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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Don’t miss special showings of ALIVE INSIDE at Campbell’s Camera 7

Dan Cohen (RightI in ALIVE INSIDE

Dan Cohen (Right) in ALIVE INSIDE

Bay Area readers: If you’re going to take my advice and see the emotionally powerful and Oscar-worthy Alive Inside this weekend, try to attend one of the special screenings at Camera 7 Pruneyard in Campbell. Dan Cohen, the founder of Music & Memory, the non-profit that  pulls Alzheimer’s patients out of their isolation with gifts of iPods, will take Q&As after the 2:30 and 4:45 shows on Saturday, August 9.  Director Michael Rossato-Bennett will be present after the 2:30 and 4:45 shows on Sunday, August 10.  And Camera 7 is collecting any music players that you may wish to donate to Music & Memory.

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Movies to See Right Now – more than one MUST SEE

Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD

Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD

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 open this weekend:

  • 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 smart and entertaining I Origins, which works both as a scientific detective story and as a meditation on romance.
  • The quirky comedy Land Ho!, with an uproarious and yet genuine geezer road trip to Iceland.
  • 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.
  • The credible and politically important HBO documentary The Newburgh Sting, which exposes the FBI’s manufacture of a fake terrorist attack to arrest some New York dumbasses. It’s playing on HBO.

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.
        • The art vs. technology documentary Tim’s Vermeer is a yawner.

One of my all-time favorite comedies, Twentieth Century, shows up on Turner Classic Movies on August 10. The next day, TCM will air The Wild One and The Gold Rush. The Wild One has the iconic 1953 Marlon Brando performance as the leader of bikers that terrorize a small town (based on a real incident in Hollister, California). Brando is asked “What are you rebelling against?” and replies “Whadda you got?”. Charlie Chaplin’s comic masterpiece The Gold Rush includes the wonderful scene where hulking Mack Swain, crazed by winter starvation, imagines Charlie to be a succulent chicken and chases him around their Alaskan cabin.

Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain in THE GOLD RUSH

Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain in THE GOLD RUSH

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CALVARY: dark, tense and mesmerizing

Brendan Glesson in CALVARY

Brendan Gleeson in CALVARY

The superbly written drama Calvary opens with a startling line, which kicks off the unsettling premise.  Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Guard, The Grand Seduction) plays a very good man who is an Irish priest, Father James.  In the confessional, a man tells him that – in one week – he will kill Father James.  Having been molested by a priest (now dead), the man will make his statement against the Church:  “There’s no point in killing a bad priest. I’m going to kill you because you’re innocent.”

Who is the man?  (Father James figures it out before the audience does.)  Will the execution really happen?  Will Father James take steps to protect himself?  Tension builds as the days count down.

The character of Father James is wonderfully crafted.  Having come to the priesthood in midlife, after being married and having a secular career, he is seasoned and unburdened by high expectations of human nature – and has a wicked sense of humor.  Yet he is moral in the best sense and profoundly compassionate.  And Gleeson – always excellent – nails the role.  It’s one of the finest leading performances of the year.

We know that the killer comes from a very limited pool of villagers and would-be parishioners, played by Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, M. Emmet Walsh, Isaach de Bankole and Orla O’Rourke.  Their feelings for Father James range from fondness to indifference.  Their attitudes toward the Church, on the other hand, range from indifference to hostility.  (Moran is the best – playing a man grappling with his unhappiness, despite enjoying a fortune built by exploiting others. )

None of these characters is a stereotype.  It’s a quirky bunch – but not CUTE quirky.   There’s a lot of buried rage in this village – and dry humor, too.  Referring to his wife, one casually says, “I think she’s bipolar, or lactose intolerant, one of the two”.

But it’s not the the villagers that Father James must deal with.  He gets a visit from his occasionally suicidal adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, who is ALWAYS good); he loves and welcomes her, but she often contributes more stress. He doesn’t love his roommate, an idiotically shallow priest David Wilmot (the thug in The Guard who hilariously couldn’t figure out if he was a psychopath or a sociopath).  Then there’s a seriously twisted imprisoned killer (the star’s son Domnhall Gleeson), a foreign tourist numbed by a sudden tragedy (Marie-Josee Croze) and a scheming bishop (David McSavage).

Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) gets the credit for populating his screenplay with enough unique and original characters for an entire film festival, let alone one movie.  After The Guard and Calvary, I can’t wait to see his next movie.

