Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.4

Alien Covenant

In "Prometheus", director Ridley Scott began an ascension away from the original scare tactics of the "Alien Trilogy" and layered in origin ideas and the base for countless sequels to come. "Alien Covenant" continues this theory with some pretty batshit crazy acting from Michael Fassbender wrapped around some even crazier ideas of creationism, trans humanism and the floundering inability of space travelers to avoid danger. Essentially a haunted-house-pick-everyone-off slasher film (really, the franchise has been building towards this for 30 years, now its fully embraced it), "Alien Covenant" has its moments of near greatness but its ultimately a victim of that horror film trope of too many people we don't care about biting the dust. Add to that, quite frankly, the menace and freak show energy of the actual alien creature is reduced to a nimble CGI effect. If anything, the film shows us that a robot can be just as manipulative and evil as the very creature the franchise is named after. Maybe the next one installment will be called "David".


Frantz

Francois Ozon's "Frantz" is a beguiling effort that despite its arbitrary switching from shimmering black and white to bursts of color (that I still can't figure out why) genuinely grows as it winds along. Suffering from the loss of their youngest son in WWI, a German family's only consolation is the dutiful presence of the son's fiance played by Paula Beer. When Frenchman Adrian (Pierre Niney) appears, he slowly insinuates himself into the family, telling them he was a friend of Frantz in Germany. Of course, nothing is as it seems. Battling the disapproving glances of the whole town as well as the harsh nationalism and broken pride of their German defeat with a Frenchman in their midst, "Frantz" is quite the slow burn but whose mood and second half perspective shift makes for a consistently surprising effort from Ozon.


Plus lots of new stuff at Dallas Film Now:


A Quiet Passion

Black Butterfly

The Wedding Plan

The Dinner

Saturday, May 06, 2017

70's Bonanza: France, Anonymous Society

Alain Corneua may be one of the more under appreciated French filmmakers of the last few decades. Working right up till his death in 2010 with the Kristin Scott Thomas/Ludivine Sagnier potboiler "Love Crime" (which spawned a fairly putrid DePalma remake in 2012 titled "Passion"), Corneau's real mean streak came in the mid to late 70's. Alongside the very bleak "Serie Noir" and hard nosed cop flick "Police Python 357", "France, Anonymous Society" was his feature film debut in 1974. In the spirit of all brash first attempts, Corneau runs rampant with idea, style and social commentary. The main idea, as such, is a complicated web of sardonic posturing between a local drug dealer (played to cool perfection by Michel Bouqet) and an omniscient drug corporation who seem to substitute for the government in political reach and power. One viewing may not be enough to fully comprehend exactly whose side each person resides with as the body toll mounts, kidnappings of silent little girls compounds the tensions and dead-end-bug-eyed junkies may eventually rule the world. And did I mention the whole thing takes place filtered through the immortal memory of the Bouqet character 100 years in the future? It seems all the violence did help discover some sort of immortal health injection, which creates even more of a loopy and dazed tension to the entire film. I'd say "France, Anonymous Society" is ripe for  "rediscovery and release", but seeing as how its never been released on home video outside a now long out of print 10 film boxset, it's simply due for "discovery". See this if you can. It's been one of my unmitigated joys of the early year so far.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Produced and Abandoned #20

More titles deserving a general DVD release.

1. Remember My Name (1978)- Altman proselyte Alan Rudolph's debut feature is said to be a nifty Hitchockian rift. I think I saw this on shoddy VHS back in the day when I became fascinated by some of Rudolph's other films, but not a single image of it remains in my head.

2. Seven Beauties (1975)- Most of Lina Wertmuller's once available films are now long out of print and going for exorbitant prices online. Some were in heavy rotation on Bravo (remember when they played movies) or Sundance back in the 90's and I caught snippets of them, but "Seven Beauties", often called her neglected masterpiece, is nowhere to be seen any longer.

