Movies to See Right Now

Harry Dean Stanton in LUCKY. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The often funny and stealthily profound Lucky opens this weekend in the Bay Area. Here’s my remembrance of its star, Harry Dean Stanton.  Other choices:

  • A Must See: the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, which has mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.
  • The historical thriller Dunkirk.
  • The amiably entertaining hillbilly heist film Logan Lucky.

Here’s my preview of the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, underway now at several Marin locations.

For the second straight week, my DVD/Stream of the Week is the extraordinary performance of French actress Isabelle Huppert in the subversive Elle. The controversial Elle is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On October 8, Turner Classic Movies brings us the especially nasty noir Detour, in which poor Tom Neal is practically eaten alive by Ann Savage as perhaps the most predatory and savage female character in film noir history. One of the few Hollywood films where the leading lady was intentionally de-glamorized with oily, stringy hair.

Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR (Hint - she's trouble!)
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR (Hint – she’s trouble!)

Movies to See Right Now

Orson Welles in THE THIRD MAN - the most iconic smirk in cinema
Orson Welles in THE THIRD MAN – the most iconic smirk in cinema

The Mill Valley Film Festival is wrapping up this weekend. The closing night film is Oscar hopeful Loving, but it could be sold out on all five screens, so check first.

I’ll be writing about The Girl on the Train, the movie adaptation of the popular novel starring Emily Blunt.  The last 30 minutes rocks, but I found the murky first 82 minutes to be confusing and boring.  The Wife, however, enjoyed the whole thing.  Neither of us had finished the novel and knew about the Big Plot Twist.

And you can still find the best movie of the year so far – the character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water. It’s atmospheric, gripping, and packed with superb performances. Hell or High Water is a screenwriting masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan.  It’s becoming hard to find, but it’s out there and it’s a Must See.

Other movie choices:

      • Girl Asleep, is an offbeat coming-of-age story with more than a splash of Australian magical realism. From a first-time woman director.
      • Another odd tale from Down Under is the uneven but entertaining period tale of revenge, The Dressmaker.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Free State of Jones, the compelling story of resistance to the Confederacy and to white supremacy by Southerners during and after the Civil War, starring Matthew McConaughey. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix (and coming soon to Redbox) and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

This is a fine week for film noir on Turner Classic Movies. On October 16, TCM presents The Third Man (1949). Shot amid the ruins of post-war Vienna, this film noir classic sets an American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) to find out what happened to his pre-war buddy, who turns out to have become a notorious black marketeer (Orson Welles) with a set of associates each shadier than the last. This has it all, a fated relationship with a European beauty (Alida Valli), stunningly effective black-and-white photography, an enchanting musical theme and one of cinema’s most sharply surprising reveals of a new character. There are two unforgettable set pieces – a nervous interview in a Ferris Wheel and a climactic chase through the sewers.

Then on October 19, TCM screens three more noir classics:

      • Lady in the Lake (1947): Shot entirely from the point of view of the protagonist detective (Robert Montgomery), we never see him except when reflected in mirrors. Even without this interesting gadget, it’s a good movie. Audrey Totter plays one of her iconic noir Bad Girls.
      • Detour (1945) Ann Savage plays the nastiest, most predatory and savage female character in film noir history. One of the few Hollywood films where the leading lady was intentionally de-glamorized with oily, stringy hair.
      • Born to Kill (1947): Lawrence Tierney (no cupcake in real life, either), plays the nastiest, most predatory and savage male character in film noir history. Set in the world of Reno quickie divorces. Features Queen of Noir Claire Trevor, along with Walter Slezak and Elisha Cook, Jr.
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR

Movies to See Right Now

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY

The successful period thriller The Two Faces of January sets a dark-hearted and shadowy story in sunny Greece. The Two Faces of January is in theaters and also available streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

Also in theaters:

  • The poignant and compelling documentary Last Days in Vietnam with its story of folly, desperation and heroism.
  • The startling documentary Art and Craft, about an art fraud of prolific scale by a diagnosed schizophrenic.
  • The exceptionally well-acted dramedy The Skeleton Twins contains several inspired moments.

I also recommend The One I Love – a relationship romance, a dark comedy and a modern-day episode of The Twilight Zone rolled into one successful movie.  It remains available streaming from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the funniest movie of the year, the Canadian comedy The Grand Seduction. It’s a MUST SEE howler. The Grand Seduction is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

There’s a varied set of classics on Turner Classic Movies this week.

  • On October 21, there’s the especially nasty noir Detour, in which poor Tom Neal is practically eaten alive by Ann Savage as perhaps the most venal and vicious of film noir’s femmes fatale.
  • On the 22nd there’s one of my favorite manly adventure sagas, The Vikings from 1958; a one-eyed Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis bare their chests over Janet Leigh and swill mead with full-bearded Ernest Borgnine – it’s rip-roaring and silly and just a whole lot of fun.
  • Then on October 23, TCM airs the chilly Nicole Kidman ghost story The Others from 2001.
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR (Hint - she's trouble!)
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in DETOUR (Hint – she’s trouble!)

Movies to See Right Now

Elisha Cook Jr. finds out that Humphrey Bogart is on to him in the 1941 version of THE MALTESE FALCON

There are two Must See movies in theaters this weekend:

  • Before Midnight, the year’s best romance continuing the story of Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
  • Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s brilliant documentary about discovering her family’s secrets; unfortunately, Stories We Tell is going to be hard to find in theaters this week, but well worth the trouble.

Both films are on my Best Movies of 2013 – So Far .

The absorbing and thought-provoking eco-terrorism thriller The East is also opening today.

The other best bets in theaters include:

  • The Iceman is a solid true-life crime movie with an outstanding performance by Michael Shannon.
  • Mud, the gripping and thoughtful story of two Arkansas boys embarking on a secret adventure with a man hiding from the authorities – learning more than they expected about love and loyalty. Mud is also one of the best movies of 2013.

Also out right now:

  • HBO’s Behind the Candelabra is familar territory but entertaining, with Michael Douglas’ all-out re-creation of Liberace.
  • Kon-Tiki is a faithful, but underwhelming account of a true life 5,000 mile raft trip across the Pacific.
  • Don’t bother with Baz Luhrman’s flashy, hollow and lame The Great Gatsby.  Re-read the Fitzgerald novel instead – it’s only 192 pages.

The compelling documentary The Central Park Five from Ken Burns, et al, is available streaming from Amazon Instant and other VOD providers. Also available on VOD, Greetings from Tim Buckley is a film for those who want to see an actor depict interior conflict with very little external action. PBS is broadcasting the unexpectedly beautiful documentary Detropia, about the city of Detroit’s collapse and decay.

You can read descriptions and view trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the mobster showcase for Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, Stand Up GuysStand Up Guys is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Vudu, Amazon and several other VOD outlets.

Tonight Turner Classic Movies kicks off its June film noir festival with guest host Eddie Muller (the Czar of Noir) presenting films from the novels of Dashiell Hammett: the 1931 and more famous 1941 versions of The Maltese Falcon, plus the 1936 version (Satan Met a Lady) and The Glass Key.

On June 11, TCM features two of the nastiest noirs:  Detour and The Hitchhiker.

Also, on June 9, TCM is broadcasting the award winning Crumb, the 1994 documentary about counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb and his bizarrely dysfunctional family.