As one should ascertain from its title, Calvary ain’t a feel-good movie.  It plumbs some pretty dark territory.  But as we follow Brendan Gleeson’s extraordinary performance as a good man navigating a grimly urgent situation, it is mesmerizing.

Dylan Moran in CALVARY

Dylan Moran in CALVARY

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ALIVE INSIDE: people astonishingly transformed by music

Alive InsideAlive Inside is one of the most emotionally powerful documentaries that I’ve EVER seen.  Seemingly miraculously, Alzheimer’s patients are transformed by music.  The music doesn’t cure Alzheimer’s, but it pulls the patients out of isolation, helps them relate to other people and brings them joy.

Alive Inside tells the story of a solitary guy, Dan Cohen, and his tiny non-profit Music & Memory, which distributes iPods to Alzheimer’s patients.  Michael Rossato-Bennett filmed Cohen’s work to prepare a video for Music & Memory.  That original six-and-a-half minute video went viral.  Rossato-Bennett realized that he had the beginnings of a movie, and, several years later, Alive Inside is the result.

Alive Inside won an  Audience Award at Sundance, and I think that Alive Inside will be one of the two favorites for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  It’s already on my list of Best Movies of 2014 – So Far.

All that aside, it’s a riveting film – and an example of the power of cinema.   It’s impossible not to be moved when people essentially recover their humanity.  And when you leave the theater, you’ll likely be thinking about making sure that your kids have your playlist.

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MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT: yes, there CAN be too much witty repartee

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

Woody Allen’s annual movie is the disappointing romantic comedy of manners Magic in the Moonlight. Set in the late 1920s, a master magician (Colin Firth) goes to the South of France to unmask a phony psychic (Emma Stone). Things do not go as he had been expecting.

There’s plenty of witty banter, especially between Stone and Firth. Both do well in their parts, and they both look fabulous in the period dress. There’s also a really wonderful (as in Oscar-worthy) performance by Eileen Atkins as the magician’s life-seasoned aunt.  The superb actress Jacki Weaver isn’t given anything to do except to beam some batty and vacant smiles.  The rest of the cast is not as deep as in other Woody Allen movies.

But the movie never reels you in emotionally, and it’s only about as entertaining as one of those British sitcoms playing on your local PBS station.  Albeit VERY briefly, I dozed off. Two scenes in particular are extended several moments too long, apparently just to accommodate more repartee.  And the empiricism vs spiritualism debate seems shallow, contrived and stale when compared to that in the recent sci-fi romance  I Origins.

It’s not unwatchable Woody like The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.  But it’s not really good Woody, either.  So, if you MUST have a dose of Woody this summer, watch one of Woody’s masterpieces: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Midnight in Paris.  Or better yet, go see Boyhood or A Most Wanted Man or – beginning on Friday – Calvary or Alive Inside.

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Movies to See Right Now

Eller Coltrane in BOYHOOD

Eller Coltrane in BOYHOOD

First things first -  Richard Linklater’s family drama Boyhood tops my list of Best Movies of 2014 – So Far and it may turn out to be the best film of the decade. It’s a Must See.

And there are plenty of other good movie choices.  Here are some more recommendations:

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman’s explosive final performance in the John le Carré espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man.
  • The smart and entertaining I Origins, which works both as a scientific detective story and as a meditation on romance.
  • The quirky comedy Land Ho!, with an uproarious and yet genuine geezer road trip to Iceland.
  • 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.
  • The credible and politically important HBO documentary The Newburgh Sting, which exposes the FBI’s manufacture of a fake terrorist attack to arrest some New York dumbasses. It’s playing on HBO.

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.
      • The art vs. technology documentary Tim’s Vermeer is a yawner.

My Stream of the Week is the satisfying French drama On My Way, with the extraordinary Catherine Deneuve on an escapist road trip. On My Way is available streaming on Amazon Instant and iTunes.

On August 7, Turner Classic Movies will air the classic 1940 romance The Shop Around the Corner with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It was remade a half-century later as You’ve Got Mail. The Wife and I watched it recently – I thought it was sweet, but she thought it a little dated and draggy in places. On a different note, TCM will show Juarez and Bordertown on August 6 – two Paul Muni movies that show up on my list of Least Convincing Mexicans.

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