3. Spoiled Children (1977)- So little of Bertrand Tavernier is available, especially his early output. This film about a director trying to write a screenplay and getting involved with all types of diversions in a rented apartment sounds interesting. With Tavernier's recent film about the history of cinema, hopefully someone will look at his back catalogue.

4. Denise Calls Up (1994)-  The independent filmmaking boom of the 90's did so much for the art. It gave us a new wave of talent that, like the French Nouvelle Vague, redefined our expectations of how and why movies get made. It also got a variety of sub-par stuff green lit by studios in hopes of catering to the its new-found audiences. "Denise Calls Up" may be that, but I remember it fondly when I caught it late at night on Sundance Channel back in the day.

5. Land and Freedom (1995)- There's more Ken Loach on home video then isn't, however, this 1995 film (which I feel is one of his best) still hasn't found a stable home on DVD outside of a British release in 2001.

6. Involuntary (2008)- After the recent smash hit of "Force Majeure", there was some interest in unearthing filmmaker Ruben Ostlund's previous work, but there's been no headway since. This 2008 film, which seems to be about a cross-section of people old and young in yet another stressful situation, cements Ostlund as a purveyor of the social climate and all its inadequacies. It sounds terrific.

7. The Last of England (1987)- A surprising number of Jarman films are available (on Netflix no less), but this 1987 film, considered to be his best by some, is not one of them. This film sounds extreme- the rounding up and shooting of innocent middle class English families- and its controversial use of image and sound make this one that any adventurous film lover should be able to view.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.3

The Zookeeper's Wife

Niki Caro's rendition of the bestselling book of the same name is heartbreaking fodder for the overtly sentimental story of a husband and wife in Poland during World War II, yet she manages to craft a film that ears its sniffles with a purposeful eye and ear for the small nuances of character and plot. It helps that Jessica Chastain is the wife in question, stoically doing her part to help hide Jews while her husband (an equally great Johan Heldenbergh) gets drawn into the trenches of the Polish Resistance. Basically, the film had me from the very beginning when Chastain helps a young elephant back to life. Those tender moments of human frailty trying to save lives- no matter the species- serves as a cold rebuttal to the oncoming Nazi plague of human obliteration.


Personal Shopper

Sometimes, hype ruins a film for me. Hearing about Assayas' latest "modern ghost story" since wowing people at Cannes almost a year ago, the landmines were firmly established. Thankfully, "Personal Shopper" exceeds expectations. Starring Kristen Stewart in a restless, frazzled performance that makes her tenuous connection to the afterlife that much more electric, Assayas spins his drama in so many directions that it could fail at any one of them, but doesn't. Part metaphysical ghost story, part murder-mystery and part travelogue, "Personal Shopper" ultimately becomes a pregnant examination of all these genres. It also has something magnificent to say about the transience of life. As the titular personal shopper, Assayas has cast Stewart as the anonymous presence who shops and supplies clothing for a famous celebrity in Paris. Stewart hates the job, and she's stuck emotionally as well, waiting for a sign from the afterlife from her recently deceased brother. Problem is, something else attaches itself to her while playing in the wold of shadows. "Personal Shopper" is startling, perplexing, mischievous and subtly chilling.


Aftermath

Is it sacrilege to say I like this Schwarzenegger over Terminator Schwarzenegger?  Full review on
Dallas Film Now.


After the Storm


The best word to describe the films of Hirokazu Koeeda would be generous. This is yet another. Full review on Dallas Film Now

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cinema Obscura: La Prisionnaire (aka Woman In Chains)

Released in 1968 at the height of power pop and love, French director Henri Georges Clouzot's final film plays like he knows it'll be his last. Opening with a smorgasbord of subliminally placed bright colors amidst free-flowing jazzy editing , "La Prisionnaire" (or "Woman In Chains" as it was marginally released in the States) is a vibrant gasp effort from the aging (and ailing) filmmaker. Halted several times during production due to Clouzot's health, "Woman In Chains" ultimately feels like it should be recognized alongside Antonioni's "Blow Up" or "Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" as a film that not only seems to understand the overall 'grooviness' of its day but one that subverts its inherent perversion and takes stilted joy in the ideas just lurking beneath the surface. And like both those films, "Woman In Chains" twists and turns the idea of watching and being looked at into a spry psychological game of who'll bluff and look away first. The fact that its Clouzot's first and only color film is also quite wonderful, and gets a lot of mileage from it.

