Movies to See Right Now

Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD

Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD

OK – it’s the Labor Day weekend – we all have three days off and a need to seek an air-conditioned theater.  So there’s just no excuse if you haven’t yet seen these movies on my list of Best Movies of 2014 – So Far:

  • Alive Inside: The profoundly moving documentary showing Alzheimer patients being pulled out of isolation by music.
  • Feedback from my readers is almost unanimous – Richard Linklater’s family drama Boyhood is a special movie experience – and possibly the best film of the decade.
  • The mesmerizing drama Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson again teams with John Michael McDonagh, the writer-director of The Guard.

I really liked The One I Love - a relationship romance, a dark comedy and a modern day episode of The Twilight Zone rolled into one successful movie. Don’t miss Philip Seymour Hoffman’s explosive final performance in the John le Carré espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man.

I was disappointed by the tiresome Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  I nodded off during Woody Allen’s disappointing romantic comedy of manners Magic in the Moonlight.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Go For Sisters , a border thriller with three more great movie characters from master indie writer-director John Sayles.  Go for Sisters is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Netflix Instant, Amazon and Vudu.

On September 1, TCM is airing The Crying Game – with one of the great movie plot twists of all time and one of my Best Films About the Troubles (Northern Ireland).

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

THE ONE I LOVE: a relationship enters the Twilight Zone

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in THE ONE I LOVE

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in THE ONE I LOVE

Opening tomorrow, The One I Love is one of the year’s most original stories – a romance, dark comedy and sci-fi fable rolled into one successful movie.  Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple in that place in their relationship where quirks have become annoying instead of endearing, some trust issues have emerged and the two are just generally misfiring.  Their couples therapist recommends a weekend at an idyllic, isolated vacation cottage, which also has a second (presumably unoccupied) guest house.  The beautiful setting is enhanced by a bottle of wine and a reefer, and the desired rekindling of romance and intimacy occurs.  So everything goes as we would expect for this first nine minutes of the movie, and then – WOW – a major plot development that involves the guest house.

As soon as one of the characters explicitly references TV’s The Twilight Zone, the story becomes what would have been a perfect episode in that Rod Steiger series.  Screenwriter Justin Lader pulls off a What’s Gonna Happen Next? story that has its moments of creepy thriller and madcap comedy.  But, at its heart, the story explores these questions:  what is it about our partners that keeps us in or drives us out of a relationship?  How do we stay in love with someone who has changed from who we fell in love with?  Or who hasn’t become the person we had projected?  The One I Love is only 91 minutes, so the tension and the thoughtfulness can slowly build while keeping us on the edges of our seats.

Moss and Duplass are simply remarkable here – these are two great performances.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT: Both Duplass and Moss play other characters in this movie – and they excel at creating subtle differences in the characters that are revealing, thought-provoking and scary.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR : how could so much sex and violence be so tiresome?

Eva Green in the poster for FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

Eva Green in the poster for FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

Wow, was this ever a disappointment. I loved the first Sin City from co-directors Richard Rodriguez and Frank Miller (the graphic novelist).  And I’m in Sin City’s prime target audience because I love noir sensibility, hard-boiled dialogue and stylized violence in my movies.  But Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is just not engaging.

None of the three story threads is particularly thrilling.  The dialogue is so consistently lurid that it’s just overblown. Powers Boothe – always a wonderful villain – snarls his menacing smile so often that we expect him to grow mustaches and twirl them.  The movie violence is of the splatter variety, and the bloodbath unleashed by Rosario Dawson and Jamie Chung is just silly.  The ultra-sympathetic Denis Haybert is miscast as a monstrous superthug.  Jessica Alba does a convincing job as a stripper but not as an alcoholic.

The whole thing is a stunning waste of a fantastic cast, including Boothe, Haybert, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple and Christopher Meloni. In particular, Meloni and Liotta are not given much to do.  Temple shines as usual as a mistress-for-hire, and Christopher Lloyd sparkles as a particularly unsanitary surgeon.

One remarkable thing – Eva Green (whose character is The Dame to Kill For) plays much of the movie in full frontal (and back and side view) nudity; I can’t remember seeing the body of a major female star displayed so clinically. Now she looks really good naked, but the sheer screen time of her nudity is unusual.  Of course all the women in the movie are objectified – and other than Green’s malevolent and slutty femme fatale, Alba’s stripper, and Temple’s mistress, the female characters are all prostitutes.

If you like noir, then the film looks great: almost all black-and-white except for, occasionally, cherry red cars and vivid lipstick, hair and dresses on the women.  The best I can say about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that it’s nasty, brutish and 102 minutes short.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD/Stream of the Week: GO FOR SISTERS: three more great characters from John Sayles

go for sistersMy favorite indie writer-director John Sayles has created three more wonderful characters in Go for Sisters. Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton from Men of a Certain Age and Jackie Brown) is a no-nonsense parole officer. Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) is an ex-con fighting to maintain her sobriety through minimum wage jobs in a drug-filled neighborhood. Freddy (Edward James Olmos) is an unfairly disgraced cop who is almost blind from macular degeneration. Bernice and Fontayne were high school friends who took different paths. Bernice’s adult son has gotten involved in some illegal activity, and when he disappears, Bernice need Fontayne’s street connections to help find him. They need to enlist Freddy, and soon the three are off on a chase back and forth through the underworld on both sides of the US-Mexico border. All three characters are emotionally damaged from personal loss – and all three are fighting through their pain.

