Movies to See Right Now

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Woody Harrelson in LBJ

In theaters now:

  • I liked LBJ, an effective Cliff Notes history lesson, with another fine performance by Woody Harrelson.
  • Murder on the Orient Express is a moderately entertaining lark.

The highly acclaimed Novitiate, Lady Bird, Last Flag Flying, Darkest Hour, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and The Square have reached the Bay Area, but only in a few theaters. Of these, I’ve only seen The Square, an ambitious satire that I liked, but which is not for everyone; I’ll be posting about it soon. Stay tuned.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the smart and bitingly funny dramedy Smoke Signals, a film about Native Americans written and directed by Native Americans. The film won the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Smoke Signals is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On November 20, Turner Classic Movies will broadcast the top heist film ever, the pioneering French classic Rififi: After the team is assembled and the job is plotted, the actual crime unfolds in real-time – over thirty minutes of nerve-wracking silence.


NOIR CITY: the great San Francisco festival of film noir

Noir City 2017
I always look forward to the Noir City film fest, which gets underway in San Francisco this week. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD. And we get to watch them in a vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

The theme of this year’s festival is the Heist Movie, Noir City is presenting a wonderful array of heist movies from the classic American film noir period, foreign noirs and an especially healthy selection of neo-noirs. Being noir, you might not expect many of these heists to end well. And some are from noir’s Perfect Crime sub-genre – they’re going to get away with the elaborately planned big heist EXCEPT FOR ONE THING.

Noir City runs January 20-29. To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.

On Noir City’s first weekend:

  • The Asphalt Jungle: As long as things go according to plan… John Huston directed a marvelous cast (Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, John McIntire). And even Louis Calhern knows that Marilyn Monroe isn’t going to stick around as his moll.
  • Violent Saturday: a completely overlooked film from one of my favorite directors that I hadn’t seen until Eddie Muller programmed it for this festival. Filmed in the bright Arizona desert with CinemaScope and De Luxe color, the story is plenty noir.
  • Four Ways Out: Saturday night, Noir City goes goes Italian with the last script written by screenwriter Federico Fellini before he started directing. Four guys pull a heist, and it goes bad four different ways.
  • Big Deal on Madonna Street, the funniest film in the festival, with an Italian gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Watch for a 34-year-old pre-Fellini Marcello Mastroianni.
  • Rififi: This French classic is the top heist film ever and pioneering in its use of real time. After the team is assembled and the job is plotted, the actual crime unfolds in real-time – over thirty minutes of nerve wracking silence.
  • The Big Risk: It’s a highlight because it’s a French noir starring the bloodhound-visaged Lino Ventura that I have NOT seen, so I’ll be going to Noir City myself on Sunday.

And midweek, at Noir City:

  • The rarely-seen Once a Thief (Alain Delon, trying to keep Ann-Margret while being hunted by Van Heflin) and The Sicilian Clan (with the neo-noir trifecta of Delon, Ventura and Jean Gabin), both on Wednesday evening, January 25.

I’ll be writing about Noir City’s tremendous final weekend. Stay tuned.


Coming up on TV: a feast of crime movies


Here’s a treat – on November 26, Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Cops and Robbers with a feast of crime movies. I especially recommend:

  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): A criminal mastermind (Robert Shaw) and his gang of commandos capture a NYC subway train and ransom the passengers; the transit authority police commander (Walter Matthau) must match wits.  Excellent cast includes Hector Elizondo and Martin Balsam.  I prefer this original to the 2009 remake.
  • Every police procedural from 1948 through today’s Law and Order and CSI owes something to the prototypical The Naked City (1948). Tenacious New York City cops solve a murder amid gritty streets and shady characters. Unusual for the time, it was shot on location.   Directed by noir great Jules Dassin, The Naked City won Oscars for black and white cinematography and film editing.
  • Bullitt (1968) features Steve McQueen and one of cinema’s most iconic and influential chase scenesMcQueen’s 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback  and the bad guy’s 1968 Dodge Charger careen through San Francisco, taking almost 11 minutes to race from Fisherman’s Wharf to Brisbane.  Classic.
  • The French make really good crime dramas, and Rififi (1955) is a standard-setting heist filmAfter the team is assembled and the job is plotted, the actual crime unfolds in real-time – over thirty minutes of nerve wracking silence.
  • In The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the crooks assemble a team and pull off the big heist…and then things begin to go wrong.  There aren’t many noirs with better casting – the crooks include Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe and James Whitmore.  The 23-year-old Marilyn Monroe plays Calhern’s companion in her first real speaking part.  How noir is it? Even the cop who breaks the case goes to jail.  Directed by the great John Huston.
  • If you like your film noir tawdry, then Gun Crazy (1950) is for you.  Peggy Cummins plays a prototypical Bad Girl who takes her newlywed hubby on a crime spree.

