Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Current Cinema 17.5

It Comes At Night

After the flairs of rough-hewn brilliance that occasionally bubbled to the surface in Trey Edward Shults' debut feature "Krisha", it shouldn't be a complete surprise his sophomore effort is so there as well. What is tantamount in "It Comes At Night" is the elongation of tension throughout the entire film, sustained by Shults' perfect accentuation of camera movement and lighting (which at times feels like its lit only by candlelight and lantern). Technical chops aside, "It Comes At Night" is also a pregnant, psychologically taut thriller that posits the idea of mankind's Armageddon as rendered through two sets of families in an isolated part of the country learning to trust, compromise and simply live together as an undefined sickness ravages the unlucky ones. Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott and Kelvin Harrison Jr. all give tremendous and tightly screwed performances. At one point towards the end, I found myself holding my breath as the consequences on screen tumble towards an inevitable outcome of confusion and violence. It's quite unlike any end-of-the-world scenario imagined by Hollywood in some time which makes it all the more joyful to behold.


Rough Night 

As an example of modern comedy- i.e. driven strictly by improvisational editing/acting and raunchy for the sake of raunchiness- Lucia Aniello's "Rough Night" is a typical sample. As anything more transcendental or original, it fails miserably. There are moments of spark, but overall its simply a gender twist on the inane, moronic bro comedies that have been invading the landscape since the wrath of Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips.


The Hero 


Full review at Dallas Film Now


Wonder Woman


As someone pretty uninformed on the dense histories and backstories of the DC (or hell ANY comic book franchise monikor), I can't speak to the relevancy to Patti Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" adaptation, but I can say it jostled and ravaged my senses quite unlike any recent comic book movie, made all the more urgent by its upheaval of the cultural and feminist blockades that tried to tear it down (a MAN buying a ticket to an all female screening than crying about reverse discrimination for one). The film does follow a formulaic narrative complete with expensive CGI battle at the end, but "Wonder Woman" packed more gusto and feeling into the moment leading up to that denouement better than most tentpole films. And wow the "Battle for No Man's Land" sequence is just thrilling stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

On "The Lost City of Z"

In the films of James Gray, nothing comes easy. Survival is often sought at a high price. Walloped in deep shadow.... or inky blacks of a midnight trainyard.... or the halcyon golden of a cramped New York City tenement... or especially in the oppressive and humid jungles of South America, his films are a litmus test for the human experience. In his latest film, "The Lost City of Z" (adapted from the book of the same name by David Grann), his survivalist instinct manifests itself in a literal uncharted adventure that sees British officer Col. Percy Fawcett braving the depths of the Amazonian jungle and getting lost both in body and spirit. Gorgeously framed and edited, impeccably acted and featuring a classicism whose power is often overwhelming, I find it hard to believe Gray can ever top himself after seeing one of his films. "The Immigrant" (2014), though it bombed theatrically and at festivals, was a masterpiece of fragility and trapped emotions in the visage of Marion Cotillard's single immigrant female status. I love that film with no bounds. And now, "The Lost City of Z" has made me love something even more rabidly.


As Col. Fawcett, Charlie Hunnam plays the explorer with a glacial muscularity, rarely belying the fear or apprehension he has with each successive visit to the Amazon jungle. Initially sent there to map out the terrain for a British geographical society, he begins to hear whispers of a lost magical city. He does see clues- pottery and elaborately carved statues of rocks- that are revealed to him like glimmers from God above before they're tragically taken away from him, either through natural causes or weak willed human stupidity. Three visits to the jungle in all, the final embarked upon with his growing son that has disastrous consequences Also along for most of the ride is his exacting aide, Henry Costin (played to perfection by a quiet, interior Robert Pattinson). Together, the duo represent explorers with intelligence, wit and careful consideration of their unknown surroundings.

Dotted with Rudyard Kipling or Robert Louis Stevenson anecdotes of native violence- one in which features a nasty spill into a piranha infest river- Gray overrides these random conflicts of culture with more fraternal moments, such as when one of the population the explorers meet drops a colored liquid into the water and fish slowly pop to the surface, allowing him to grab a few for supper. In seconds, the fish resume their underwater crawl, causing Costin to remark how amazing it is for these people to only take what they need and nothing more. It's these moments of gentle observation that feel so true and educational that sets "The Lost City of Z" apart from other films of its ilk. More low-key than any standard Hollywood production, its a film whose beauty is unassuming and it sneaks up on you.

Part of that sneaking beauty lies also in the performance of Sienna Miller as Fawcett's dutiful and understanding wife. Left at home with their kids... more years apart than together it seems.... her role as Nina stands out among the boy crew. Soft when necessary and strikingly hard when pressed, Gray chooses to end the film focusing on her. It's a brave move. After spending so much time with Fawcett and his compulsive trips to the jungle in search of a possibly imaginative place, Nina becomes just as lost and mentally forlorn as her husband. Wandering off into an imagined jungle of her own, Gray seems to be saying that the greatest sacrifice was not the adventure itself, but the person who allowed the adventurer to test the fate of an unforgiving environment at the expense of his loved ones. It's a sobering idea and yet another achingly perfect finale to a James Gray effort.

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