Movies to See Right Now

Taraji P. Henson in HIDDEN FIGURES
Taraji P. Henson in HIDDEN FIGURES

This week’s best choices in theaters are:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • The Founder: the enjoyably addictive story of how a the money-grubbing visionary Ray Kroc built the McDonald’s food service empire.
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.
  • I Am Not Your Negro, the documentary about the American public intellectual James Baldwin. It’s a searing examination of race in America as analyzed through Baldwin’s eyes and as expressed through his elegant words.
  • The Salesman is another searing and authentic psychological family thriller from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past).

For the second consecutive week, my DVD/Stream of the Week is the Argentine neo-noir The Aura. Featured last week at San Francisco’s Noir City film fest, The Aura is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream on Amazon Instant.

On February 13, Turner Classic Movies presents one of the greatest ever courtroom dramas, Stanley Kramer’s brilliant Inherit the Wind from 1960. The story is taken from the real-life Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, so it has elements of culture wars and politics that resonate today. Spencer Tracy and Fredric March are superb as the warring thought-leaders (based on Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan).

Spencer Tracy, Harry Morgan and Fredric March in INHERIT THE WIND
Spencer Tracy, Harry Morgan and Fredric March in INHERIT THE WIND

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE AURA – smart enough to plan the perfect crime, but is that enough?

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA

The Aura is a brilliant 2005 neo-noir from Argentina that I wasn’t familiar with until the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller programmed into the 2017 Noir City film festival.

The Aura is about a taxidermist who leads a boring life, but fantasizes about the Perfect Crime. He is perpetually cranky because he is so dissatisfied, but he resists getting out of his life rut. It’s not easy to be his friend (nor, apparently, his wife). Unexpectedly, he finally finds himself in position to participate in a major heist.

He is epileptic (the movie’s title is from the sensation just before a seizure); he and we never know if and when he will pass out from an episode, a particularly dangerous wild card in a thriller. He also has a photographic memory, and that can help him if he has the nerve to go through with the crime.

The taxidermist is played by one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, Wild Tales) . I like to think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. Darin can expertly play a slightly twisted Every Man, and he excels at neo-noir.

The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Walter Reyno as The Real Thing criminal, Alejandro Awada as the taxidermist’s long suffering only friend and Dolores Fonzi as the intriguing woman in the woods.

Ricardo Darin THE AURA
Ricardo Darin THE AURA

Sadly, writer-director Fabián Bielinsky died at 47 after making only two features – the wonderful con artist film Nine Queens (also starring Darin) and The Aura. Those two films indicate that he was a special talent.

Darin’s taxidermist is smart enough to plan a Perfect Crime, but professional criminals have that sociopathic lack of empathy needed to carry out crimes. Does he? Does he get the money? Does he get the girl? Does he even escape with his life? It’s a neo-noir, so you’ll have to watch it to find out.

By the way, the dog in this movie is important. Watch for the dog at the very end.

The Aura is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream on Amazon Instant.

Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA
Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA

NOIR CITY 2017: a bang up final weekend

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

I’ve been recommending  the Noir City film fest, underway in San Francisco and running through Sunday. 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 vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.  Here are the highlights of Noir City’s bang up final weekend:

  • Charley Varrick: the shamefully underrated American neo-noir from the 1970s with Walter Mathau.  To survive, he’s got to outsmart the mob all by himself.
  • The Aura: A completely overlooked 2005 neo-noir from Argentina about an epileptic taxidermist.  He’s smart enough to plan the Perfect Crime, but does he have the sociopathic ruthlessness?
  • Before the Devil Know You’re Dead: A masterpiece from the then 84-year-old director Sidney Lumet, it features one of the best performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Then there’s Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Michael Shannon – but Albert Finney steals the movie at the end.
  • Victoria: A 2015 European thrill ride filmed in a single 138-minute shot.
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

THE AURA: smart enough to plan the perfect crime, but is that enough?

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA

The Aura is a brilliant 2005 neo-noir from Argentina, that I wasn’t familiar with until the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller programmed it into the 2017 Noir City film festival.

The Aura is about a taxidermist who leads a boring life, but fantasizes about the Perfect Crime.   He is perpetually cranky because he is so dissatisfied, but he resists getting out of his life rut.   It’s not easy to be his friend (nor, apparently, his wife).  Unexpectedly, he finally finds himself in position to participate in a major heist.

He is epileptic (the movie’s title is from the sensation just before a seizure);  he and we never know if  and when he will pass out from an episode, a particularly dangerous wild card in a thriller.   He also has a photographic memory, and that can help him if he has the nerve to go through with the crime.

The taxidermist is played by one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, Wild Tales) .  I like to think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna.  Darin can expertly play a slightly twisted Every Man, and he excels at neo-noir.

The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Walter Reyno as The Real Thing criminal, Alejandro Awada as the taxidermist’s long suffering only friend and Dolores Fonzi as the intriguing woman in the woods.

Sadly, writer-director Fabián Bielinsky died at 47 after making only two features – the wonderful con artist film Nine Queens (also starring Darin) and The Aura.  Those two films indicate that he was a special talent.

Darin’s taxidermist is smart enough to plan a Perfect Crime, but professional criminals have that sociopathic lack of empathy needed to carry them out crimes.  Does he?  Does he get the money? Does he get the girl? Does he even escape with his life? It’s a neo-noir, so you’ll have to watch it to find out.

By the way, the dog in this movie is important.  Watch for the dog at the very end.

Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA
Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA