Guillaume Nicloux writes and directs the considerate Valley of Love, which kind of has one foot in Maurice Pialat’s 1980 film Loulou and the other in a spectral inversion of reality. It positions its two glorious stars - Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu - nearly as themselves and dumps them in Death Valley. Valley of Love was France’s 2015 Cannes entry and it resonates as a classical road movie, putting two screen icons on a path to elusive elements like self-discovery, resolution, and peace. Nothing comes easy and Christophe Offenstein’s exceptional tracking shots ensure the audience is along for every
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Nicloux writes and directs this strange and lovely odyssey through Death Valley.
Greenaway tackles Sergei Eisenstein with no shortage of chaotic passion.
Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato is certainly full of a lot of things. The 2015 picture is part biopic, part comedy, part romance, part drama, part mischievous fantasy, and there isn’t a subtle moment to be found. The movie has a kitchen-sink approach and throws a host of cinematic gewgaws around in its drive to brandish itself all over the screen. Indeed, Greenaway makes it difficult to describe Eisenstein in Guanajuato in flattering terms. While many biographical works at least attempt to inform the audience about the subject, this movie happily obscures reality. It favours discord and discomfort over purpose
The Hunger Games series concludes with a dull roar.
After the inert and exposition-heavy The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, the final chapter of the dystopic “trilogy” rumbles to its inevitable conclusion in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, this 2015 movie is directed by Francis Lawrence with a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. It’s hard to argue that Mockingjay - Part 2 is an improvement on its first portion, as Lawrence is up to the same tricks and the script dribbles with the same instructive dialogue. The personality has long since been drained from the
A tale of young love, domestic strife and a safe place with a hell of a view.
Carlos Cuarón’s 2013 film Sugar Kisses is part street fable and part Shakespearean tragedy. The screenplay by Cuarón and Luis Usabiaga brims with the clarity of young love and juxtaposes it against the darkness of crime and domestic punishment. It’s a familiar tale and at times Cuarón’s affection for clichés gets in the way, but there’s still a lot to like about this picture. Cuarón is the brother of Gravity and Y Tu Mamá También director Alfonso Cuarón and he wrote the screenplay for the latter, which was a sensual coming-of-age narrative that shares a lot with Sugar Kisses. But
Ragnar raids in Season Three of History's Vikings.
History’s Vikings takes to the shores of new lands with this DVD release of the third season of this Irish-Canadian co-production. Created by Michael Hirst, who many will recognize as the screenwriter of the 1998 film Elizabeth and the Emmy-winning TV series The Tudors, Vikings tells the hirsute tale of a squad of Norsemen in the Dark Ages. Hirst’s affection for antiquity is certainly apparent in the comprehensive and energetic production design, which is doubtlessly not without historical inaccuracies but nevertheless brimming with colour and excitement. The series is set after the Germanic Iron Age in the midst of various
Takashi Miike's surrealist musical comedy finds its way to Blu-ray thanks to Arrow Video.
Director Takashi Miike is credited with seven or eight films in the year 2001 alone, depending on who you ask. One of the most energetic and life-affirming of these pictures is The Happiness of the Katakuris. This is an absolutely joyful and bizarre flick, a musical comedy complete with stop-motion sequences, a pile of dead bodies and the ever-looming presence of Mount Fuji. The Happiness of the Katakuris is an unabashed remake of Kim Jee-woon’s 1998 film The Quiet Ones, with Miike paying direct homage to several of the shots and scenes in the Korean movie. He certainly strays at
Taking aim at Satan from the top rope.
Directed by Paul Aldridge and Tom Borden, the 2009 documentary Wrestling with Satan explores the Christian Wrestling Federation over the course of about six years. This is one of those low budget operations, comprised almost entirely of interviews and footage from the CWF’s wrestling matches. The latter usually take place in front of a crowds of perhaps 100 or so people. There isn’t a lot of criticism or stoutness to Wrestling with Satan and Borden and Aldridge don’t have much to offer when it comes to the theology behind the CWF. The good news is that there is a major
A vital documentary that aims high and comes up short.
The subject of Stephanie Soechtig’s Fed Up could not be more pressing. The numbers presented in this 2014 documentary are staggering, exploring the root causes of obesity as being significantly more complex than the “calories in, calories out” claptrap often suggested. When one considers that it takes an hour and a half of swimming to work off one medium order of fries, the mind boggles. Fed Up is at its best when it deals against the conventional wisdom shoveled by the food industry and the government, but its focus is oddly quite narrow. Without question, the health and welfare of
Glazer has crafted a careful and bizarre ode to discovering humanity.
Based on Michael Faber’s 2000 novel, Under the Skin is a compelling motion picture about discovering humanity from an alien point of view. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, this is one of the most authentic science fiction pictures out there. From the impeccable casting of Scarlett Johansson to the use of genuine encounters with non-actors, there’s something very special about this film. Much of Under the Skin is admittedly rather nebulous, but most of it is quite straightforward for those with open minds. It’s a fever dream at times and an achingly beautiful tale at others, a vision and a nightmare
The smile may be the "beginning of love," but it's also Rumsfeld's Weapon of Mass Distraction.
Filmmaker Errol Morris has said of his interview with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that it was one of the strangest interviews he’s ever done. The 2013 documentary The Unknown Known explores this conversation and effectively proves Morris right by focusing on his subject’s effusive predisposition to “muddy the waters.” Rumsfeld is not a clarifier. It stands to reason that Morris constantly uses the motif of the open water to express the man’s tendency to send people afloat on oceans of words. At one point, the water even fills with scraps of Rumsfeld’s memos. There are apparently some
Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh has once again crafted a fascinating work of history, art and memory.
Directed and written by Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, The Missing Picture is a fascinating and creative documentary. This 2013 picture was the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar and secured the nomination. It also scooped the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. Panh’s documentary is a deeply personal film. Using propaganda footage along with lovely recreations with sculpted clay figurines, he attempts to piece together the “missing footage” of his experiences in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge ruled. Panh sifts through spools of celluloid and examines decaying film, but it washes away. The English narration features Jean-Baptiste Phou
By removing any pointless embellishments and focusing on the action, Siegel weaves a tale that is as authentic as can be.
Directed by Don Siegel, the 1954 movie Riot in Cell Block 11 offers a gritty, authentic look at the prison system and the chaos behind a riot. The picture was shot in Folsom State Prison in California with several real inmates and guards filling in background roles. Producer Walter Wanger had also been in jail and relied on his experiences to charge his passion for the film. Now presented by the good people at Criterion Collection, Riot in Cell Block 11 sheds light on an issue that still doesn’t get a lot of press. The treatment of the convicts forms
Grizzlies, pandas, and polar bears in their natural elements.
A triple feature of sorts from BBC Earth, Extreme Bears is two discs of grizzlies, pandas, and polar bears in their natural elements. The release features three programs - four episodes in total - that concern themselves with all aspects of bear life. The most compelling of the programs is the “Great Bear Stakeout.” This features two episodes dealing with a group of grizzly bears in Alaska. Billy Connolly narrates and really does a bang-up job, bringing his trademark humour and energy to the events. The team of photographers and experts get as close as humanly possible to the grizzlies,
Riklis’ movie is decent but not as good as it could’ve been.
More than a little melodramatic in places, Eran Riklis’ Zaytoun is a tale of unexpected friendship in seemingly impossible circumstances. The Israeli director teams with The King’s Speech producer Gareth Unwin and producer Fred Ritzenberg to craft this piece, with the Nader Rizq screenplay going through a number of rewrites on its way to primetime. The retooling of the script was allegedly designed to take out the more “dogmatic” aspects and that’s really what Zaytoun has as both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. While the relative neutrality of the film’s politics create ample space for the friendship between protagonists,
Diarmuid Lawrence directs The Lady Vanishes, a BBC and Masterpiece Films production that originally aired in March of 2013. Now available on DVD from BBC Home Entertainment, this movie comes based on the Ethel Lina White novel The Wheel Spins and adheres more to the source material than the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation from 1938. For one thing, this version of The Lady Vanishes is less comic and more ominous. Lawrence and screenwriter Fiona Seres use the close quarters of a cross-Europe train to unfurl the dramatics from White’s work, providing a mesh of characters who are impossible to trust. The
A patient, musically-driven motion picture about the breakdown of a marriage, I Used To Be Darker analyzes the fallout of said marriage through the eyes of various involved parties. In particular, it utilizes the point of view of a young runaway from Northern Ireland (Deragh Campbell) as she drops in for the worst possible moment. I Used To Be Darker is the third film by director Matt Porterfield. Together with co-writer Amy Belk, Porterfield set out to depict divorce in an authentic fashion. It feels like a deeply personal project, one that takes its time to set scenes and knows
Terence Davies plumbs his Liverpool upbringing in 1992’s brilliantly dense The Long Day Closes, a film that is as much about the transience of growing up as it is about the joy of it. The picture is coated in certain melancholy and, sure to Davies’ style, eschews the linear narrative in favour of shards of memory, music and feeling. Thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection, The Long Day Closes is now available on Blu-ray (there’s a DVD version in the package too). The transfer vividly pulls Davies’ world of gray and brown into focus. The working class environs
There is a sensitivity to Paradise: Hope that concludes the series beautifully.
Ulrich Seidl closes his Paradise trilogy with 2013’s Paradise: Hope, the most sensitive offering of the bunch. Following up the troubling yet beautiful Paradise: Love and the bleak but authentic Paradise: Faith, this entry concludes the Austrian director’s meditation on seeking fanciful versions of what the trilogy’s respective titles offer. And so it comes to Hope, a matter that compelling encompasses Love and Faith in a way. It delves into the affections of a 13-year-old girl (Melanie Lenz) and explores her idealism in the framework of a “fat camp” and the mythical love of a much older man. It also
Alicia Scherson’s The Future is an absorbing motion picture with no shortage of challenges for the audience. The 2013 feature from the Chilean director of 2009’s Turistas is a little hard to dig into at times but its resolve and distinctiveness carries many rewards. Based on the 2002 novel Una Novelita Lumpen by Roberto Bolaño, which still hasn’t been translated into English, The Future weaves a tale that is as bizarre as it is erotic and as ridiculous as it is emotional. Scherson’s flick pushes through countless twists and turns to achieve what is less a satiating conclusion and more
A good-looking and sharp television series that features plenty of entanglements and goings-on.
An adaption of Émile Zola's novel Au Bonheur des Dames, this BBC television series is a sumptuous and sensual look at the first English department store. The Paradise is the creation of Bill Gallagher and has a total of two series’ under its belt thus far, with the first series now available on DVD thanks to the BBC. There are eight episodes in the first season, each one running about an hour in length. Initially airing in the United Kingdom on BBC One in September of 2012, the series recently had its debut on PBS in the United States in
A compact procedural that draws on the sorts of moral quandaries barristers find themselves in as part of the job.
British screenwriter Peter Moffat is no stranger to the legal system in his home and native land. A former barrister, he has created three television shows centred on the legal system: North Square, Criminal Justice and Silk. The latter, which commenced in February of 2011 and is now in its third series, has made its way to DVD thanks to the BBC. The two-disc set features all six episodes from Series One and a behind-the-scenes bonus feature. Silk stars Maxine Peake as Martha Costello, a defence barrister hoping to gain the rank of Queen’s Counsel - a notion known as
Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Faith is the second film in the Austrian director’s Paradise trilogy. It comes on the heels of Paradise: Love and precedes Paradise: Hope. Seidl’s series explores the stories of three women as they search for purpose and a sense of belonging in the world. Where the journey of Paradise: Love took its Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) to Kenya for sex tourism, Paradise: Faith takes its lead character on a journey inward. The picture explores the impact of the protagonist’s religious life and how faith can prove a dominant and distinctively gratifying entity. Maria Hofstätter is Anna Maria, a
Directed by Patricio Valladares, Hidden in the Woods is a grimy but somewhat silly exploitation film from Chile. While this 2012 flick features an awful lot of bloodshed and rape, it doesn’t earn billing among the titans of New Wave extreme horror. It isn’t so much unrelenting as it is repetitive and sometimes strikingly careless. Valladares, who is also directing the to-be-released American remake, starts with some early scenes that are truly disquieting. But when Hidden in the Woods settles in, it traffics in replication and an off-kilter crime plot that simply exists to give the distressed protagonists something to
Directed by René Clair, I Married a Witch is low on magic and high on fumes. Its major selling feature is the presence of one Veronica Lake in an impish and syrupy performance as a “vengeful sorceress.” Much of this 1942 picture plays by absurd fantasy-farce rules but it isn’t an effective comedy, even if it inspired the television series Bewitched. Now available on Criterion Collection Blu-ray, I Married a Witch regularly stumbles without direction. At times, it seems to long for satire (the opening scene, for instance) but other moments rely too heavily on the sensibilities of the small
Sergei Loznitsa's In the Fog is a compelling, careful drama about guilt and honour in the Nazi-occupied Soviet Union. Because the filmmaker refrains from making the 2012 picture a "war movie" by definition, the themes become more universal. And because the themes are more universal, In the Fog's power is seductive and masterful. Loznitsa's movie is based on a book by Vasil Bykov and takes into account the notion of proving one's innocence and holding fast to moral law. With the consistency of this parable's protagonist in mind, the director and his cinematographer Oleg Mutu crafted a "classical" visual style
Director Édouard Molinaro considered the making of his La Cage aux Folles as "utter hell," but it's hard not to adore the final results. Now available on Blu-ray thanks to Criterion Collection, this French comedy is a farce with heart and a social conscience. It is a film as funny and necessary today as it was when it came out in 1978. The movie was based on the play of the same name by Jean Poiret. The production ran on stage for nearly 1,800 performances between 1973 and 1978. Poiret is among the writers of Molinaro's film version, bringing his
Many of television's heavy-hitters are filled with wrenching moments, whether "red weddings" or situations so presumably staggering that they set the entire TV-watching crowd ablaze. Sinbad, produced by Impossible Pictures and initially broadcast on Sky1 in the United Kingdom, is no such show. Yet its single season of a dozen episodes offers a sea of delights all its own, especially for the less fussy viewer. What winds up being the complete Sinbad is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Malta-filmed series brims with the sort of youthful cool that might prove annoying in other circumstances, but its diverse cast
It is an innovative picture and an entertaining one.
In Richard Raaphorst's entertaining Frankenstein's Army, history is a fluid thing. Applying traditional logic, or perhaps what Alfred Hitchcock would call “moronic logic,” is a fool's errand and this 2013 flick makes no attempts at being realistic. What it does do is attempt to splice classic monster and mad scientist material with more modern, “found footage” horror. Sometimes this gory stew is highly effective, while other moments require characters to lug cameras places where they aren't the least bit useful. The good news is that Raaphorst convinces the audience to scarcely notice the difference. The tale opens with World War
The thunder rolls often in Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux ("light after darkness"), a film that seems almost destined to polarize. The 2012 picture won Reygadas the Best Director prize at Cannes and wound up as an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival, earning defenders and detractors along the way. This is no "easy" motion picture and it does not function in the traditional sense. It does not adhere to a straightforward narrative and Reygadas, like Terrence Malick and David Lynch, follows his muse. "I truly appreciate the directors that don't try to lead me by the hand
An extensive and intelligent collection that should be part of the library of any Bill Moyers fan, the Faith & Reason Collection provides an invaluable exploration of the things we believe and the reasons we believe them. This box set from Athena includes three PBS documentaries (On Faith & Reason, The Wisdom of Faith and Amazing Grace) on six discs, amounting to over a dozen hours of intellectually-stimulating programming. On Faith & Reason features interviews with a dozen writers and intellectuals, with Moyers proving a sharp and entertaining presence while allowing his subjects to talk without interruption or needless fireworks.
A hopeless motion picture.
The first film in Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy is the fascinating and troubling Paradise: Love. Initially, Seidl had intended on shooting Paradise as one complete picture. But after four years and over 80 hours of rushes, the only decision that made sense was to split it into three features about three women from one family. Paradise: Love deals with sex tourism in Kenya. The trilogy also includes Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope, respectively dealing with a Catholic missionary and a diet camp. For this picture, Seidl's "paradise" is barren; his view is of a culture of necessary exploitation.
There is a moment in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, now available on Criterion Collection Blu-ray, where the 14-year-old Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) plays on the icy diving board to an empty swimming pool in the middle of the titular weather event. The camera fixes at his feet as they slip on the surface, then pans up to his face where he appears elated to have survived his dim dalliance with disaster. In many ways, this scene sums up what the characters in this 1997 motion picture attempt. Their relationships are dances atop precarious slabs of frozen material and they
Combat Girls works because it avoids the cliches that often sink the genre into melodramatic terrain.
An alarming, ceaselessly compelling motion picture from Germany, Combat Girls touches on a subject often left behind and treats its themes with respect. Directed by David Wnendt, this picture approaches the typical coming of age drama with the neo-Nazi youth movement in Germany serving as a backdrop. What's more, Combat Girls focuses on the females of the neo-Nazi movement - an often forgotten side of the story in a typically male-dominated realm. For Wnendt, there is something very powerful and intoxicating about what lures young women to such a combative, ferocious, devastating culture. Marisa (Alina Levshin) is a 20-year-old German
Nearly nine years in the making, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is the creation of director Paul Bunnell. This black-and-white science fiction musical is generally energetic, but it’s also excessively self-aware. The problem with this is that the ample bouts of cheese and ham fall flat more than they hit target, resulting in more than a few of the wrong kind of eye-rolls. Bunnell actually got the idea for The Ghastly Love of Johnny X after seeing Teenagers from Outer Space. The resultant homage to the science fiction lunacy of the 1950s certainly takes its prompts from Tom Graeff’s
The matter of Harold Lloyd’s lack of fame has been of much discussion over the years. He is often cited by film buffs as one of the three masters of the silent comedy era, with the other being Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin. Yet somehow the Nebraska-born Lloyd is often now overlooked in conversations about the subject, despite the fact that he made more pictures than Keaton and Chaplin combined. Safety Last!, available now on Criterion Collection Blu-ray, is perhaps Lloyd’s most well-known work. The famed clock scene has been often imitated, even in commercials, but most people still aren’t
Filmmaker Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool walks the tender line between fiction and non-fiction, using the cinema vérité method to beg questions about the duties of media and the principles of witnessing the world as it is. Indeed, the questions asked in this motion picture are as persuasive today as they were in the milieu of late-60s disruption; it is remarkable how little has changed. Medium Cool is now available on Criterion Collection, so now is as good a time as any to visit (or revisit) this gripping and exceptional feature. Wexler’s picture, to have film critic Thomas Beard tell it,
Mike Leigh’s wonderful Life is Sweet is less a film about something and more a film about the thrust of life itself. It focuses on a family of four in North London as they try to eke their way through various curveballs and ongoing struggles. The performances are pitch-perfect, the dialogue crackles with realism, the comedy is at turns bleak and hysterical, and the movie winds up being life-affirming and intelligent. Leigh’s 1990 picture, available now thanks to Criterion Collection, was the British filmmaker’s international breakthrough. He had crafted a series of plays and films prior to its release, of
Garbage’s Shirley Manson spends a large part of One Mile High…Live traipsing a ring mid-stage like a prizefighter. She sporadically lunges forward and back, prattles in her Scottish brogue and delivers slithery, punk-infused vocals to an appreciative throng at Denver’s Ogden Theatre. Now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital video from Eagle Rock Entertainment, this document of Garbage’s first world tour in seven years captures the band in a loose but adept state. There is nothing overpowering about it, but One Mile High…Live shows a competent rock band trying to yank themselves back in the mix. Manson is joined by
A pompous yet dull sex comedy from Argentina, 2+2 is more exasperating than entertaining. It is apparently the highest-grossing comedy ever in the South American country, but it lumbers around like every predictable and sloppy farce on the subject and has little of import to say. On top of that, it asks the audience to bond with unrealistic characters. There have been many movies to ostensibly decry the pitfalls of the dreaded monogamous relationship only to back down for the big finish. 2+2 is no different from the rest. Apart from being an unoriginal glimpse at swinging, it features characters
A sensitive, careful and subtle motion picture, Eytan Fox’s Yossi is a wonderful exploration of loneliness and longing. This 2012 film is the sequel to Fox’s 2002 flick Yossi & Jagger. That picture was well-received for telling a romantic tale about two soldiers at the Israeli-Lebanon border who find relief from the ambush of daily violence. Yossi is Fox’s fifth film and it represents his penchant for careful examinations of romance. It seems an apt continuation of his first project, Time Off. That 45-minute picture was an examination of sexual identity in the Israeli army. It wound up leading to
Bill Moyers once again provides compelling and timeless programming with Beyond Hate, a documentary that first aired in 1991. The special has been released on DVD by Athena with the bonus program Facing Hate, a 58-minute interview with Moyers and Elie Wiesel. There is also a 12-page booklet that outlines some historical context. Beyond Hate provides a lucid exploration of a complex subject, discovering hate in many forms and locations and discovering an interesting sense of continuity. Watching the documentary in 2013 reveals that little has changed in our cultural landscape; indeed, it appears we have new avenues down which
Pierre Etaix's charming films are finally released properly.
“The defining characteristic of comic cinema,” says French comic, clown and filmmaker Pierre Etaix, “is that it begins with a situation everyone’s familiar with…If your initial situation is authentic, the sky’s the limit.” Thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection, aficionados and novices of Etaix’s evacuated and unkempt cosmos of comedy can experience his works in their full glory. The Pierre Etaix Blu-ray set includes all of his films: five features and three shorts. As critic David Cairns explains in the included booklet, “Etaix had signed his name to a distribution deal that had gone sour, and the bulk
The BBC covers familiar ground, but the results still dazzle.
With 007 handling narration duties and some of the best nature cinematography splashing across the screen, One Life is yet another example of why nobody handles natural history better than the BBC. A single program, about 85 minutes in length, One Life doesn’t particular break new ground. Fans of the BBC’s nature productions, like the brilliant Planet Earth and the stunning Life, may find themselves recalling some familiar territory in this show. But One Life does offer new vantage points and the material is woven into the larger tapestry with elegance and wit. The major narrative thrust is that of
Badlands Criterion Collection DVD Review: An Exploration of Isolation, Realism, Self-Image, and Violence
Marking the entrance of Terrence Malick with boldness and confidence.
Terrence Malick’s debut explores isolation, realism, self-image, and violence with the filmmaker’s lyrical elegance, setting the footing for an opus that frustrates, engrosses, and challenges with each new entry. 1973’s Badlands may well be the most forthright of his motion pictures, but it is no less vague or inventive. Now available as part of the Criterion Collection, this film marks the entrance of Malick with a statement of boldness and confidence. Indeed, many of his hallmarks dot the broad American countryside of this movie. The use of voiceover, the romantic approach to dialogue, the exciting cinematography, and the graceful approach
An amusing, humble television program from the Great White North.
The first episode of Murdoch Mysteries offers a clear vision of exactly how the Gemini-nominated will work. Set in 1890s Toronto, the detective show opens with the Canadian city tinkering with the idea of switching to alternating current from direct current. The issue deepens when the newly-crowned Miss Toronto Electric and Light is murdered. The show's protagonist, Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) is thrust into action to solve the case. And, to make things even more electrifying, one of the witnesses to the crime is none other than Nikola Tesla (Dmitry Chepovetsky). This humble Canadian television series plays with historical
The Ballad of Narayama Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Kinoshita's Kabuki Theatre Envisions Ubasute
This meditation on aging benefits from its theatrical style.
The concept of ubasute is at the centre of The Battle of Narayama, the 1958 film by Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita. Ubasute is the alleged practice of abandoning an infirmed or elderly relative on a mountain or some other remote locale. The practice apparently took place in times of famine or drought, with the idea being that the elderly person's death would lessen the burden on younger villagers. The practice may not have been a common custom and its appearances may generally be confined to legends and koans, but the conception of sending away of old people is hardly mythological.
Anne Fontaine gleefully dives into genre clichés and comes out winning.
A French romantic comedy that wholeheartedly and gleefully embraces almost every cliché of its American genre counterparts, My Worst Nightmare is an entertaining diversion. Directed by Anne Fontaine, who brought us Coco Before Chanel, this 2011 picture deals in the sorts of familiar relationship complications audiences are used to and traffics in class struggle. For Fontaine, the plan was to craft a film about a mismatched couple that centred on two specifically-chosen performers in the key roles. That meant bringing in the frenetic Benoît Poelvoorde and the ceaselessly classy Isabelle Huppert. "I wanted these two actors and no one else,"
Simplistic and showy, this documentary leaves a lot to be desired.
At the end of Lee Hirsch's Bully, we're told that "Everything starts with one." This is a reference to the idea that the prevention of bullying, a complex social problem, can sprout from the actions of one individual. The 2011 documentary's recurrent insistence to "Take a stand" furthers this notion, while a visit to The Bully Project's website suggests that part of taking said stand is seeing the movie. What we have with Hirsch's film is a well-made, glossy documentary that is heavy on emotional aesthetics and unfortunately lean on pragmatism and examination. While Bully grants unprecedented and often seemingly
A pageant of the absurd.
A dazzlingly dark and often very funny fable, The Tin Drum is a terrific motion picture. The 1979 film by German director Volker Schlöndorff is an adaptation of the Günter Grass novel of the same name. The movie generated considerable controversy at the time of its release, but it won the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and also scooped the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year. Schlöndorff’s picture is presented in its director’s cut format thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection. This version of the film is 163 minutes long, about 20 minutes
Bill Moyers details the Chinese American experience.
Now available on DVD from the good people at Athena, Bill Moyers: Becoming American is an engrossing three-part documentary about the Chinese American experience. The series debuted on PBS in March of 2003 and was nominated for four Emmys. The Chinese American experience is one of divergence and difficulty, an often agonizing antiquity that runs through judicial challenges, endemic racism, social hopes, and individual discoveries. The first episode of Becoming American, “Gold Mountain Dreams,” runs about 80 minutes and details early experiences of Chinese arriving in what would become the United States of America. To the Chinese in Guangdong province,
This Finnish comedy boasts charming cinematography and little else.
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski, Lapland Odyssey is a pretty standard guy movie wrapped up with a cute bow. It features most of the genre’s clichés, including the “endearing” band of underdogs, the blistering and “too-serious” girlfriend, the wild supporting characters, the nudity, and the violence against reindeers. Karukoski directs a Pekko Pesonen screenplay, marking the second pairing between filmmaker and writer. The first was 2005’s Beauty and the Bastard. 2010’s Lapland Odyssey has its heart in the right place, describing a tale that seems at least somewhat based in the economic and social realities of its lead characters,
An experiment in breaking conventions that easily runs out of steam.
Directed by Q (Qaushiq Mukherjee), Gandu is an interesting but not entirely convincing Bengali film. It arrives packed with danger, having been “banned in India” and received a number of transgressive descriptors. Indeed, the motion picture may well blast away the boundaries of the sort of mainline cinema most are used to when it comes to India. It may even be “anti-Bollywood,” as advertised. The trouble doesn’t lie in its excesses or even its transgressions; the problem lies in determining whether or not Gandu is a good movie. Q seems to use the 2010 flick as an experiment, stating a
How could this have happened?
