Withnail & I

(Bruce Robinson, 1986)

with Mike Lavoie, James Fauvell, Chelsea Salyer, Suzanne Heathcote, Hailey Ferber, and Carlee Briglia, 378 Bond St., 4/21/13

5

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Like many cult movies, Withnail & I exudes a demented self-confidence – an unblinking conviction that every moment, no matter how inexplicable, is exactly how it’s meant to be.  There’s something captivating about that kind of assurance; it’s no wonder people feel drawn to movies like this.  As Withnail, Richard E. Grant is a phenomenon, a force – a bitter, vampiric antihero charged up with nihilistic joie de vivre.  Just when we’re certain the story is going nowhere, the ending achieves an unexpected resonance, as we realize that Withnail, like Falstaff before him, is fated to be left behind by his blander, more functional friend.  These moments have a quiet tragedy, which somehow is enhanced by Withnail‘s more surreal elements.  Maybe the film is right to believe that it knows exactly what it’s doing.

Published in: on April 26, 2013 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  

The Place Beyond the Pines

(Derek Cianfrance, 2013)

with Kelley Donoghue, Cobble Hill Cinemas, 4/20/13

5

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The first act of this movie is practically a remake of Drive – not only in plot, but also stylistically.  (I could enumerate the similarities, but I really don’t have the space here.)  The movie loses a lot of magnetism when Gosling leaves it, and eventually reveals itself to be little more than a really accomplished mood piece – not quite as much of a bummer as Blue Valentine, but not nearly as juicy as Drive.

Published in: on April 26, 2013 at 10:33 am  Comments (2)  

Double Indemnity

(Billy Wilder, 1944)

with Caitlin and Natalie Kropf, 130 W. 79th St., 4/15/13

7

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A lean, mean, uncompromising (im)morality tale – smart as a whip and twice as ruthless.  There’s something a bit plodding about the clockwork plot, but there’s plenty to savor here, and the final moments – tough and tender declarations between Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson – belong in the Classic Endings catalog.  One thing about Billy Wilder: he sure as hell knows how to end a movie.

Published in: on April 26, 2013 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  

The Maltese Falcon

(John Huston, 1941)

with Caitlin, Matt Hurley, and Natalie Kropf, 130 W. 79th St., 4/8/13

7

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Funny how differently I remembered this film.  In my recollection, it had a fiendishly complex plot; the reality is, the story moves mostly in circles, because everyone is always lying and no one ever believes them.  It’s a clumsier film than I remembered, but the dialogue is delicious, and Bogart is from another planet.  He can steal a scene just by listening.  He has the most unwholesome smile in the history of movies, yet we root for him all the way.  He’s magnetic.  He’s electric.  He’s quick-footed and strange.  His performance supplies a working definition of a movie star: a movie star is someone you just can’t look away from.

Published in: on April 21, 2013 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Side by Side

(Christopher Kenneally, 2012)

alone, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, 3/31/13

5

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Ultimately too broad an overview to achieve much in the way of depth, but full of fascinating tidbits – if you’re a movie nerd, I mean.  I do wish the pro-film argument had been better represented.  Where’s Spielberg?  Where’s Tarantino?  Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister fight a lonely battle in Side by Side, with Cameron, Lucas, Fincher, and Soderbergh all firmly on the side of digital, and Scorsese playing referee.  It’s interesting to watch a movie that will probably be strikingly dated in about two years; in fact, it already seems dated, inasmuch as it depicts a debate between film and digital, while at the same time making it clear that the debate is pretty much over.  Time and tide wait for no man.  Progress marches on.

R.I.P., celluloid.  You were the stuff dreams were written on, but we dream in numbers now.

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Trip

(Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

alone, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, Brooklyn, 3/31/13

5

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Wry, meandering, downbeat faux-documentary about a road trip undertaken by the snobbish Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan) and his genial rival/patsy/pal Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon).  The aching heart of the movie is Coogan’s loneliness, and its key line comes near the end.  The trip is over, and Coogan has just rudely driven off to his gleaming, desolate bachelor pad.  Busying herself with dinner, Brydon’s wife asks him “How’s Steve?”  Brydon hesitates for a moment.  “Same as ever,” he says.  This isn’t the kind of movie where people change or have epiphanies.  It’s the kind of movie where people are British.

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Barry Lyndon

(Stanley Kubrick, 1975)

with Ellen Mezzera, IFC Center, NYC, 3/26/13

6

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A bizarrely mesmerizing film, whose thesis might be stated as The past is stranger than you think.  Most period films give us the comfortable sense that we get the eras they depict; the differences between now and then are exoticized, but also minimized, so that we walk away with a smug sense of commanding our own history.  Barry Lyndon, by contrast, treats the past as a kind of alien planet, where strange creatures with an eerie resemblance to human beings act out customs that strike us as opaque or laughable, or both.  The thick, sickly makeup, the ritualized violence, the bewildering blend of barbarity and courtly restraint – they all combine to give us the impression that our ancestors were, in some pretty thoroughgoing sense, insane.  Meanwhile, the rolling hills behind them have never looked more, lush, vibrant, or inviting; they give the sense of something cheerful and eternal, against which bitter and suffocating human passions play out during the short, mad march to the grave.

Published in: on April 13, 2013 at 9:21 am  Comments (2)  

Teacher’s Pet

(George Seaton, 1958)

with Caitlin and various guests, on DVD at 130 W. 79th St., 3/4/13

6

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A charmingly daffy concoction, moored by a trio of winning performances – wholesome sex bomb Doris day, smoldering grouch Clark Gable, and dark horse scene-stealer Gig Young.  Teacher’s Pet isn’t deathless, but it’s warm and delightful, with some laugh-out-loud moments and a heart that’s firmly in the right place.

Published in: on April 12, 2013 at 10:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Beasts of the Southern Wild

(Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

with Maja Gray and Kate O’Donnell, Sunshine Cinemas, 2/20/13

7

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A triumph of small-scale world-building and idiosyncratic vision.  Poverty was never so romantic, or so passionately defended.  The story takes a needless detour too close to the end, but other than that, the movie’s loose-limbed episodic nature plays well.  The down-home, light-footed score imparts a fairytale gloss to the proceedings, reminding us even in the story’s darkest moments that we’re witnessing a fantasy – one with its own tone and its own rules.

Published in: on April 12, 2013 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment