texture from the performances instead of from the writing.
  • Never for a moment does the audience think there’s any chance that The Martian is really going to kill off Matt Damon.

But, overall, The Martian is so entertaining, it’s a Must See – even for folks that usually pass on science fiction.  You can rent The Martian on DVD from Netflix now and from Redbox on February 9.  You can stream it on Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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