As the free-spirited woman in an "open" relationship with her husband, Josee (a beautiful Elisabeth Wiener) falls under the spell of modern at dealer Stanislas (Laurent Terzieff). He introduces her to his hobby of photographing woman in bondage photos. An uneasy relationship grows between them. Both the aesthetic choices of bondage and modern art (here recreated as gaudy pieces of chandeliers, decadent wall paintings and psychotropic displays) gives Clouzot the opportunity to enter into a fun-house style of set design. More often than not, "Woman In Chains" feels like a late 60's performance piece documentary rather than a psychological thriller. Of course, this being a French film, l' amour fou develops between the couple and the film ambles towards a climax of self-loathing, repentance and one beautifully staged moment between two people on a rooftop with the Eiffel Tower careening in the background.

Gaining some recognition on the festival circuit a couple years back, "Woman In Chains" deserves a much wider re-release than its been given. While it may not be Clouzot's absolute best film (which still remains "Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique" simply for their genre-setting templates), "Woman In Chains" is a perverse, skilled and eye-popping rendition of how Clouzot saw the world in groovy 1968.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.2

The Great Wall

I have a weakness for the late period Zhang Yimou films derided by most everyone else. While lukewarm on "Coming Home", I found his 2012 Christian Bale-missionary-stuck-in-war-torn-China "Flowers of War" an especially immersive and moving marvel. The same can be said for his latest project, "The Great Wall", again starring a Hollywood star (Matt Damon) who manages to save most of China. This time it's not marauding Japanese soldiers, but marauding creatures that bellow out from underneath a magical mountain every 60 years and do battle with humans. Yes, its preposterous, but its also an extravagant and visually stunning effort that features an unending number of imaginative moments calculated to shock and awe. Yimou's roving camera, his mise-en-scene within heavily crafted CGI backdrops and his fetishistic use of color are magnetic technical attributes that save the film from being yet another internationally produced Game of Thrones knock-off hoping to recoup its assets overseas... and then score whatever bonus it can with American audiences. It's spectacle, but its a glorious one.


A Cure For Wellness

Overblown in its length and overwrought in its trippy representation of madness and Lynchian weirdness, Gore Verbinski's "A Cure For Wellness" is a vacant ploy of commercialism masquerading as avant garde. And if the carefully composed images don't stir the feeling, then its narrative about a New York finance employee going to a mysterious Swiss sanitarium to bring back one of his firm's head honchos certainly doesn't move the needle either. As the employee chosen for this mind-bending mission, yet another misstep is Dane DeHaan, portraying our protagonist with about as much magnetism as the cold marble walls and floors ever present in the hospital. From top to bottom, "A Cure For Wellness" is an unpleasant, dour and alienating effort.


Bitter Harvest

Manages to wrap a tepid and forgettable love story around a moment in history that should be anything but tepid and forgettable.  Full review on Dallas Film Now.


The Salesman


Oscar winning Farhadi film again! One of the very best of the year so far. Review at Dallas Film Now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Top 5 List: Films To Help You Deal With the Trump Administration (For better or worse)

5. Running Man- Stay with me on this one. A middle aged, white TV host with perfect white teeth and hair that's coiffed like a perfect toupee (Richard Dawson) and taking place in the years 2017-2019, forces convicts and under privileged people to fight for their lives in a sadistic televised game show. Poised somewhere after an economic collapse and a totalitarian police state, Paul Michael Glaser's futuristic 80's thriller was a staple for kids like me growing up. Looking at it now, in the shadow of the current administration, it feels more prescient than ever as the cultural, economic and idealistic divide is growing wider by the hour. Yes, at the time, it was simply an Arnold Schwarzenegger 'actioner' vehicle- based on a short story by Stephen King- but today (as with so many sci-fi efforts that deal with political events in the guise of imagination), it comes across as a chilling deconstruction of our dominating reality TV obsession and our President with the same empty smile and coiffed hair, just waiting for the chance to throw us all to the hungry wolves. Whether a television camera will track it all is yet to be determined. Stay tuned dear watchers.


4. A Face In the Crowd- While working my way through all of Elia Kazan's films last year, I'm not sure I was quite ready for this one. I'd heard about it, but watching it during the summer with the presidential primaries going on, it slowly gained a resonance that I don't think would have been there otherwise. About the film I wrote, ".....exhaustive from start to finish, Andy Griffith portrays a drunken bumpkin who ascends to stardom as a folk-singing cultural prohpet. Combining Peter Finch ala "Network" and pre-dating Beatlemania while mixing in some brutal stabs at political and media stalwarts, "A Face In the Crowd" has alot on its mind. It winds up being a pretty sorrowful reflection on hollow stardom". I've begun to re-think this assessment and see it as a sorrowful reflection on hate mongering and the empty spectacle of someone saying just what the insecure/insulated/insolent American wants to hear without a shred of decency or thought to back it up. So yes, this film is pretty damn topical right now. I wonder what Andy Griffith would have to say about things right now. Let's all sing a song about this.


3. Rashomon- I've said it once already, but stay with me on this one. Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece not only set the precedence for wonky timelines in narrative cinema, but its perspective and suggestive story is an endlessly fascinating example of art cinema at its highest. Depending on who is telling the story, heroes are recast as villains and victims become perpetrators. A single act is shattered into a million perspectives and ideas. I can't think of a better analogy to the Trump administration than this. It's not a travel ban, says one official. Trump himself tweets that its a "ban". Someone else says its not a ban. It's not a "Muslim" ban. So many people are talking out of seventeen sides of their mouths, becoming a clusterfuck of bent rhetoric and non-transparent ideology. Kurosawa's tale of a crime splintered looks quite baroque compared to the double speak of today. Watch this one again for an extremely jaded outlook on things. And it's one of Toshiro Mifune's best roles, which is saying alot for his long, illustrious career.

2. All the President's Men


Probably the most obvious film on this list, but also, perhaps, the most hopeful? That being the current administration will eventually step over an imaginary boundary that seems to be pushed further ahead every day and finally commit some sort of treasonous act that requires impeachment. And if that day comes, Alan Pakula's film (based on the brilliant book by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) serves as a tremendous reminder of the sweat and tears that goes into a journalistic investigation to get the facts sound and accurate.


1. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington- Frank Capra was Hollywood's most humanist director. He routinely found goodness in most people's actions, thoughts and reactions. In his classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", an ordinary 'bumpkin' replaces a senator and comes against the forces of political skulduggery at its most venomous. He eventually "wins" by filibustering and shining a light on the improper actions of others around him. Oh, if only it were that easy. I doubt there ever will be a Mr. Smith in our present government, but if there is one, now would be the time for him to step up and whisk us all away into his Capra-esque fantasy and wipe clean the (now daily) mounting improprieties of the Trump Regime. Released in 1939, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" was certainly attuned to the growing feelings of misrepresentation and dishonesty, but I think even Capra (and screenwriter Sidney Buchman and original story writer Lewis R. Foster) would shrink from the foulness of today. Ultimately, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" is a triumph for the small man against a hulking, corrupt institution. Placed alongside the other nihilistic, sardonic and utterly prescient films on this list, I include Capra's film solely because of its illusion of decency and innocence. Lord knows we all can use some rays of hope nowadays, and this film provides it.