Scarlet Street

(Fritz Lang, 1945)

with Jess de Martine, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, 1/26/15

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Nice twisty little film noir, full of nasty ironies and cruelly disappointed hopes.  Edward G. Robinson is wonderful as a milksop who finds his courage (or is it desperation?) in all the wrong places.  The ending is heavily moralistic, and – more damningly – redundant, but the rest is nice and tight, and clever, and juicy, and all the good things a noir should be.

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Published in: on January 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Foxcatcher

(Bennett Miller, 2014)

with Devin and Dan Kruger, Millerton Moviehouse, 1/18/15

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If I had to use one word to describe Foxcatcher, it would be “chilly.”  The whole story is told as if from a distance – the characters lonely and isolated, the color palette cold, the pacing slow, the mood somber.  Mark Ruffalo’s soulful, sensitive performance gives the movie its moral center, and even a certain measure of warmth, but it’s a candle flame in an ice cave – a respite, but not a cure.  Foxcatcher isn’t irritatingly solemn, but it’s not a lot of fun, either.  It’s a serious movie, worth serious attention – not quite a work of genius, and certainly not easy to recommend.

Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

(Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, IFC Center, 1/16/15

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This movie bills itself as a vampire Western, but its real genre is Ponderously Slow Art-House Drudgery.  There’s some good stuff in here – some stark beauty, some sly humor, some bizarre eroticism, some unlikely romance – but it’s all buried in layers and layers of artsy-fartsiness.  I think a 30-minute edit of this movie could be pretty great.

Published in: on January 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Interview

(Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, 2014)

with Devin, on demand at River House, 1/14/15

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Profoundly sloppy and not particularly funny, but engaging enough.  Seth Rogen is extremely likeable, James Franco is sometimes bearable, and it’s kind of fun watching real-life bad guy Kim Jong-un get humiliated and eventually (spoiler alert) killed.  I think the jingoistic American in me enjoyed this movie more than the cinema fan in me did – but I guess I’m okay with that.

Published in: on January 19, 2015 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dodsworth

(William Wyler, 1936)

with Mom and Devin, Barn Screening Room, 1/12/15

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Walter Huston is pretty magnificent as the title character – an earthy, vibrant, playful and serious man stuck in a doomed marriage with a childish, self-dramatizing, unfaithful woman.  Unfortunately, the latter character is so comprehensively unappealing that Dodsworth’s attachment to her can only bewilder and annoy us – and the movie has one of those washing-machine plots where the characters do nothing but make the same mistakes over and over (what is this – real life???).  Dodsworth has some lovely moments, but the antagonist kind of sinks it.  (Fun fact: both a young David Niven and a young John Payne – later Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th St. – appear in small roles.)

Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Eyes

(Tim Burton, 2014)

with Tess Belmont, Angelika Cinema, 1/7/15

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Some “true story” movies feel like movies, and some feel like frustrated documentaries, and most fall into an awkward gray area in between.  Big Eyes plods along like a standard biography for a pretty good chunk of its running time, but eventually it gathers speed, and decides to prioritize audience satisfaction, and by the end it’s landed squarely in the “movie” camp.  It’s not terribly profound, but it tells a pretty fascinating story, and the ending is gratifying in a pleasantly escapist way.

Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Risky Business

(Paul Brickman, 1983)

with Jess de Martine, on DVD at Jess’s place, 1/4/14

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God, this is a weird one.  The plot leads us to expect a teen sex comedy, and there are moments when that’s what we get – but there are also some strange musical montages that feel like dream sequences (but aren’t), and our protagonist mostly seems to hate being in a teen sex comedy, and he’s so stressed out by everything that happens that it’s hard for the audience not to get stressed out in response.  In a classic farce, Joel would scramble desperately to hold things together, and only succeed in making them worse; in a more modern comedy, he might decide that having his house invaded by hookers is awesome, and determine to make the most of it – consequences be damned.  In Risky Business, Joel is strangely passive.  Sometimes he whines; sometimes he tries to fix things; mostly he just goes along with other people’s suggestions, without much enthusiasm.  Despite Tom Cruise’s charm, Joel is a dead fish of a main character – and Risky Business is a “comedy” that comes across as oddly muted and vaguely depressing.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Imitation Game

(Morten Tyldum, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, BAM Rose Cinemas, 1/4/14

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In a movie about a brilliant cryptographer, shouldn’t there occasionally be a piece of dialogue that the average audience member doesn’t understand?  The Imitation Game is so afraid of seeming esoteric that it simply avoids showing us very much actual cryptography, focusing instead on personal relationships – which are, let’s face it, not the thing that made Alan Turing famous or interesting in the first place.  Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent, and so is Matthew Goode, but I really didn’t learn very much about breaking Enigma from this movie, and that seems like sort of a waste.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Social Network

(David Fincher, 2010)

with Devin, Barn Screening Room, 12/30/14

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Still tight, slick, nimble, propulsive, and fun.  The ending is very abrupt, and I’m not convinced this movie has a climax, but somehow it all works.  Did I mention it was fun?  It is.  It’s fun.  When it comes to turning potentially dry material into juicy, compulsively-watchable drama, Sorkin and Fincher are about as good as it gets.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Shawshank Redemption

(Frank Darabont, 1994)

with Jess de Martine, Barn Screening Room, 12/28/14

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Finally!  I’ve seen it!  And you know what?  It’s very good.  I love the way Andy Dufresne is presented as both a hero and a cipher – both a likeable guy, and a bit of a cold fish.  Tim Robbins is perfectly cast in the role of Andy – and Morgan Freeman, playing the much more grounded and relatable narrator, makes a perfect foil.  In a sense, The Shawshank Redemption is a spiritual brother to Cool Hand Luke; like Luke, Andy is less a protagonist than a legend, and the movie – in its calm, laid-back way – has the feel of a tall tale.  Warm and mellow even in its darkest moments, Shawshank unfolds like a summer afternoon – and if the last ten minutes feel a bit slow and redundant, that’s a small fault that we can easily forgive.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment