Movies to See Right Now

FADING GIGOLO
FADING GIGOLO

We’re sliding into the blockbuster doldrums of summer, but the best movie of the year is opening more widely next week (teaser). Right now, I heartily recommend Fading Gigolo, a wonderfully sweet romantic comedy written, directed and starring John Tuturro. In the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, we go on journey to discover why one of the great 20th Century photographers kept her own work a secret. Like all Wes Anderson movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel is wry and imaginative, but it’s not one of his most engaging.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the gripping thriller Source Code.  It’s on my list of Best Movies of 2011.  Source Code is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

Take a hard-bitten Raymond Chandler mystery novel, have William Faulkner touch up the screenplay, get Howard Hawkes to direct, cast Bogie and Bacall and, well, you get a 1946 masterpiece of film noir: The Big Sleep, coming up May 20 on Turner Classic Movies. The deliciously convoluted plot is part of the fun. I love the scene where Bogart’s Philip Chandler chats up Dorothy Malone’s bookstore clerk – and she closes the shop early for an off-screen quickie.

If you’re in the mood for a guilty pleasure, on May 17 TCM is showing 4 for Texas, a Rat Pack Western (!) from 1963. It’s not good, but you can enjoy Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin along with some great character actors: Jack Elam, Mike Mazurki, Victor Buono, Charles Bronson and Richard Jaeckel. Plus a cameo by the Three Stooges!

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP
Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP

DVD/Stream of the Week: Source Code

Source Code1Source Code is a gripping thriller, and I admired both its intelligence and its heart. The key is a breakthrough screenplay by Ben Ripley. The scifi premise is that supersoldier Jake Gyllenhaal can inhabit the brain of a terrorism victim for the same 8 minutes – over and over again. Each time, he has 8 minutes to seek more clues. Can he build the clues into a solution and prevent the terrorist atrocity? Gyllenhaal is excellent. So is Vera Farmiga as his handler and Michelle Monaghan as a girl you could fall in love with in 8 minutes. Jeffrey Wright chews the scenery with his homage to Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. Director Duncan Jones solidly brings Ripley’s screenplay home.

It’s on my list of Best Movies of 2011. Source Code is available on DVDD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

2011 in Movies: the year of the smart action film

SOURCE CODE

These days, explosions and chases in movies have become indicators of dumb and dumber.  But, this year, we’re seeing a welcome rebirth of the smart action film.

Like last year’s Inception Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, Drive and even Hannah, brought some originality to the genre.  Drive was the most visually interesting, but Source Code combined great production values with a great hook in Ben Ripley’s screenplay:  Supersoldier Jake Gyllenhaal can inhabit the brain of a terrorism victim for the same 8 minutes – over and over again.  Each time, he has 8 minutes to seek more clues. Can he build the clues into a solution and prevent the terrorist atrocity?

The smart action movie: a welcome trend, indeed.

2011 in Movies: breakthroughs

Ryan Gosling in Nicholas Winding Refn's DRIVE

One of the most rewarding aspects of watching movies is seeing the emergence of new talent.  Here are some pleasant surprises from the past year.

1.  Denis Villenueve:  Because Incendies is anything but stagey, you can’t tell that this little known French-Canadian director adapted the screenplay from a play. In fact, he created the most gripping film of the year.

2.  Jessica Chastain:  She’s on everybody’s “breakthrough” list for a damn good reason. First, she delivered a fine performance as an enabling 1950s mom in the most coherent part of The Tree of Life.  She followed that with a riveting performance as a 1960s Mossad agent (the younger version of Helen Mirren’s character) in the thriller The Debt.  In Take Shelter, she plays a well-grounded housewife who must deal with a mentally disintegrating husband.  She won critical praise for the trashy but aspiring housewife in a film I haven’t seen – The Help.  She’s a tough cop in The Texas Killing Fields.  And then she’s in Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.

Six movies in six months – that’s quite a way to start a career. And she’s at the top of her game in all of them, playing soft and tough, brittle and sexy, action and romance.

3.  Nicholas Winding Refn:  With apologies to Ryan Gosling, Refn is the real star of the vivid and compelling Drive.  He has a great eye and a great sense of pacing, and could produce a masterpiece with the right material.

4.  Michel Hazanavicius:  He came out of nowhere to strike gold with The Artist.  Who would think to make a silent film today?  Everyone will want to see what he can come up with next.

5.  Shailene Woodley:  Her performance is absolutely essential to the success of The Descendants.  It’s not just that she perfectly plays a bratty teenager, but that we can see that some of her brattiness is hormonal and some of it is entirely voluntary and manipulative.  Woodley had to convincingly play a character who is at times self-centered and shallow, but who can rally and reach within herself to serve as the family glue and support her dad and little sister.

6.  Ben Ripley:   The key to Source Code is a breakthrough screenplay by Ben Ripley.  In a year with at least some smart action films, Ripley’s is the smartest.  He came up with the scifi premise that supersoldier Jake Gyllenhaal can inhabit the brain of a terrorism victim for the same 8 minutes – over and over again.  Each time, he has 8 minutes to seek more clues. Can he build the clues into a solution and prevent the terrorist atrocity?  Ripley had us on the edge of our seats.

7.  Ryan Gosling:  He has already established himself as one of our best actors (Half Nelson, All Good Things, Blue Valentine), so why is he on this list?  Because this year he has broken out of quirky roles in indies and has carried more mainstream films.  He proved that he can play an action star (Drive) and also be the funniest guy in a Steve Carell comedy (Stupid Crazy Love).  And he proved that he can carry a George Clooney movie as the male lead holding his own with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March).  He could be looking at a Clooney/Hanks/Nicholson career.

2011 in Movies: the year’s best movies

INCENDIES

Here’s my list of the best films of 2011: 1)  Incendies, 2) Take Shelter, 3) The Artist, 4) The Descendants, 5) Poetry, 6) Midnight in Paris, 7) Beginners, 8) Source Code, 9) Young Adult, and 10) (tie) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Drive.

Continuing with my list of 2011’s best films, here are my honorable mentions: The Guard,  Project Nim, Buck, Tabloid, The Adjustment Bureau, Carancho, and Potiche.

(Note:  I’m saving room for some films that I haven’t yet seen, especially Roman Polanski’s Carnage and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus.)

You can watch the trailers and see my comments on all these films at Best Movies of 2011.

According to Metacritic, all of my picks (except The Adjustment Bureau) were highly rated by prominent critics.  I did disdain some art films, most notably The Tree of Life, which made lots of critics’ end-of-year lists.  See 2011 in Movies: biggest disappointments, which I’m posting on Tuesday.

(Further Note:  Incendies was nominated for the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but was widely released in the US in 2011.  A Separation, which I and most folks won’t be able to see until after January 27, will contend on my 2012 list.)

DVD of the Week: Source Code

Source Code is a gripping thriller, and I admired both its intelligence and its heart.  The key is a breakthrough screenplay by Ben Ripley.  The scifi premise is that supersoldier Jake Gyllenhaal can inhabit the brain of a terrorism victim for the same 8 minutes – over and over again.  Each time, he has 8 minutes to seek more clues. Can he build the clues into a solution and prevent the terrorist atrocity?  Gyllenhaal is excellent.  So is Vera Farmiga as his handler and Michelle Monaghan as a girl you could fall in love with in 8 minutes.  Jeffrey Wright chews the scenery with his homage to Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove.  Director Duncan Jones solidly brings Ripley’s screenplay home.

It’s on my list of Best Movies of 2011 – So Far.

Other recent DVD picks have been Potiche, Step Into Liquid and Riding Giants, and Another Year.

Movies to See Right Now

Incendies

I’m still urging people to see the searing drama Incendies, the year’s best film so far. Upon their mother’s death, a young man and woman learn for the first time of their father and their brother and journey from Quebec to the Middle East to uncover family secrets. As they bumble around Lebanon, we see the mother’s experience in flashbacks. We learn before they do that their lives were created – literally – by the violence of the Lebanese civil war.

13 Assassins is brilliantly staged and photographed, and is one of the best recent action films; an honorable samurai must assemble and lead a team of thirteen to hack their way through a psychotically sadistic noble’s 200 bodyguards.

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 Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig plays a woman whose insecurities keep her from seeing the good and the possible in her life; it’s funny, but not one of the year’s best. Meek’s Cutoff is a disappointing misfire.

Source Code is a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan. 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.

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

I haven’t yet seen Midnight in Paris or The Hangover Part II, which open this weekend.  You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Kings of Pastry.

Movies on TV this week include the timeless drama The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM.

Movies to See Right Now

Incendies

The searing drama Incendies is the year’s best film so far.  Upon their mother’s death, a young man and woman learn for the first time of their father and their brother and journey from Quebec to the Middle East to uncover family secrets.  As they bumble around Lebanon, we see the mother’s experience in flashbacks.  We learn before they do that their lives were created – literally – by the violence of the Lebanese civil war.

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.

In Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig plays a woman whose insecurities keep her from seeing the good and the possible in her life; it’s funny, but not one of the year’s best. Meek’s Cutoff is a disappointing misfire.

Source Code is a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan. 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.

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

You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Diabolique.

Movies on TV this week include the underrated Sam Peckinpah classic Junior Bonner and the campy Giant Mutant Bunny horror film Night of the Lepus on TCM.

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.

Movies to See Right Now

The Princess of Montpensier

Don’t miss Source Code, a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan.  Poetry is a troubling, uncomfortable and profound film with a great performance by Koran actress Jeong-hie Yun.  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 Cave of Forgotten DreamsIncendies or Queen to Play, which open this weekend.  You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Somewhere.

Movies on TV this week include the epic Lawrence of Arabia on TCM, which will look great on your wide screen HDTV – more on that tomorrow.