Movies to See Right Now

Adèle Exarchopoulos in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

The French drama Blue Is the Warmest Color explores first love, capturing the arc of a young woman’s first serious romance with remarkable authenticity and a stunning performance by 19-year-old actress Adèle Exarchopoulos. It’s three hours long, justifiably rated NC-17 and currently tops my list of Best Movies of 2013 – So Far.

Other good choices include the flawless true story thriller Captain Phillips and the space thriller Gravity – an amazing achievement by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón with what may be Sandra Bullock’s finest performance. 12 Years a Slave is an unsparingly realistic depiction of the horrors of American slavery. The Motel Life is a solid character-driven drama. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s offbeat comedy Don Jon offers both guffaws and an unexpected moment of self-discovery.

Check out my new feature VOD Roundup, where you can find my comments on over twenty current movies available on Video on Demand. There are some good ones, some bad ones and some really, really good ones (including How to Make Money Selling Drugs).

Here’s a treat – on November 26, Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Cops and Robbers with a feast of crime movies. The menu includes The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Naked City, Bullitt, Rififi, Asphalt Jungle and Gun Crazy.  I’ll be writing more about these films on the weekend.

Movies to See Right Now

Lake Bell in her IN A WORLD...

In A Word… is the year’s best comedy so far – it’s a Hollywood satire, an insider’s glimpse into the voice-over industry, a family dramedy and a romantic comedy all in one. 

The powerfully authentic coming of age film The Spectacular Now and the emotionally powerful Fruitvale Station are both on my list of Best Movies of 2013 – So Far.

My other top recommendations:

  • The jaw-dropping documentary The Act of Killing, an exploration of Indonesian genocide from the perpetrators’ point of view, is the most uniquely original film of the year.
  • Woody Allen’s very funny Blue Jasmine centers on an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.
  • The very well-acted civil rights epic Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

My other recommendations:

Also out right now:

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

Check out my new feature VOD Roundup, where you can find my comments on over twenty current movies available on Video on Demand.  There are some good ones, some bad ones and some really, really good ones (including Letters from the Big Man).

My DVD of the Week is the riveting IRA thriller Shadow Dancer, with Clive Owen.  Shadow Dancer is available on DVD from Netflix.  Also check out my newest movie list: Best Movies About The Troubles (Northern Ireland).

On September 10, Turner Classic Movies is broadcasting the great French heist movie Rififi. And on September 12, TCM will air one of the greatest examples of film noir, Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.


Movies to See Right Now

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Don’t miss Cave of Forgotten Dreams while it can be seen in 3D;  Werner Herzog explores the amazing 30,000 year old Chauvet cave paintings.  In the fine French drama Queen to Play, a working class woman discovers a passion for chess  in midlife; she and her family, must adjust, along with a French-speaking Kevin Kline.

Source Code is a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan. In a Better World is an ambitious contemplation on violence by Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding)Potiche, a delightful French farce of feminist self-discovery is the funniest movie in over a year, and another showcase for Catherine Deneuve (as if she needs one).

The Princess of Montpensier is an exquisitely beautiful romance about a 16th century French noblewoman who is forced by her father to marry – but not the man she loves; her new husband is unhealthily jealous and for good reason – various members of the Court fall in love with her and she is too immature to handle it well. Hanna is a rip roaring girl-power thriller starring Saiorse Ronan as a 16-year-old raised in the Arctic Circle to be a master assassin by her rogue secret agent father, and then released upon the CIA. The Robber is about an emotionless, compulsive bank robber who doesn’t care about the money, and you won’t care about him, either.

For trailers and other choices, see Movies to See Right Now.

I haven’t yet seen Incendies or Meek’s Cutoff, two promising films opening this weekend. You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Hail! The Conquering Hero.

Movies on TV this week include the classic French heist film Rififi and one of my favorite Sam Peckinpah Westerns, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, both on TCM.