Go for Sisters is in the construct of a thriller, but it’s not the greatest thriller around, although Sayles gets what he can from a radio tracking device and an attempted miggung in a Tijuana dildo shop. What makes Go for Sister – and all of Sayles’ films – worthwhile is the characters. We’ve never met these individuals before, but they are believable and we care about them. Excellent acting from the three stars helps a lot. (And there’s a nice scene with Hector Elizondo.)

This is minor Sayles – it doesn’t compare to Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, The Secret of Roan Inish, City of Hope or his 1996 masterpiece Lone Star. Still, it’s a solid character driven film and great video choice. Go for Sisters is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Netflix Instant, Amazon and Vudu.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

D.O.A.: racing the clock to solve his own murder

Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A.

Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A.

On August 27, Turner Classic Movies has the gripping film noir whodunit D.O.A., which opens with a man walking into a police station to report HIS OWN MURDER. The man (Edmond O’Brien) finds out that he has been dosed with a poison for which there is no antidote – and that he has only a few days to live. He desperately races the clock to find out who has murdered him and why – all in a taut 83 minutes. Much of D.O.A. was shot on location in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and one SF scene has one of the first cinematic glimpses into Beat culture. The little known director Rudolph Maté gave the film a great look, which shouldn’t be a surprise because Maté had been Oscar-nominated five times as a cinematographer. The next year, he followed D.O.A. with another solid noir, Union Station, with William Holden and Barry Fitzgerald.

(This 1950 version with Edmond O’Brien is the one you want to see; avoid the 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.)

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies to See Right Now

Dan Cohen (RightI in ALIVE INSIDE

ALIVE INSIDE

Last night I saw Alive Inside for the second time, this time with The Wife, and it was as profoundly moving as the first screening.  This documentary showing Alzheimer patients being pulled out of isolation by music is on my list of Best Movies of 2014 – So Far (along with three other movies in this post – Boyhood, Calvary and Locke).

Other top picks:

  • Feedback from my readers is almost unanimous – Richard Linklater’s family drama Boyhood is a special movie experience – and possibly the best film of the decade.
  • The mesmerizing drama Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson again teams with John Michael McDonagh, the writer-director of The Guard.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman’s explosive final performance in the John le Carré espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man.

The sci fi thriller Snowpiercer is both thoughtful and exciting, plus it features amazing production design; you can also stream Snowpiercer on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and DirecTV.   Lucy is a Scarlet Johansson action vehicle that rocks.  I nodded off during Woody Allen’s disappointing romantic comedy of manners Magic in the Moonlight.

There’s also an assortment of recent releases to Video on Demand:

  • I loved the rockin’ Spanish Witching and Bitching – a witty comment on misogyny inside a madcap horror spoof, which you can stream on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Xbox Video.
  • The oddly undisturbing documentary A Brony Tale, about grown men with very unusual taste in television shows. Brony Tale is available streaming on iTunes.
  • The Congress: a thoughtful live action fable followed by a less compelling an animated sci fi story. The Congress is available streaming on iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • Robert Duvall’s geezer-gone-wild roadtrip in A Night in Old Mexico. A Night in Old Mexico is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

My DVD/Stream of the week is Locke, a thriller about responsibility – and it’s also on my list of the year’s best so far.  Locke is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

It’s another good week for film noir coming up on Turner Classic Movies.

  • On August 25, TCM will air the 1944 Murder, My Sweet. Rebelling against being typecast in the sappy musical roles that he knew he was aging out of, Dick Powell took on the role of hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe and knocked it out of the park. He rejuvenated his own career in a similar arc to what we’ve recently seen from Alec Baldwin and Matthew McConaughey.
  • The Hitch-hiker (August 27 on TCM) is notable for being the first film noir directed by a woman (the veteran noir actress Ida Lupino). The ruthless bad guy is played by William Talman, who Baby Boomers will remember as the luckless District Attorney Hamilton Burger on TV’s Perry Mason – kind of a proto-Wiley Coyote.
  • I’m going to be featuring the noir thriller D.O.A. in a post on Monday.
Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD/Stream of the week: LOCKE: a thriller about responsibility

lockeThe thriller Locke is about an extremely responsible guy (Tom Hardy) who has made one mistake – and he’s trying to make it right. But trying to do the responsible thing in one part of your life can have uncomfortable consequences in the others. The title character drives all night trying to keep aspects of his life from crashing and burning.

In fact, he never leaves the car and, for the entire duration of the movie, we only see his upper body, his eyes in the rearview mirror, the dashboard and the roadway lit by his headlights. All the other characters are voiced – he talks to them on the Bluetooth device in his BMW. Sure, that’s a gimmick – but it works because it complements the core story about the consequences of responsibility.

