Movies to See Right Now

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in THE BIG SICK

This week’s primary recommendation is to go out and see The Big Sick, the best American movie of the year so far. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love.  Here are more choices (but see The Big Sick first!):

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly time to the beat of music.
  • The Journey is a fictional imagining of a real historical event and is an acting showcase for Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall as the two longtime blood enemies who collaborated to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
  • Okja, another wholly original creation from the imagination of master filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, is streaming on Netflix and opening in theaters.
  • The amusingly naughty but forgettable comedy The Little Hours is based on the dirty fun in your Western Civ class, Boccaccio’s The Decameron.
  • The character-driven suspenser Moka is a showcase for French actresses Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye.
  • The bittersweet dramedy The Hero has one thing going for it – the wonderfully appealing Sam Elliott.

In my DVD/Stream of the Week, the thriller LockeTom Hardy never leaves his 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 available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On July 15 Turner Classic Movies reminds why Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the suspenseful psychological thriller.  To paraphrase Hitchcock, when a bomb under a table explodes, the audience is SURPRISED.  But when the audience knows that the bomb under the table is ticking away, that creates SUSPENSE.

  • One of Hitchcock’s all-time best was Strangers on a Train.   A hypothetical discussion about murdering inconvenient people turns out to be not so hypothetical.  Robert Walker plays one of the creepiest villains in movie history. The tennis match and carousel finale are unforgettable set pieces.
  • Rope is based on the notorious 1924 Leopold and Loeb thrill kill murder in 1924.   Look for John Dall playing the insufferably smug textbook narcissist while his Nervous Nellie partner (San Jose’s own Farley Granger) is about to snap. Can they outwit Jimmy Stewart?  Hitchcock employed a gimmick to make the entire movie look like it was photographed in one single shot.
Farley Granger, James Stewart and John Dall in ROPE

Movies to See Right Now

Diane Lane in PARIS CAN WAIT
Diane Lane in PARIS CAN WAIT

Why so few good films in theaters right now?  I’ll tell you why!  According to my calculations, a whopping 45% of all theater screens in Silicon Valley are devoted to ONLY THREE MOVIES:  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Baywatch.  (It doesn’t help that the miserable A Quiet Passion is taking up some of the very few art house screens.)  Nevertheless, you can still go out and see:

  • Paris Can Wait, a female fantasy with glorious French cuisine to tantalize all genders.
  • The Commune looks like a comedy of errors, but it’s a family drama with a searing performance by Trine Dyrholm.
  • The Lost City of Z, a thoughtful and beautifully cinematic revival of the adventure epic genre.
  • In Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, writer-director Joseph Cedar and his star Richard Gere combine to create the unforgettable character of Norman Oppenheimer, a Jewish Willy Loman who finally gets his chance to sit with the Movers and Shakers. This may be Gere’s best movie performance ever.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Paterson, a genial and occasionally very funny portrait of an artist’s creative process. Paterson is now available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On June 5, Turner Classic Movies is airing the very idiosyncratic Convicts 4, the true-life tail of one convict, played by Ben Gazzara, who develops into a fine artist while in prison. There’s a particularly unforgettable supporting turn by one of my favorite movie psychos, Timothy Carey, here in one of his most eccentrically self-conscious performances. The rich cast includes Stuart Whitman, Vincent Price, Rod Steiger, Jack Albertson, Ray Walton, Brodrick Crawford and Sammy Davis Jr.

On June 8 on TCM, look for John Dall playing the classic narcissist in Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Rope. Can he outwit Jimmy Stewart?

And, guess what? Pedro Almodóvar has ascended into Classic Cinema. His raucous and provocatively sexy comedy Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! will play on Turner Classic Movies on July 4. Almodóvar a classic? Makes you feel old…

a young Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril in TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!

Movies to See Right Now

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND

My movie recommendations for this Holiday weekend begin with these two crowd pleasers:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Loving: The love story that spawned a historic Supreme Court decision.
  • Mascots: the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest (Best in Show) and it’s very funny. Mascots is streaming on Netflix Instant.
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters or on video:

  • Despite a delicious performance by one of my faves, Michael Shannon, I’m not recommending Nocturnal Animals.
  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.
  • If you’re interested in the Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune or cinema in general (and can still find the movie in a theater), I recommend the documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai.

My DVD/Stream of the Week picks are, for the rest of 2016, this year’s best films that are already available on video: Hell or High Water, Eye in the Sky, Chevalier, Weiner, Take Me to the River and Green Room.

For New Year’s Week, Turner Classic Movies is bringing us some great choices:

  • December 31st – Lawrence of Arabia: it’s time to revisit a spectacle. For decades, many of us watched this epic squeezed into tinny-sounding TVs. In 1989, I was fortunate enough to see the director’s cut in an old movie palace. Now technology has caught up, and modern large screen HD televisions can do justice to this wide screen classic. Similarly, modern home sound systems can work with the great Maurice Jarre soundtrack. Nobody has ever created better epics than director David Lean (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago). Peter O’Toole stars at the moment of his greatest physical beauty. The rest of the cast is unsurpassed: Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, thousands of extras and entire herds of camels. The vast and severe Arabian desert is a character unto itself. Settle in and watch the whole thing – and remember what “epic” really means.
  • December 31st – Some Like It Hot: This Billy Wilder masterpiece is my pick for the best comedy of all time. Seriously – the best comedy ever. And it still works today. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play most of the movie in drag (and Tony is kind of cute). Curtis must continue the ruse although he’s next to Marilyn Monroe at her most delectable. Curtis then dons a yachting cap and does a dead-on Cary Grant impression as the heir to an industrial fortune. Joe E. Brown gets the last word with one of cinema’s best closing lines.
  • January 3rd – Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman as an iconic 1960s anti-hero, a charismatic supporting performance by George Kennedy, the unforgettable boiled egg-eating contest and the great movie line “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.

And on New Years Day, all you non-football fans can tune into TCM to binge-watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Torn Curtain, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Family Plot, Marnie and The Trouble with Harry.

How to Run a Chain Gang and Influence People in COOL HAND LUKE
How to Run a Chain Gang and Influence People in COOL HAND LUKE