Written and directed by Carol Morley, Dreams of a Life is a stunning documentary that tells a story that could not possibly be true. It details the life and death of Joyce Vincent, who was discovered in her bedsit above a shopping mall in North London. She’d been dead for three years before her remains were found. Her television was still on and she was surrounded by unopened Christmas presents. How could this have happened? How could anyone, let alone an attractive and generally well-liked 38-year-old, fade into the void in such a fashion without anyone catching on? Morley sets
The next step for the makers of Star Wreck.
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Timo Vuorensola, Iron Sky nails down all the blockbuster tropes in a ludicrous tale that actually packs a political and social punch. Vuorensola, along with some friends, had made the parody film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning in 2005 and enjoyed considerable success on the Internet. That movie was actually the seventh in a series but the first of theatrical length. It certainly laid the foundation for what Vuorensola and Co. were able to do with Iron Sky. The movie works because it combines the abject absurdity of moon Nazis with some surprisingly cogent points about
Téchiné provides unpardonable melodrama.
Directed by André Téchiné and based on a novel by Philippe Djian, Unforgivable is kind of an odd duck. It follows all the twists and turns of a French soap opera, swerving down wacky passageways with imbroglios that never quite go anywhere and ferocity that only just fizzes beneath the surface. It’s hard to suggest that this is a special or unique motion picture and Téchiné certainly is capable of more. Much is made of the veritable sea of oblique characters, most of who seem to pop in and out of the protagonist’s life at arbitrary intervals. Keeping things straight
A wonderful set from Criterion Collection, encapsulating some of Pasolini's most personal works.
Italian filmmaker, poet, philosopher, writer, and sometimes actor Pier Paolo Pasolini has certainly generated his fair share of controversy. He’s probably best known to mainstream culture for his Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a film our own Gordon S. Miller considers the “most repulsive” film he’s ever seen. Not for nothing, but that’s likely no small feat. Prior to the repulsion of Salò, Pasolini actually made a few less disturbing motion pictures - but they were no less controversial. His Trilogy of Life envelopes three films, each of which deals in a different piece of medieval literature. Thanks
One of the best films of 2012.
The Sessions is one of the best films of 2012. Directed by Ben Lewin and based on the experiences of Mark O’Brien, this is a picture that treats the issues of sex, religion and disability seriously and with compassion. It doesn’t draw weird lines in the sand, like certain infantile and porous pieces of shady fiction for housewives, and it features empathetic, realistic characters. O’Brien was a journalist, poet and advocate for those with disabilities. Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien was a short documentary made on his life with polio, while The Sessions focuses largely on
Does being alone in the universe unite us?
Created by Tim Kring and starring Kiefer Sutherland, Touch is one of those rare television shows that isn't afraid of challenging its audience. It discusses the connectivity of the universe, using numbers and patterns as a means to connect people. Nothing is by chance, but the audience is left pondering the beauty or boredom of the red connecting thread of all things. Kring, the creator of Heroes, has certainly mastered a certain aesthetic with his television shows. Those familiar with the extensive architecture of Heroes will find themselves on familiar ground with Touch, a series that features a range of
Afghanistan's official entry for the 2011 Academy Awards is a corny and cartoonish experience.
Directed by activist, director and actress Sonia Nassery Cole, The Black Tulip is Afghanistan’s official entry for the 2011 Academy Awards. The heart behind it seems impossible to discount (perhaps), but the overt and ham-fisted expression of desires that went into the film leaves a project that is cluttered, corny and sometimes cartoonish. The movie proudly demonstrates some Afghani customs, like a game called buzkashi in which men on horseback fight over a goat, but ultimately fails to illuminate the social progress that is an understandable object of pride for the filmmaker. The oversimplification of many of the film’s elements,
Hagar Ben-Asher commits mind, body and soul.
At the beginning of Hagar Ben-Asher’s The Slut, a horse leaps over a fence, runs freely and is eventually hit by a speeding truck. That this is the first imagery in this audacious and undaunted Israeli motion picture is no accident, but exactly what it symbolizes is ambiguous. Is it a statement about the potential risks of freedom? Or about driving too fast? Is it a statement at all? Much of the buzz pertaining to The Slut will come out of its wilfully incendiary nature. The title is clearly meant to provoke some sense of dialogue about the term itself.
"Feelings can creep up just like that."
Wong Kar-wai’s wonderful, stunning In the Mood for Love sparkles on Blu-ray thanks to Criterion Collection. The 2000 film, nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is a subtle and sensitive piece on isolation and love in many forms. It features incredible performances and a reserved but intimate style that captivates from the opening frame. With his spectacular Chungking Express earning tremendous critical acclaim and other awards pouring in for the director, Wong’s construction of a career has been as close to flawless as a modern filmmaker can get. His Happy Together won him both mainstream and critical success in
The forces of evil may be very much alive, but this film is not.
Designed strictly for lovers of pulp serials and potboilers, The Face of Fu Manchu is a dated Don Sharp joint making an appearance on DVD thanks to Warner Brothers’ Archive Collection. The 1965 picture is the first in a series of five films featuring the Sax Rohmer-created character. The heavy made appearances in early films like 1935’s Mask of Fu Manchu, in which he was played by Boris Karloff. The malevolent rise of foreign cultures has almost always proven as effective grounds for super-villains and Rohmer’s character was no different. His descriptions of purported “Yellow Peril” sound absolutely foul by
"A long agony."
Directed by James McTeigue, The Raven is a silly film with a silly premise that has no idea how silly it needs to be. The 2012 thriller comes written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare and purports to be a fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe’s mysterious last days. With the audacity to take such brave creative license comes no levity, however, and the film’s stone-serious tenor sinks the ordeal. The writers apparently used some details of Poe’s life in putting together the screenplay, with insinuations to his alcoholism and peculiarity coursing through the movie’s dark veins. There were indeed
Widely hailed as one of the finest French films of all time, Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise is an astounding piece of art and a dazzling historical document. Now available thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection, this 1945 motion picture was actually made during the Nazi occupation of France. Constraints on the production were significant, but Carné still created one of the most expensive pictures in the country at the time. There is some discussion as to the suitability of filming such a movie during the occupation (even Carné considered it “madness to make such a film in
Michael Apted's misstep.
As the 19th entry in the James Bond film series, The World Is Not Enough is a disappointment. Directed by Michael Apted, this 1999 picture is the first 007 film to be released officially by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as opposed to United Artists. It is the third film to star Pierce Brosnan and sadly the last to feature the late Desmond Llewelyn as the unmatched Q. The Bond series has been at its best when it manages to find the right balance, delivering its cocktail of sexy Bond girls, kooky gadgets, sly one-liners, malevolent villains, exotic locales, and over-the-top-action with just
A formulaic sitcom that hinges entirely on Deschanel's "adorkable" appeal.
How much one enjoys New Girl is entirely contingent on how much one enjoys the geek chic of star Zooey Deschanel. Beyond her syrupy act, the sitcom is as unoriginal as they come. Deschanel stars as Jess Day, a newly single teacher looking for a place to live after she catches her boyfriend cheating. She immediately lands with law-school dropout Nick (Jake Johnson), womanizer Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and sports dude Winston (Lamorne Morris). In the pilot, the character that becomes Winston is Coach (Damon Wayons, Jr.). Jess ticks all the boxes on the “adorkable” chart, from so-called ignorance of her
The talons of old lives dig deep.
When one feels that life is passing him or her by, it can be unbearable to see those who “have it all together” parading callously through their respective existences. The happy morons, so to speak, excruciate in their excellence and the talons of old lives and fuck-ups dig deep. This sits at the core of Joachim Trier’s dazzling Oslo, August 31st. The Norwegian film is a staggering but subtle affair, brimming with real characters and a sense of perceptive patience that few modern films manage. Trier cites the influences of Robert Bresson and Alain Resnais, with their elegance and life-infused
Cristián Jiménez's second feature film is wisely nurtured and pared, much like the titular shrub.
Directed by Cristián Jiménez and based on a novel by Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra, Bonsái is an affectionate film about the passage of time. The movie uses relationships as pivots, but centres on a young writer (Diego Noguera) as time moves over and through him. His existence - and evolution - draws from two points and is defined by the love he shares with two very different women. Jiménez has crafted a very special picture. It is romantic and comic, but unlike conventional genre pictures it treats its characters with respect. The people of Bonsái are layered without being convoluted,
Gurzi's debut looks the part but lacks a certain something.
Directed, written and produced by Jeremiah Gurzi, Heaven Strewn is a well-made motion picture with some interesting cinematic touches. It is a fairly average film overall, but Gurzi shows potential in rendering characters and capturing environments in a somewhat classic sense. His approach is somewhat old school and that benefits the soft, desert-kissed noir a fair bit. Gurzi, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, received the 2010 Panavision first-time filmmaker grant package. Through this, he gathered support from the Eastman Kodak Company and showed Heaven Strewn completely in 16mm Eastman Kodak film stock using anamorphic prime
BBC's second take on Gustave Flaubert's classic is a sexy stunner.
When Gustave Flaubert first delivered the sexy seeds of his romantic tragedy, Madame Bovary, to the literary world, he was prosecuted for offending public morals. While the novel is now considered a literary masterstroke, its 1856 release proved challenging. As with most things of this ilk, Madame Bovary saw numerous adaptations. It was turned into a 1932 film by Albert Ray and has been given the miniseries treatment more than once. The BBC took it on twice: once in 1964 with Giles Cooper at the helm and once in 2000 with Heidi Thomas in control. Thanks to the magic of
Of map-making and charting the human heart.
Braden King’s Here opens by informing us that “the story is still asleep.” In the case of the filmmaker’s vision of map-making and charting the depths of relationships, the story takes a little nudging to awaken and never really seems to wind to its full potential. Perhaps that’s the point, as the two lead characters amble through their respective existences without really ever touching the ground. Here has the honour of being the first American film to be shot entirely on location in Armenia. King is, without question, a lover of landscapes and locations. It shows throughout the motion picture,
Boyle's picture lacks details, consistency, and characters to care about.
Directed by Danny Boyle, written by John Hodge, and available now thanks to Criterion Collection, Shallow Grave is a bleakly comic film that is undermined by its unevenness and lack of details. Boyle’s picture does give us Ewan McGregor in his first leading role and it does offer a rewarding exercise in tone, but the lack of humanity and emotional connection drills unwelcome holes in the foundation. For Boyle, his intent with Shallow Grave was to dump “the moral baggage that British films carry around all the time.” In context, this 1994 picture was relatively couched in a time of
Chuck Norris' tears may cure cancer, but his steely gaze saves this prequel.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning “explains the rage” behind Chuck Norris’ James Braddock from Missing in Action, but it really should be the first entry in the series. It serves better as a foundation than it does a prequel and is, for all intents and purposes, a much better movie than the first one. This picture was filmed at the same time as Missing in Action and was initially to be released first, but a production decision reversed the plan and this was released in 1985. Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is directed by Lance Hool, who handles
Chuck Norris may bleed knives, but he can't save this dull actioner.
Missing in Action has largely been considered a Rambo rip-off - and a bad one at that. Now available on Blu-ray, there’s little doubt that this 1984 actioner is cheesy and somewhat slow-moving. Chuck Norris, who’s become somewhat of a cult figure thanks to a popular Internet meme, doesn’t really bring much to his role and director Joseph Zito pieces together a limp, misplaced film. The story behind Missing in Action is that producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were taken in by a screenplay that was floating around Hollywood at the time. That screenplay was written by an up-and-comer
This BBC series is plagued and ultimately sunk by its biases.
British historical Niall Ferguson presents Civilization: The West and the Rest, a BBC documentary series with six episodes. The program covers Ferguson’s theories pertaining to the ascendency of the West and its influence on “the rest of the world” after 1500 A.D. Ferguson specializes in financial and economic history, so it stands to reason that his focus in the series would include such factors. The trouble is that his fondness for all things Empire gets in the way and we’re left with a tale of Western supremacy that tends to overinflate the morality of those at the “western end of
Summer Interlude Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Formative Bergman Picture Gets the High-Def Treatment
A tale of loss, despair, and innocence meets its Blu-ray release.
With Summer Interlude, Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman began to lay the foundation for some of his most memorable pictures. This 1951 picture, now available on Blu-ray and DVD thanks to Criterion Collection, is considered by the director to be one of his most important works. It is certainly a haunting project.What we have here is a tale of loss. Innocence, love, artistic illusion, and religious faith are all lost in one way or another in Bergman’s film. In other hands, those aspects would be utilized to depress. Here, however, Bergman crafts a uniquely human (and humane) tell that finds
Everything that's wrong with Hollywood rom-coms in one movie.
This Means War is one of the most abrasive, frustrating, mind-numbingly terrible films of 2012. It presents itself as a romantic comedy action flick, but it fails on all fronts and winds up a blubbing mess “highlighted” by foolish characters, awkward lightning and set design, and Chelsea Handler’s nauseating attempts at humour. Of course, this is a McG project. That means that every scene is coated in ridiculous amounts of musical intervention and it means that the action scenes are incoherent messes. That the movie misses the romantic mark and the comedic mark with gross consistency makes matters even worse,
An entertaining, twisted effort that can't quite find its groove.
Produced by the famed Troma Enterainment, Father’s Day is a pretty middling affair. The flick comes written and directed by Winnipeg-based filmmaking collective Astron-6 and attempts to slap itself headlong into the grindhouse and late-nite movie genre, using resolute cheese, bad effects, and exaggerated sex and violence to plead its case. The trouble is that Father’s Day is simply too knowing. While other films have enjoyed success by committing to the B-movie principles and embracing the clichés, rarely does a moment go by within this picture that the actors don’t seem to be winking at the camera. The comedy is
Tanović's film explores impending war through the eyes of personal relationships, but the human element isn't developed enough to make a satisfying impact.
Directed by Danis Tanović, Cirkus Columbia was the Bosnian entry for the 2010 Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is a picture about war and its consequences, but it approaches things from a slightly unconventional stance and winds up very nearly being a domestic soap opera set against the blossoming of the Bosnian War. Tanović, who won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his 2001 debut No Man’s Land, doesn’t present a political picture with Cirkus Columbia. There are elements couched in historical reality, but they operate more as a frame rather than a full subject. The basic premise is
Diamonds aren't forever.
Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky only worked together on three films, but each has left an indelible impression in the film world. The Cranes Are Flying (1957) and I Am Cuba (1964) are the more well-known, but Letter Never Sent (1959), also known as The Unsent Letter, is well worth a look, too. Those who are familiar with Urusevsky’s work know that his cinematographer is astounding from a technical standpoint. He broke new ground in the Soviet film world, innovating with handheld cameras, zoom techniques, and various unorthodox angles. These tricks of the trade, now largely commonplace,
What is it with this city?
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is a delightful piece of comic fantasy. It is, at times, hysterical and touching, a warm ode to a city and a lifestyle of romance, literature, art, sex, and, above all else, love. Allen's 41st film brims with all of the brightness of his best work, containing thoughts about his legacy and his passion in the midst of a story that is brilliantly funny and warm to the touch. Midnight in Paris has earned four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture and one for Best Director. Allen's screenplay also picked up a nomination
A stylish but largely empty political thriller.
No less than the collapse of a doe-eyed young man's faith in politics stands at the core of The Ides of March. This film, penned and directed by George Clooney, is not unlike many political films in that it smashes the illusion of goodness that few have with respect to the political realm. Nobody with any sense is surprised that the political game is unethical and chock-full of sleazy characters, but narratives like Clooney's can make for good entertainment. The Ides of March is based on Beau Willimon's 2008 play Farragut North and has received an Academy Award nomination for
It has a certain understated tension that makes it well worth a look.
If there's anything that makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy work, it's its tone. The Tomas Alfredson picture is based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré and treats us to an espionage culture that is not at all like the worlds of James Bond or even Jason Bourne. While the aforementioned spy series' race with breakneck speeds and feature dazzling chases and hot babes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is quiet, subtle and deliberate. Anyone who knows le Carré knows that he knows his stuff. He also knows betrayal, making Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a personal work