Locke is written and directed by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises). The story is actually a domestic drama – there are no explosions to dodge, no one in peril to rescue and no bad guys to dispatch. But it’s definitely a thriller because we care about whether Locke meets the two deadlines he will face early the next morning.

It’s a masterful job of film editing by Justine Wright (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland). After all, her cuts help keep us on the edge of our seats, despite her working with a very finite variety of shots (Locke’s eyes, the dashboard, etc.).

Hardy, who’s known as an action star, is excellent at portraying this guy who must try to keep his family, biggest career project and self-respect from unraveling at the same time, only armed with his ability to persuade others. It’s a fine film.  Locke is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies to See Right Now

Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly in CALVARY

Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly in CALVARY

Feedback from my readers is almost unanimous – Richard Linklater’s family drama Boyhood is a special movie experience – and possibly the best film of the decade. But two other movies that are ALSO on my list of Best Movies of 2014 – So Far are also in theaters:

  • The emotionally gripping documentary Alive Inside, showing Alzheimer patients being pulled out of isolation by music. This will be one of the two favorites for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
  • The mesmerizing drama Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson again teams with John Michael McDonagh, the writer-director of The Guard.

Boyhood and Alive Inside, in particular, are MUST SEEs. Don’t miss them.

Also in theaters:

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman’s explosive final performance in the John le Carré espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man.
  • The sci fi thriller Snowpiercer is both thoughtful and exciting, plus it features amazing production design. You can also stream Snowpiercer on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and DirecTV.
  • Lucy – a Scarlet Johansson action vehicle that rocks.

I nodded off during Woody Allen’s disappointing romantic comedy of manners Magic in the Moonlight.

There’s also an assortment of recent releases to Video on Demand:

          • I loved the rockin’ Spanish Witching and Bitching – a witty comment on misogyny inside a madcap horror spoof, which you can stream on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Xbox Video.
          • Life Itself, the affectionate but not worshipful documentary on movie critic Ebert’s groundbreaking career, courageous battle against disease and uncommonly graceful death Life Itself is streaming on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.
          • The oddly undisturbing documentary A Brony Tale, about grown men with very unusual taste in television shows. Brony Tale is available streaming on iTunes.
          • The Congress: a thoughtful live action fable followed by a less compelling an animated sci fi story. The Congress is available streaming on iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
          • Robert Duvall’s geezer-gone-wild roadtrip in A Night in Old Mexico. A Night in Old Mexico is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET

This week Turner Classic Movies is featuring Pickup on South Street, an entertaining Sam Fuller film noir with a protagonist thief (Richard Widmark) who pocket picks himself into being targeted by a Commie spy ring. And then there’s the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, where Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman trapped in her apartment by a gang of thugs led by a psychotic Alan Arkin in his breakout movie role.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lauren Bacall: talkin’ sexy

Lauren Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

Lauren Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.

That’s how Lauren Bacall broke into the movies – getting Humphrey Bogart’s attention in To Have and Have Not and rendering him speechless.  Her chemistry with Bogie sparked a run of classic cinema: To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).  Because of her, these are the sexiest Bogart movies.  She was a 19-year-old supermodel when it started, and by Key Largo,  was the 23-year-old Mrs. Bogart.  Today, stars of the 30s and 40s often seem older than their ages (maybe all those cigarettes?), and, to me, she looks 19 goin’ on 30 in To Have and Have Not.

That on-screen chemistry was for real, and Bacall remained Bogart’s partner for fourteen years until his death.  Her later films, without Bogart, never had the same power, but in 1976 she was an effective and poignant choice to match with the dying John Wayne in The Shootist.

Bacall had a gift for delivering sexy dialogue in hardboiled movies.  (Maybe only since matched by Sharon Stone, Kathleen Turner and a few others.)  Here Bacall’s Vivian Sternwood banters with Bogie’s Philip Marlowe.

Vivian: Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them workout a little first, see if they’re front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run.

Marlowe: Find out mine?

Vivian: I think so.

Marlowe: Go ahead.

Vivian: I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.

Marlowe: You don’t like to be rated yourself.

Vivian: I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?

Marlowe: Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how, how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.

Share
Posted in Rants and Ruminations | Tagged | 1 Comment

DVD/Stream of the Week: Robin Williams’ finest performance

This brilliant scene (above) from Aladdin (mostly improvised) showcases Robin Williams’ comic genius – irrepressible until yesterday. Taking in Williams’ rapid fire torrents of creativity was often like standing in front of a fire hose, but in a good way.

Williams was in a bunch of fine movies – Moscow on the Hudson, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Deconstructing Harry, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia and The Face of Love. Even though he won an acting Oscar for Good Will Hunting, his best performance was as a character very much unlike Robin Williams – the frighteningly contained Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo. Nothing seems more ordinary and harmless than this guy in a drugstore vest at the photo stand, but Sy’s building obsession with a family of customers – a family completely oblivious to his preoccupation with them – goes from uneasy to chilling to terrifying.  One Hour Photo is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Xbox Video and on FHEsearchlightconnect on YouTube.

Share
Posted in Rants and Ruminations, Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment