May 10, 2017

BEDAZZLED — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Bedazzled2Director Stanley Donen mocks British tics such as racism, sexism, and imperialist tendencies in the context of a swinging ‘60s romantic comedy that plays off the urbane comic chemistry between the small-statured Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's lanky trouble-maker. 

Here is a time capsule of '60s era self-loathing and misogyny captured in brilliant comic form.

Moore plays Stanley, a shy young man driven to attempt suicide as a remedy to his inability to approach, much less seduce, the waitress he works alongside at a Wimpy’s restaurant. Enter Peter Cook’s Beelzebub to offer Stanley seven of his wishes be granted in exchange for his soul. Naturally, the Devil manages to sour every best intention. Stanley escapes from each wished-for episode by blowing raspberries. 

Raquel Welch makes a splash as Lust when she briefly visits Stanley's lonely bed in this smartly stylized romantic comedy with the weight of the world on its mind. Love, as it turns out, means everything. 

Bedazzled

Not Rated. 113 mins. (B+) (Four Stars — out of five / no halves)


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TRAIN TO BUSAN

TrainToBusanThis top-drawer zombie-apocalypse thriller generated major buzz at Cannes in 2016. The South Korean town of Busan is the destination for a trainload of ever-diminishing passengers and a lot of hungry zombies. Director Sang-ho maximizes every cubic inch of suspense the train cars can contain.

A workaholic divorced husband travels with his adolescent (part-time) daughter to share her with his ex-wife. His ability to protect his daughter from the zombies presents the narrative arc.

Sure the social commentary hits too much on the nose; it’s a forgivable condition considering how much fun this filmic rollercoaster is to enjoy with friends or family.

Train to Busan

Not Rated. 118 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)


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May 01, 2017

HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY — CANNES 2016

Harold-lillian-hollywood-love-storyAn ebullient filmic love letter to one of Hollywood’s most endearing creative couples, this gratifying documentary is essential viewing for budding filmmakers. There is a lot of valuable artistic information to be gleaned from storyboard artist/production designer Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson, a married duo who worked together in Hollywood for six decades. The couple contributed to films as varied as Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and “Marnie,” to Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” to “The Graduate.”

Much of the narration comes from Lillian, a spitfire sprite with an encyclopedic mind. Harold’s love of sketching scenes from their marriage, provides a seemingly endless parade of cartoon images of the idealized couple tackling life’s curveballs with an undeniable mutual respect and adoration for one another.  

Shrek 2

If you saw “Shrek 2,” you might remember that the King and Queen were named “Harold” and “Lillian.” The glitzy animated hat-tip came from a DreamWorks team so enamored of the couple that they considered them family. You’ll feel like part of the Harold and Lillian family too as you watch the story of these two unsung innovators of American Cinema.

HAROLD & LILLIAN

In an age where Hollywood movies have lost their charm, you can find plenty of charisma to spare here.    

Not Rated. 94 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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April 08, 2017

WAKE IN FRIGHT — CLASSIC FILM PICK

WAKE IN FRIGHTTed Kotcheff’s “Wake In Fright” is an unsettling, if perverse, psychological thriller unlike any other film ever made. It captures the complete mental breakdown of a character in surreal yet viscerally physical terms, while encompassing economic conditions, prejudices, and the ruthless mindset of men in Australia's lawless Outback environment.

You might detect a tinge of anti-alcohol propaganda at the core of the narrative’s existential crisis in this unpredictable adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel. Nicholas Roeg’s Cinema is the closest thing you compare to Kotcheff’s fraught social study of Australia in the late ‘50s. Desolation of the human soul comes complete with senseless killing of kangaroos.  

Gary Bond’s John Grant character is a grade school teacher chomping at the bit to escape his Government-delegated job in the remote town of Tiboonda. School is out for Christmas. A reunion with his girlfriend in Sydney promises a return to civilization.

Wake-in-fright

The problem is that our unreliable protagonist gets sidetracked during a night of drinking and gambling in a mining town populated with reprobates. Grant imagines winning enough money gambling to pay off the education bond that has him teaching in the middle of nowhere. No such luck. Grant’s poor choice leads him on a bitter path toward many more decisions he soon comes to regret.

Wake In Fright2

John Grant becomes a refugee in his own country, surrounded by alcohol-fueled maniacs who usher him down a spiral of destruction. “Wake In Fright” is a masterpiece of energized social satire. The team of kangaroo hunters who take Grant along for the ride represent the same patriarchy that carry on constant wars and shove guns in civilians’ faces just to see how they handle fear. “Wake In Fright” can be taken as a command or a condition. Either way, this classic picture will make you squirm in fear.

Ted Kotcheff led a varied career that spanned four decades and many genres and styles. "Fun With Dick and Jane" (1977), "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe" (1978), "North Dallas Forty" (1979), and "Weekend at Bernies" (1989) were each box office hits. Although "Wake In Fright" died at the box office, it is a truly staggering film that represents an artistic pinnacle for Ted Kotcheff. You can see why it's his favorite of all of his films; this one is special. 

Rated R. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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April 01, 2017

NERUDA — CANNES 2016

Neruda posterDirector Pablo Larraín’s filmic love letter to Pablo Neruda (Chilean poet and politician) works better than it should considering the nature of Guillermo Calderón’s objectively baroque screenplay. The screenwriter manages to paint a wildly exotic (partially fictionalized) brief biopic that fleshes out colorful aspects of Pablo Neruda’s life in exile.

Neruda’s complex relationship with his wifeDelia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) reveals layers of emotional, intellectual, and ideological determination on both their parts. Here is a great example of literary license being taken with graceful precision.

Potentially damning voice-over narration from Gael Garcia Bernal’s uncultured but determined detective Óscar Peluchonneau creates a sleek stream of consciousness subplot from the viewpoint of the man (or kind of man) tasked with tracking down and capturing the Communist Senator and beloved poet after Neruda goes on the lam with his wife rather than let himself be arrested by Chile’s fascist element after Communism is outlawed. Neruda plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the detective for whom he leaves behind copies of a book.

Neruda

Significant credit goes to Luis Gnecco’s wonderfully underplayed portrayal of Neruda as a man of earthy desires and ethical responsibility. If Gnecco’s performance comes across as a breakthrough, it is a premiere act more than three decades in the making. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is held back in a performance that is Oscar-worthy regardless of your global perspective. Mercedes Morán empowers Gnecco’s efforts with a caring femininity that balances the couple’s power dynamic of unconditional love.

“Neruda” is a fascinating movie for any number of reasons. Although it doesn’t articulate as much of Pablo Neruda’s heartbreakingly sublime poetry as the film could have, it provides valuable insight into a man whose gift for words was equal to his lust for life.

Neruda2

Rated R. 107 mins. (B+) (Four Stars — out of five / no halves)


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March 26, 2017

STATE OF SIEGE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

State Of SiegeCosta-Gavras is an exquisite leftist filmmaker because he is too much of a pragmatist to fall into idealistic traps of the left or the right. His unique upbringing, as the son of a Pro-Soviet (Communist) Greek Resistance fighter in the Greek Civil War, meant that attending university in Greece or in the United States was out of the question. France offered the perpetual outlier an education in law in 1951, that paved the way for a switch to film school and apprenticeships with directors Jean Giono and Rene Clair.

Celebrated in critical circles for his groundbreaking film “Z” (1969), Costa-Gavras made fresh tracks across the backs of America’s power-grabbing military pawns of capitalist exploitation (think The United Fruit Company) with “State of Siege.”

The efforts of the radical left are just as dimwitted as the vastly more effective methods of rightwing corporate raiders; the difference is that one has all the money and guns. Living by the sword always means dying by the same blade regardless of who is doing the carrying and who is doing the cutting.

State of Siege2

Not Rated. 120 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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MULTIPLE MANIACS

Multiple ManiacsThis run-up to “Pink Flamingos” shows John Waters working out transgressive themes of sexual and social perversions with his stable of regular performers, led by the incomparable Divine. “The Cavalcade of Perversion” is Divine’s warped traveling circus of perverts and drug addicts that enables her life of crime that includes having lesbian sex (involving a rosary) in a church. Who needs superheroes when you’ve got multiple maniacs?

Multiple Maniacs is the ultimate filmic and political palate cleanser. Divine can’t help but enjoy being seduced into anal play with Mink Stole (a.k.a. the religious whore) within religious walls ("Think about the stations of the cross"), but that doesn’t mean she owes her new lover any more respect than she gives any of the other people she treats like disposable fetish objects. John Waters cuts to a deeper social quick than any other American filmmaker because he understands the innate beauty of all people, regardless of how they look, much less how wild their imaginations run. “Multiple Maniacs” wallows in perversion for perversion’s sake because that’s what it’s there for. You can fight the ideas, but you can’t fight the feelings that John Waters puts out there because his respect for filth runs so deep. Dirt is good for you even when it tastes like spinach pulled from manure. “Multiple Maniacs” is dirtier than that. Get filthy.

Multiple Maniacs

Rated X. 91 mins. (A+) (Five stars out of five / no halves)


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